Photos courtesy of Roberto Joseph.
TOPS: A Street Game App for Learning First to Third Grade Mathematics
Numerous reports have repeatedly warned that the United States is falling dangerously behind the rest of the world in math and science. The Hofstra University educational app development team is designing a videogame app based on a commonly played street game to help first to third grade students gain a strong foundation in introductory mathematical concepts such as addition and subtraction. Our model will advance beyond much current drill and practice technology in elementary education. The formal objectives of the project are: 1) to design and test TOPS, a videogame app that gives students a deeper understanding of mathematics; 2) to implement a business plan that will make TOPS widely available in the United States and abroad, via mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads; and 3) to use games that are embedded in neighborhood culture as a bridge to academic learning. By playing TOPS, students will improve their mathematics fluency and motivation and begin to see themselves as proficient in math. The TOPS application will be tested by targeted users, refined, and then made available through the Apple and Android Apps Stores. The educational app development team is made up of faculty and students from Hofstra University's graduate and undergraduate programs in educational technology, computer science, business administration and fine arts.
Why We Need to Pay Attention to Students' Cultural Backgrounds
In a 2006 international test repeated in 2009, it was revealed that U.S. students ranked lower than students in 39 other countries in math and science, and that black and Hispanic students scored lower than white students (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley, 2010). Numerous high-level reports have repeatedly warned that the nation is falling dangerously behind the rest of the world in math and science (for example, a report to the nation, Before It's Too Late (2000), by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching). The causes for this lack of ability on the part of U.S. students are complex, but the data point to a need for new kinds of classroom strategies, especially for minority students and young women. Examinations of mathematics preparation in more successful countries indicate that a strong emphasis on math instruction should begin in the early grades and that teaching and textbooks must become less mechanical and more interactive. For minority youth, many of whom are concentrated in urban areas, the lack of basic math competency is exacerbated by under-resourced schools that purchase "drill and practice" software that emphasizes rote memorization and also by a crucial lack of attention to the students' cultural backgrounds.
Designing and Developing a Culturally Relevant Educational App
To address this chronic problem, Dr. Roberto Joseph started a new educational app development team, based in the School of Education, for the purpose of designing educational apps that are mindful of students' cultural backgrounds. For their first project, the team has created a math app designed to help first to third grade urban students gain a strong foundation in introductory mathematical concepts. Based on a commonly played street game named skelly, TOPS has players move a bottle top around a series of squares containing numbers. In the actual street game, players compete against each other to complete a number sequence by flicking bottle caps from square to square on game boards drawn in chalk on streets and in playgrounds. The game has been around in urban communities for generations and will be familiar to both young students and their parents. TOPS is designed to show, through fun and exciting game play, the important concepts of arithmetic by using applications of mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
As they play TOPS, the students are engaged in a process that incorporates their own local interests into learning mathematics content. The players move quickly through a dangerous course, avoiding pitfalls, always seeking the safety of home bases, and progress by using their ability to add, subtract, divide and multiply to slide from box to box – ultimately hoping to reach the center unscathed. Skill and strategy play important roles in the players' success, as they must overcome obstacles found in the streets of their urban community.
The concept of the game is to lead students through a series of activities in which they have to complete calculations by moving their caps to the correct solutions (the numbers on the game board) to progress to the next level. By moving the bottle cap from number to number, they engage in activities that help them understand counting, positive and negative numbers, the number line, and place value. The game also tells students (and their teachers and parents) how much they have learned by keeping track of their progress on a knowledge map. For each concept learned, the students are rewarded by moving to the next level. The point of the game is to engage students in essential questions such as: How is math relevant to me? How can numbers be expressed, ordered, and compared? How do units within a system relate to each other? How does the position of a digit in a number affect its value? The overall goals of the program are to 1) improve students' mathematics proficiency and fluency, 2) increase students' motivation in math, and 3) positively impact students' math identities.
