Are You Ready to Teach Secondary Mathematics in the 21st Century?: A Study of Preservice Teachers’ Digital Game Design Experience

Sep. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 309–337, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This case study investigated preservice teachers’ perceptions of digital games and their experiences designing and building an educational digital game.

In this study, the authors sought to understand enactivism by applying the theory to practice and demonstrating a successful implementation of enactivism in a teacher education classroom.
By adapting enactivist approaches, they have created a learning world that incorporates complex real-world problems while giving learners great freedom of exploration.
They were also concerned with the knowledge and reasoning skills that preservice teachers incorporate into their games.
Further, they investigate the 21st century skills involved in the game design and implementation process.

The participants of this study were first-year students at a university in western Canada enrolled in a secondary mathematics methods course as part of their after-degree bachelors of education program.
A total of 21 teachers (10 males and 11 females) in the class participated.
Three sets of data were collected: open-ended pre- and post-surveys, games created, and follow-up interviews with selected participants.


Among various positive outcomes, the most significant finding is that the enactivist learning world created rich opportunities for teachers to develop into problem solvers through perseverance.
In typical classrooms, including preservice classrooms, students do not often show perseverance when solving a problem.
Instead, they often give up relatively easily and wait for the correct answers, for various reasons.
There is no need for the student to understand the steps or how to solve the problem, but simply to follow the step-by-step procedure.
All these push students, including preservice teachers, into becoming impatient problem solvers who lack initiative, perseverance, and retention and have an aversion to word problems.
In this enactivist world, the authors have intentionally provided rich opportunities for the teachers to explore freely, engendering self-initiative and eliminating the crutches that give them excuses to give up.
In this world, teachers have designed games in different programs that the instructor is not an expert in.
Thus, no longer can students rely on someone else to provide answers. In addition, self-initiative is encompassed in the process.
When teachers overcome the problems, the result is a functional game that they can share with others with excitement and pride.
In this study, allowing the teachers to struggle through their difficulties resulted in the discovery of their creativity and confidence.
Teachers in this study demonstrate all the 21st century skills through the game design and building experience.
Teachers learning in such an enactivist world changed their perceptions.
The creative process of designing games forced them to move out of their comfort zones, demonstrating that they were capable of making fun and interesting games.
Such realization of their creativity may consequently help teachers foster their own students’ creative thinking.

Implications for Practice

Learning in such an enactivist world has impacted teachers positively in various ways, from changed perception to the demonstrated 21st century skills.
From the enactivist perspective, it would be difficult to teach someone else a skill that was not currently embodied or experienced by the teacher.
As such, providing teachers with experiences of exercising 21st century skills may help them better facilitate these skills in their future classrooms.

In this enactivist learning world, teachers are the agents of their own learning: they determine their own role in the process and choose their own way of interacting with the software, colleagues, and players.
One of the few requirements is the games’ focus on algebra.
Focusing on algebra, teachers were forced to be creative in both the delivery format (digital game) and the problems.
By experiencing this challenge, teachers became better equipped to challenge students’ preconceived notions of algebra.

This study shows that teachers require support to make the leap from worksheets to richer problems and problems that connect to the real world. Having teachers develop their own games is a positive move.
Additional guidance in developing rich problems and using these problems in the classroom would further benefit teachers in this area.
This process helped and even forced them to take initiatives, to persevere, and to be creative in finding workable solutions.

Two important strategies proved to be effective:
First, collaboration in various ways was highly recommended. Teachers were allowed to work in small groups and were encouraged to help each other within their own groups and across teams.
Second, upon observing the negative feeling among a few teachers, the instructor designed a class activity exploring the pros and cons of this project. Interweaving pedagogical discussion with game design, the instructor asked the teachers to generate their own lists of advantages and disadvantages of game design in mathematics learning.

Updated: Feb. 23, 2016