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Video games, math add up to a winner


Waipahu High School’s library was packed yesterday, with students shouting and cheering and pumping their fists in the air over … math.


It took teacher Amelia Cook a while to get used to it, too.

The short answer to why more than 50 Algebra 1 students were celebrating their math skills is this: video gaming.

Or rather, a video game tournament, where players weaved their way through a virtual landscape, answering math questions along the way.

The event — the culmination of lots of practice in classes — was held over three hours, with students duking it out in teams.

Cook, who organized the event, said she is used to kids saying that math is their least favorite subject. Just getting students to come to class is sometimes a chore.

So the Waipahu High alumna, who has taught at the school for a decade, decided to try a novel program that combines something students love (video games) with something they don’t (algebraic formulas).

The result, she said, has been a big improvement in how students feel about math. Kids are engaged, excited about coming to class and, most important, committed to improving their math skills.

Several other states have instituted video gaming programs in classrooms on a wide scale. Proponents say the software — designed to look a lot like commercial games — takes away some of the anxiety over math and helps kids learn while doing something they enjoy.

In Hawaii the program is relatively new.

Waipahu High brought in the video gaming software — called Dimension M (for math) — last year thanks to a grant. Other schools are watching the Wai­pahu program closely at a time when schools are struggling to boost math proficiency scores.

Last school year, just 34 percent of Wai­pahu High 10th-graders tested as proficient in math, compared with 38 percent of students statewide.

During a break in the tournament yesterday, several students said the games made math a little less daunting.

Freshman Sierra Feli­cilda, 14, described herself as an "average student" but said she did "pretty well" in yesterday’s tournament.

"It has helped me by letting me understand (math) in a fun way," she said. "It is very exciting and loud."

In Cook’s class the video games are not meant to replace teaching, but supplement it.

Students go through a lesson and then get on a computer to reinforce what they learned. The video games are also available to students remotely, so they can play from home. Many do, Cook said.

"If you mix math with something that they know how to do and they love and they play every day, then why not?" she said. "It’s been a big motivator. They’re engaged and they’re doing math."

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