Or, why is ProblemScape for Algebra our first game? An easy answer would be that it makes business sense. There are enough games out there for teaching arithmetic concepts - to the point of saturation - whereas the atmosphere gets much thinner when we move on to Algebra. However, that is not the reason (or at least not the only reason) we landed on Algebra.
Algebra is the gateway to all higher level math classes and eventually to college and a majority of career choices. There are a huge number of subjects which require knowledge of algebra, like biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, economics, medicine, psychology and social sciences. Unfortunately, Algebra is also a gatekeeper because students who do not acquire proficiency in Algebra are prevented from pursuing higher education or a career in STEM and many other fields.
Also, Algebra, typically introduced during middle school, is a notoriously difficult subject to grasp as it involves a transition from arithmetic processing, which students have come to expect of math classes, to more abstract thinking and symbol processing. Algebra is a powerful tool that helps us generalize from specific situations and see patterns, relationships, and change. However, depending on how Algebra is taught, it could easily become a procedural exercise for manipulating symbols and remove any sense of relevance of math to the real world, causing many middle schoolers and even adults to think that they are never going to use it in their life.
Middle school is a crucial time in a student’s educational journey as it is the period at which their self-concept of ability becomes stable. If during this time, students make up their mind that math is hard, boring, or irrelevant to their lives, then they are always going to believe that they are not a ‘math person.'
We started ProblemScape for Algebra with the hope of bringing engagement and relevance to a difficult topic. Also, creating an RPG set in a virtual world with characters who they think they can’t learn math, but actually end up learning from the student, seemed liked a neat way to get the students to develop a growth mindset themselves - something much needed in middle schools!