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Institute of Education Sciences

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IES Contract

Title: Empires: The First Socially-Networked Story-Based Math Game
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Laidlaw, Scott Contractee: Imagine Education
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $900,000

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: There is concern about a decline in mathematics achievement scores among U.S. students during the middle school years. For example, while 4th grade U.S. students rank 8th overall on an international mathematics comparison, by 10th grade U.S. student's drop significantly to 25th in the same comparison. Some researchers posit that much of this decline relates to how math is taught in the U.S. and with how students become less engaged as learners in middle school. The purpose of this project is to develop a web-based game to engage 7h grade students in a narrative-based story which will apply learning of content and skills aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2012, the team developed a functioning prototype and conducted usability and feasibility research with fourteen 7th grade students. Researchers found that the prototype functioned as intended and that students were highly engaged while playing the game. In Phase II, the team will develop a fully-functional user interface with animated characters, interactivity across student users, narrative scripts and accompanying art assets, 36 problem sets, and student and teacher dashboards and databases. After development is complete, a pilot study will examine the usability and feasibility, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of the game to improve math learning. The study will include 120 students in 6 classrooms in three schools, with one classroom per school randomly assigned to use the game and the other half assigned to a business-as-usual control. Analyses will compare student scores on pre and post mathematics measures.

Product: Empires is a web-based game that addresses 36 pre-algebra Common Core State Standards in mathematics for 7th and 8th grades. The game follows a storyline in a recreation of an ancient empire which is at the brink of agricultural revolution and of becoming a trade economy. As students play the game, they engage in math-focused activities to drive the action, such as taxing citizens to learn ratios and proportions, allocating resources to learn percentages, and measuring the distance and time between a neighboring empire by applying the principles of the Pythagorean Theorem. As a socially networked game, students will interact with other students in the class to complete trades that lead to encounters with different math problems. The game will include two helpful, funny, advisors who will scaffold learning through mathematical discourse, arguing over the next most important thing to do. The game design architecture will work on a wide range of computers, including desktops and iPads.  A teacher's guide and companion website will provide guidance to classroom activities that complement the game.