Google will give you hundreds of options to choose from when searching for apps or video games that can help your child learn mathematics. Many of these titles fail to survive an initial filtering. This is based on seven important pedagogic “no-nos”, which any game developer should use if they wish to use what could be an extremely powerful educational media to help people learn math. The following are key points to avoid when developing a math learning tool or app:

- Associating mathematics with a way or thinking is not the same thing as combining its representation on a flat static surface (usually in symbols).
- The presentation of mathematical activities separate from game mechanics and action.
- Mathematical problems should not be treated as secondary activities.
- The common perception is that math is a hindrance to engaging in more enjoyable activities.
- In order to reinforce the idea that math is based upon arbitrary facts, rules or tricks, it must have an underlying logic.
- Encourage students and encourage them to ask questions quickly without reflection.
- It is a common misconception that math is not intrinsically interesting. Math must be sugar-coated.

The filter covers only a few products, which means they won’t cause too much harm. But the majority of them focus on learning and mastering basic skills. For example, multiplication bonds or “multiplication tables”, while a few products do pass the seven-grained test. Even though these games don’t provide any learning, they make good usage of videogame technology in order to take the classroom out of the realm of memorizing rote knowledge. This allows teachers to be more focused on teaching mathematics. I prefer to refer to it as “mathematical thinking.”

Many people have come up with the belief that mathematics is the study and mastery of mathematical formulas and symbolic methods to solve artificial and encapsulated problems. This is often because they have never been taught anything else. If you think algebraautomatically, then it’s likely that you were not taught math in school. This is not algebra. It is arithmetic. Another thing, it doesn’t represent algebra at all.

### What’s the point of a game?

How does one design a fun video game to help students learn math? The first step is to read several times, from cover-to-cover, the current “bible”, on K-12 math education. It is called The National Academies Press’s Helping Children Learn Mathematics,. This invaluable book is the result many years of work by National Research Council’s Mathematics Learning Study Committee. It’s a blue-ribbon panel made up of experts who were assembled to perform this crucial task for millennials. It provides the best guideline available on mathematics instruction and is therefore the best-selling single source.

The report’s author uses the phrase mathematic proficiency for the combined mathematical knowledge, skills, abilities, habits, mind, and attitudes that are necessary ingredients to living in the 21st century. They describe this aggregate as five interwoven threads. The first, conceptual understand, the understanding of mathematical concepts, operations, relationships. The second is procedural competency,which refers to ability in arithmetical calculations accurately, efficiently. Third is strategy competence,which refers to the ability formulate, represent, solve, and communicate mathematical problems in real-world settings. Fourth is adaptive rationality–the potential for logical thinking, reflection, explanation, and justification. The productive disposition, is a strong belief in one’s own ability and capability to master the material.

These goals should not be seen as a checklist that needs to be tackled one at a. They are rather different aspects of a whole, and all teaching should be focused on all five goals.

So, it’s not true that the most important information about mathematics required to design great learning videogames is not available in a single, easily understood source. It’s just that very few people outside math education have actually read it.

### Combining Skills

Education is a major problem with most video games for mathematics learning. They fail because either their designers are skilled in creating and designing games but have no knowledge about mathematics education. (Actually most math education games have been made by people who know very little about programming, making them both educationally and entertaining.

It takes deep knowledge to create a video game that is successful. You must understand what a game is, how people play it, why they like it, how they interact with it and what the implications are for them. This is a great deal of knowledge.

The key to creating an engaging game that promotes good mathematics learning is to have a deep understanding of what mathematics is, how people learn and do math, how to engage them in their learning, how to make the game work for them, and how to represent it on the platform. This too requires a lot deep knowledge.

The other way around is that designing and building a great mathematics educational videogame requires the expertise of many people from different disciplines. It is a time-consuming task that requires considerable budget and takes a lot. How much? What is the budget for a simple, casual, and easy-to-use game that runs on an iPad? Nine months.

According to the convention of textbook publishing, this budget figure does no include any payment to the authors, who in essence created the entire curriculum and content. The project’s advisory board should also not be included.