TOPS is an educational application being developed for national and potential worldwide use on mobile devices. It is being developed with GameSalad's free drag-and-drop game creation platform, which allows designers to rapidly construct, publish and distribute original games for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android devices and the Web. This new model, which uses the excitement of game-based learning, will advance beyond much current educational technology in math, which employs onscreen lectures and simple drill and practice (such as Khan Academy). TOPS also uses a strategy called "culturally relevant learning," which uses the prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant and effective. Culturally responsive games in fields other than mathematics include Rappin Reader (Pinkard, 2001), Riding the Freedom Train (Leonard, Davis, & Sidler, 2005) and CompuGirls (Scott, Aist & Hood, 2009).
Finally, this project's design is based on the premise that technology-based learning environments are transformative. Educational research on the use of video games suggests that they appeal even to those students who do not experience success in school because they support students in asking questions of personal relevance. For many minority youth, video games offer the opportunity to attain success in mathematics or science, where oftentimes academic achievement is fleeting. Mobile devices are the technology of the future, and as they become more affordable, more and more students will have them, and school districts will use them for delivering learning activities, freeing up teachers' time for more effective individualized instruction and assessment.
Spreading the Word About TOPS and Other Educational Apps
We will make the TOPS application widely accessible through distribution venues via the Apple and Android Apps Stores for mobile devices. Hofstra's School of Education has worked with a number of school districts in New York City and on Long Island, and initially we will use these connections to distribute the game to elementary school teachers and their students. Dr. Joseph has also developed CIRCUIT MATH (2012), which has received very high marks from the prestigious Children's Technology Review.
CIRCUIT MATH is a math puzzle that challenges the user the moment he or she begins to play. Players can choose from six addition levels and six subtraction levels, with each level offering endless combinations of numbers so no two levels are alike. To solve each puzzle, players must place each circuit in position so that each number is the sum/difference of the two numbers below it. Tap the circuits to swap numbers, and the wires between the numbers light up in green when the combination is correct. Users can try to beat their own best time or compete with other players in Game Center to see who can complete a level with the best time. Each level has its own leader board in Game Center and an endless number of puzzles within each level.
The Hofstra website will feature links to TOPS and CIRCUIT MATH, and the educational app development team will showcase the new software at educational technology and game design conferences, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA), National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), and Technology + Learning Conference (T+L). The team will also gain exposure by participating in gaming conferences such as Game Developers Conference and Serious Games Summit, and describing project outcomes in articles in educational and mathematics journals. Finally, Hofstra recently launched an annual conference, Integrating Technology Into the K-8 Curriculum, which last year was attended by more than 50 Long Island school districts, and this conference will be a platform to highlight and share the TOPS and CIRCUIT MATH apps.
Hofstra Educational App Development Team
The multidisciplinary team includes experts in the fields of educational technology, culturally relevant pedagogy, computer science, graphic design, and business administration. The faculty have had extensive experience in helping underrepresented minority students upgrade their skills in science and technology and in training teachers to employ methods that are effective in deepening students' understanding of mathematics content.
- Fleischman, H., Hopstock, P., Pelczar, M., & Shelley, B. (2010). Highlights from Pisa: Performance of U.S. 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, and science literacy in an international context. (NCES 2011-033). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Joseph, R. (2012). TOPS (1.1) [iPhone Application]. Freeport, NY: Dr. Roberto Joseph & CulturePlay LLC
- Joseph, R. (2012). TOPS (1.1) [iPAD Application]. Freeport, NY:
Dr. Roberto Joseph & CulturePlay LLC.
- Joseph, R. (2012). Circuit Math (1.1) [iPhone Application]. Retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/circuit-math/id535579876?mt=8
- Joseph, R. (2012). Circuit MathHD (1.1) [iPad Application]. Retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/circuit-mathhd/id554832061?mt=8
- Leonard, J., Davis, J., & Sidler, J. (2005). Cultural relevance and computer-assisted instruction. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 37(3), 263-284.
- The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. (2000), Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation from The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
- Pinkard, N. (2001). Rappin' Reader and Say, Say Oh Playmate: Using children's childhood songs as literacy scaffolds in computer-based learning environments. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 25(1), 17-34.
- Scott, K.A., Aist, G. & Hood, D. (2009), COMPUGIRLS: Designing a culturally relevant technology program. Educational Technology, 49 (6), 34-39