Document Type


Lead Author Type

CIS Masters Student


Jonathan Engelsma; Charlene Beckman

Embargo Period



Research has shown that many students are not interested in learning mathematics; they find it difficult to understand, irrelevant to their daily lives, and uninteresting. This thesis explores elements of computer games that may satisfy children’s learning needs and ultimately motivate them to learn mathematical concepts.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Washington, D.C. based Pew Research Center, 97% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States play computer, Web, portable or console games. Based on these numbers we can conclude young students like video games. Over the past few years, a new body of research has begun to develop, demonstrating how video games can have a positive impact on young people by stimulating their imagination and curiosity, and by encouraging the exploration of new concepts.

According to Gee [28], “Games give children the tools they need to explore complex systems and experiment with different possibilities and outcomes”. By using video games students can learn how to use facts to solve problems rather than simply memorizing data.

Two seemingly unrelated content areas in which handheld touch-­‐enabled devices appear to be drawing immediate attention are the areas of education and video games. Apple iPhones, iPads and similar products are rapidly finding their way into classrooms around the world. Many educators and educational institutions are trying to make use of these technologies in classrooms. The impact of technology in education remains to be formally studied.

Modern handheld touch-­‐enabled devices are also playing a role in changing the face of the video game industry. Instead of being preoccupied with fast twitch, highly realistic game experiences, running on dedicated game hardware platforms, (e.g. game console devices) and targeted at adolescent and young adult males, video game designers are finding that casual game genres have a broader appeal and could potentially have a more profound impact. These games, involving puzzles, or simple arcade experiences, run on smart phones and tablets, and have universal appeal across all age demographics. A recent report published by the mobile analytics firm Flurry indicates that these new smart phone platforms are rapidly replacing traditional dedicated video game platforms [41].

The focus of this study is the intersection of these two developments: the recent popularity of handheld touch-­‐enabled devices in education and video game content. In particular, the study aims to investigate the use of video games on handheld touch-­‐enabled devices in helping algebra students learn mathematical concepts related to the link between linear and quadratic functions.

The game used in this study, ParabolaX, is a new experimental mathematics educational game and runs on handheld touch-­‐enabled devices. In conducting the testing, the ParabolaX application gathered anonymous data from players to determine whether they were engaged, how well they understood the mathematical content, whether they understood the challenge, and whether they could apply an appropriate problem solving strategy to the challenge. The subject of the study was not the game player, but the effectiveness of the game itself.

The results of this research showed that the gap between genders is not very large, and both female and male students were very engaged with the use of ParabolaX. When the students were asked if the game helped them to understand the concept of quadratic functions, all females and 84% of the males agreed.

Thus, the main thesis can be stated as: An educational game developed for handheld touch-­‐enabled devices can be helpful in learning mathematics.