Study shows kids learn Algebra in hours playing Dragonbox game

May 20, 2014
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A couple years back we introduced you to Norwegian-French startup WeWantToKnow and their highly impressive algebra learning game called Dragon Box. From our initial review, Dragon Box looked to be well on the path to joining the ranks of startups such as Coursera, Udacity and France’s Neodemia as one of the emerging startups disrupting the education space. They’ve announced the results of a far-reaching study with 40k students in Norway, named the DragonBox Algebra Challenge, that proved that gamification of learning a la Dragon Box, can make a marked and positive difference in how kids learn mathematics.

How did it work?

To conduct the study, WeWantToKnow working in conjunction with scientists from the Center for Game Scence at the University of Washington worked to answer the following question:  Can K12 students master basic algebra with game-basd learning, in a short period of time?

It’s important to note that DragonBox Algebra is a game designed specifically to tech algebra.  It presents the player with whimsical icons that need to be manipulated until the ‘DragonBox,’ representing the unknown variable, is isolated on one side of the game board. When they start playing, the student generally doesn’t realize that they are already learning basic principles of algebra such as balancing an equation. Through the course of play, these icons are gradually replaced with numbers and variables until the player is solving real equations.

In the study, an adaptive version of the game was developed in conjunction with the Center for Game Science to get participating students focused on one goal: solving hundreds of thousands of equations. The game took place during regular school time and students played with classmates and their teachers. If they wanted to play more at home, they also had that option as well.

What were the key findings?

  1. 95% of the students who played for 1 1/2 hrs learned basic algebra:  While many of the students in the study had failed to learn alegbra through traditional learning methods, they were able to learning things such as how to solve a basic equation. Given this success, the team also deduced that this approach could likely be applied to other subjects.  As a result, WeWantToKnow is now working on releasing a game called ‘DragonBox Elements’ which aims to demonstrate that geometry can also be learned via a similar method.
  2. A large majority of 3rd graders can learn algebra:  Interestingly, the study demonstrated that 80% of third graders can effectively learn mathematics concepts that are usually only introduced at the 8th grade and high school levels.
  3. (Really) no child left behind:  The study demonstrated that students who are unable to learn with traditional methods, need on average 5 times more educational material to learn. Thus, an adaptive learning approach helps to overcome this dilemma
  4. Homework happens naturally:  43% of the play/learning time was actually at home rather than the classroom, demonstrating that students were more motivated to play without prompting rather than being assigned homework. The wide media coverage of the learning event also helped project a ‘cool’ image of the project, which helped encourage uptake.
  5. Built-in formative assessments:  Assessments of students learning were imperative to the learning process.  These are an integral part of the game.

An unmitigated model for success 

DragonBox Algebra continues to demonstrate the real viability of serious gaming. Though many who follow the games space look to entertainment-focused games as the role-models for innovation and, ideally, business upside, DragonBox Algebra has shown that gamified learning can deliver results in areas with far-reaching application. As society gets larger, more complex, and, as a result, requires more alternative tools and approaches to learning, gamified learning solutions such as those offered by WeWantToKnow will increasingly become a more integral part of the education process.