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Goop Guns Spawn Math Fans
by Melissa Bailey | Aug 27, 2013 11:05 am
Posted to: Schools
Instead of “drifting off” to the sound of a teacher who’s “talking forever,” 90 New Haven kids blasted their friends with “goop guns” this summer in a new type of math class—prompting the question of whether New Haven should use more online games in the classroom.
The question arose at Monday night’s school board meeting at Hill Regional Career High School, where parents, kids and staff gave a lively report on a five-week summer program they participated in. The Summer Gaming Challenge, part of the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP), took place in July and August at Metropolitan Business Academy and Wilbur Cross High.
The program takes rising 7th and 8th graders who are proficient in math and aims to help them accelerate math skills over the summer—instead of slipping behind—through a combination of classroom instruction, hands-on projects and computer games. CPEP pays for the program and brings it to city schools; kids attend for free.
Tiler McPherson, an 8th-grader at Benjamin Jepson Magnet School, gave the school board a taste for what the summer program is like. She spoke of meeting new friends—and shooting them with “goop” through competitive, multi-player games such as Swarm and Meltdown. CPEP buys licenses to the games through two companies called DimensionU and Magna High.
Kids start the morning at 9:30 a.m. with a 10- to 15-minute traditional math lesson. Then they jump on the computers and start playing. The games can quiz kids on anything from addition to trigonometry, according to CPEP director Bruce Dixon. To rack up points in the game, kids have to answer math questions correctly.
Tiler offered a sample question: “Which is bigger, 1/10 or 1/100?”
If a student gets the answer right, he or she progresses, and the questions get harder. If the student gets several wrong, the game recalibrates to an easier level. Teachers monitor how the kids are doing. After about an hour and a half, kids stop playing the games. The teacher gets an instant “report card” on how each student and the whole class fared. The teacher uses that report to figure out where kids struggled, and to end the period with individual or group instruction based on what kids missed.
After the morning gaming session, kids leave computers and do hands-on math-related projects, such as building boats and shoes. The whole day lasts from 9 to 3 p.m.; kids clock 150 hours in the summer program overall.
Tiler spoke excitedly about stealing orbs and capturing nodes during various DimensionU games. The software allows teachers to tailor the math questions to the level of each kid. Kids can compete in the same tournament even if they’re working on different types of problems, said Dixon, so kids who are behind their peers don’t miss out on the fun.
Paris McEahern (pictured) explained the appeal this way: “In the classroom, you might drift away because you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re talking forever.’” But at the summer gaming camp, kids feel motivated by the competition, and the fun, she said: “I’ve got to goop them!”
Paris, a sophomore at Career High, attended the camp as a middle-schooler. Then she returned last summer as a counselor-in-training, earning community service hours for high school.
“I just had such a great experience that I had to come back and work,” she said.
The two sites served 120 kids, 30 of them from Milford and the rest from New Haven. New Haven public school teachers like Scott Ruffone, who convinced the district to bring the program to New Haven, taught the classes.
College-aged assistants like Shaquile Shaward (pictured), 20, help the teachers out. Shaward, who graduated from Metro in 2011, now studies part-time at Gateway Community College. He recalled greeting kids on the first day with chants to pump them up.
The kids in the program made five months’ progress in math in just five weeks, according to district math supervisor Ken Mathews (pictured). Average attendance was 94 percent, according to Dixon.
Started in 2010, the Summer Gaming Challenge now serves 385 students at six sites across the state. The organization focuses on recruiting kids from demographic groups that are underrepresented in math and science careers: 60 percent are black or Hispanic and half are girls, according to Dixon. Based in part on success in New Haven, the statewide program earned an Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the National Summer Learning Association, CPEP announced.
Students, and one mom, talked about the tight bonds kids formed over the summer, and how they learned to work in teams.
Superintendent Garth Harries applauded: “Personal development is a big part of learning that we don’t always talk about.” He said he visited the program and found kids to be engaged in the lessons.
He noted, however, that the program accepts only kids who have already shown to be proficient in math. He said the district wants to “not just accelerate students who are proficient,” but also help students who feel intimidated or turned off by math.
Board President Carlos Torre asked the students in the room what they think of the online games.
“Would you advocate for us to do this throughout the rest of the year?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Paris.
Harries was asked if New Haven would follow a national trend of introducing more educational computer games into the classroom.
“The thing I’d like to see spread is engagement,” he replied. “Games can be good instruction or games can be weak instruction,” he said. He cited one benefit, the games take constant feedback and adjust accordingly to kids’ level of understanding.
“We continue to look for more engaging types of instruction,” he said.
Tags: gaming, dimensionU, magna high
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posted by: RichTherrn on August 27, 2013 6:23pm
CPEP, Ken, Scott and the entire team deserve major kudos for such a successful program. The work around preparing our students for their future in STEM takes a lot of great people like them, and partners such as CPEP, and we are fortunate to have them!
-NHPS Science Supervisor