Making Mangahigh Less of a Game
Want to play a game?
Try a question. You just got it wrong. Try another? Got it wrong again. Try another. Wrong again. Try 7 more? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Do you want to play again? I thought not.
The difference between games we like and games we don’t is often, we’re pretty good at the games we like. Our students, masters of playing games, don’t waste time on games they keep losing. They close the game and find another one, or move on to another task. This habit has no consequences when kids play games at home – but it does when they play games in the math classroom.
Two key ideas that have emerged in the blended learning world is that if you make learning like a game, students will be engaged, and if you provide them instant feedback, they will recognize and overcome misunderstandings more efficiently. My experience in our 9th grade classes is that while this premise is true in theory, in practice the bulk of the work continues to be helping students develop the habits and resourcefulness to solve problems.
Our 9th graders complete a significant portion of their practice assignments on a gaming/practice website called Mangahigh. Here’s a screenshot of the game, and a basic description of how the program works.
– Students receive an assignment, say for example “Angles inside a Quadrilateral”
– You ultimately need a certain number of points from correct answers to score a Gold, Silver, or Bronze (we require a silver in our gradebook)
– Students get sets of 10 questions at a time, all multiple choice
– Questions start at Easy – when they score three in a row correct, they move up to Medium, Hard, and Extreme. If students get two in a row wrong, they move down a level
– At the end of the round of ten, students see a screen showing which questions they got wrong – which they can click on and see a full solution.
As expected, students that have performed well on Mangahigh have performed well on our rigorous in-class assessments. However, about 8 months into using the program, we’ve found that about half of the students in our 9th grade like or love the program, and half of our students dislike or hate the program. The question “Why?” has been one that we’ve been struggling with for most of the year, and we’ve formed a few hypotheses, which in turn have informed our actions in the classroom.
The first is that Mangahigh scores are a reflection of student habits, specifically tied to students’ experience in mathematics and what has led them to this point. Check out this graph below..
What we saw in graphs like this is that the unsuccessful students generally quit after the first round. We see this in the classroom all of the time. The ones that are struggling are trying an objective once, thinking to themselves “This is too much” or “I’m never going to get this”, and stop playing. Successful students are doing better in the early rounds, making it easier to deal with a few wrong questions in rounds two or three. Students that are not having success are finishing a round, and then either quitting, or clicking “Play Again” without figuring out why they got the problems wrong in the first place. They don’t do any better the next time around; they just get more frustrated!
Part of instant feedback can sometimes mean that if a student isn’t strong in math, or on a particular objective, they find that out sooner. Dealing with that type of disappointment is difficult for anyone, especially hormonal teenagers. This isn’t only for low performing students – it happens with high performing studentswhen working with objectives they don’t know as well – they too put up barriers.As a result, when we are working on Mangahigh in class, a majority of the comments that we as teachers make are as follows:
“Do you have a paper and pencil out?”
“Do you have your notes out?”
“Did you click the review answers to see why you got those questions wrong?”
“Click the review answers and see how they completed the solution.”
“Take your time, don’t just choose anything.”
“Play again, keep going, you can do this.”
We find ourselves continually harping not on specific math-related questions, but encouraging students to practice habits that will increase their resourcefulness in solving problems. Despite the change in medium for practice (from pencil and paper to computer), the conversation continues to be around increasing our students’ resourcefulness to solve problems on their own. The main difference in paper vs. pencil practice is that computers allow students to receive and process feedback more efficiently. This is a great thing for student learning if students view the feedback as a stepping stone towards more learning. However, it’s a potentially damaging thing if students view the feedback as another stone in the wall between them and learning.
After reflecting on why we were having so many “habits and practices” conversations with students so often, we came to see that one of the challenges is that students see Mangahigh as a game. With video games, there is no instructional manual; students advance through trial and error. But in Mangahigh, despite it looking like a game, the same methodology does not work. So, students come to say – “I don’t like this game”, and stop playing – just as they would if this were a game in their free time.
One particularly enlightening interaction with a strong student went like this, after I had seen him sitting, not playing the game for fear of not doing well.
Me: What’s your strategy now?
Student: I don’t know, I’m not going to get them right.
Me: Why don’t you try to just get them all wrong, then see what the correct strategies for getting the answers were, and then play again?
Student: But that’s cheating, I’m not going to do that.
Me: That’s not cheating, that’s learning – just taking notes. The questions won’t be the same, but the strategies will.
Student: No, that’s cheating
As a result, we’ve continued to change the conversation in our class from Mangahigh being a game to Mangahigh being an opportunity to get lots of feedback. We’ve spoken a lot about defining “mathematical perseverance”,both in terms of strategies students can use, and also how much time it takes. We’ve shown students data to support that doing better on Mangahigh increases their grades and test scores, and finally addressing all conversations around Mangahigh through the lens of improving one’s student skills. However, like many math teachers can attest, often the biggest battle is encouraging and coaching students to keep working, keep looking at mistakes, and continue playing/working.
Ultimately, Mangahigh has been an effective means of practice in our class. More feedback has meant more opportunities for students to work on misunderstandings, as well on the process of learning how to learn. The challenge has been convincing students to see this feedback as an opportunity for learning, and not just another game of luck or chance.