Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning


Stanford mathematician and NPR Math Guy Keith Devlin explains why, fun aside, video games are the ideal medium to teach middle-school math. Devlin spent five years as the lead mathematical advisor on a project to develop an MMO game that would teach mathematics to children aged 9 to 12 and be sufficiently compelling that they would actually want to play it. He worked with some very distinguished mathematics educators and videogame designers, and during that time the team learned how to design videogames that do ...

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Stanford mathematician and NPR Math Guy Keith Devlin explains why, fun aside, video games are the ideal medium to teach middle-school math. Devlin spent five years as the lead mathematical advisor on a project to develop an MMO game that would teach mathematics to children aged 9 to 12 and be sufficiently compelling that they would actually want to play it. He worked with some very distinguished mathematics educators and videogame designers, and during that time the team learned how to design videogames that do more than try to entice children to practice their basic math skills. Aimed primarily at teachers and education researchers, and game developers who want to produce videogames for mathematics education, Mathematics Education and Video Games describes exactly what is involved in designing and producing successful math educational videogames that foster the innovative mathematical thinking skills necessary for success in a global economy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
… extremely thought provoking and well worth reading. … I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reflecting on why and how we teach mathematics as well as how we could bring some of the energy that students expend in video games to the mathematics classroom.
—Larry Feldman, Mathematics Teacher, November 2012

Well-written and accessible, with a few illustrations, the book delineates characteristics that teachers might look for when examining games, types of mathematics ideally suited for such an environment, and advantages that such a transformation might have, specifically a self-paced learning environment and motivation for reluctant learners. Devlin includes a collection of resources, both Web and print based, for those interested in further exploring the topic. … Highly recommended.
—S.T. Schroth, CHOICE, November 2011

Keith Devlin makes the case for embracing video games as not just an opportunity for teaching mathematics, but as an ideal medium for doing so. The opportunities gaming provides for learning mathematics are illustrated in great detail. … Devlin makes the case with care, repeatedly drawing on documented studies and educational principles.
—Bill Wood, MAA Reviews, September 2011

Keith Devlin is well qualified to explore these important questions. … Devlin makes the seemingly subtle but very important distinction between ‘doing Math’ and ‘being Math.’ … I hope that educational games designers use his ideas in crafting educational opportunities. And, in the meantime, teachers (and Math circle leaders) would do well to borrow some of the ideas of what works in the virtual worlds for their classrooms.
—Sol Lederman, Wild About Math blog, June 2011

Keith Devlin’s highly readable book sets the foundation for a new approach to learning mathematics where everyone can learn math and finally lose their math fears and phobias. The book is based on empirically well supported and lucidly explicated theories of learning, teaching, and gaming. It will become a classic.
—James Paul Gee, Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University and author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

Keith Devlin’s latest book does a thorough job exploring the affordances that video games can provide to the teaching and learning of mathematics. He covers the current state of affairs and how games provide a great forum for math education.
—Drew Davidson, Director, Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University

Mathematics Education for a New Era connects Devlin’s deep understanding of mathematics education to the new research in digital-games-based learning to pave a path for re-energizing mathematics education.
—Kurt Squire, author of Video Games & Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age

Keith Devlin makes an engaging and persuasive argument that online computer games can be a great way to teach basic math skills. Educators and parents who think of video games as empty frivolities will be surprised at the significant educational potential lurking within these complex activities. Game designers can use this book as inspiration for creating new kinds of games that reward players not only with fun experiences and real math skills, but also the important knack of thinking like a mathematician (and liking it!).
—Andrew Glassner, author of Interactive Storytelling: Techniques for 21st Century Fiction

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568814315
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 218
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin

Dr. Keith Devlin is a senior researcher and the executive director of the Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (HSTAR) at Stanford University. He is also a cofounder of the Stanford Media X research network and a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. His current research focuses on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis.


Odds are, John Grisham doesn’t get interview questions like this: "If you could meet any mathematician, who would it be?"

But author Keith Devlin does, this time from Discover magazine as part of a January 2001 article coinciding with the publication of his book The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip. His answer may go a long way toward explaining why he has managed to make the world of numbers not only understandable but also enjoyable to a segment of the population that can’t balance a checkbook without a net -- or backup from MIT.

“Isaac Newton,” Devlin told the inquiring minds at Discover. “He was a quarrelsome, egotistical person, but he also invented calculus. He did it, by the way, when he was a student at Cambridge. The Great Plague was going on, so the university was closed, and young Newton found himself without studies to do. Most 20-year-olds would think, ‘Whoopee! I’ll just have a good time.’ Newton went home and invented calculus.”

It is this same kind of passion for mathematics that has enabled Devlin, now the executive director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, to persuade readers that arithmetic, geometry and calculus can be a bracing addition to the stack on the bedside table. In The Math Gene, he explains the “innate sense of number” that lives inside the human mind and how the development of mathematical thinking is closely bound to the development of language. In Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind, he argues against the possibility of artificial intelligence, saying that computers are simply logic machines that cannot replicate the rational thought and communication that are part of human smarts. In his newest book, The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time, he explains a historic competition announced by a Cambridge, Massachusetts foundation in 2000: Anyone who could solve any one of seven of the most perplexing math problems of the current age would win $1 million.

In a 1999 review, the Economist noted that “Devlin succeeds both in giving us a glimpse of the internal beauty of the subject and in demonstrating its usefulness in the external world. The Language of Mathematics is lucidly written and richly illustrated, and remains accessible and enthusiastic throughout.”

On NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he has become a regular guest, Devlin is referred to simply as “The Math Guy,” or as host Scott Simon once put it “our white knight of the world of mathematics.”

And, going back to that provocative subtitle in The Math Gene, just how is math like gossip? “Mathematicians deal with a collection of objects -- numbers, triangles, groups, fields -- and ask questions like: ‘What is the relationship between Objects X and Y?. If X does this to Y, what will Y do back to X?’” he told Discover. “It's got plot, it's got characters, it's got relationships between them, and it's got life and emotion and passion and love and hate, a bit of everything you can find in a soap opera. On the other hand, a soap opera isn't going to get you to the moon and back. Mathematics can.”

Just don’t forget to carry the 1.

Good To Know

Devlin was the coauthor of the television special A Mathematical Mystery Tour, broadcast as part of the Nova series in 1984.

He once offered as proof of the human brain’s intuitive math skills the ability to judge speed and distance while driving and the ability to add up bowling scores.

Devlin once managed to explain the mathematical difference between a knot and a tangle to National Public Radio’s listeners.

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    1. Hometown:
      Palo Alto, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hull, England
    1. Education:
      B.S., King's College, London, 1968; Ph.D., University of Bristol, 1971

Table of Contents


State of Play

Street Smarts

The Perfect Medium

Euclid Would Have Taught Math This Way

What Is "Doing Mathematics" Anyway?

Mathematics Proficiency: A New Focus in Mathematics Education

The Key Features of Gaming

Mathematics Education and Gee’s 36 Video Game Learning Principles

Developing Mathematical Proficiency in a Video Game

Building a Successful Math Ed Video Game

Algebra and Beyond

A New Pedagogy

Suggested Further Reading


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