Thursday, January 26, 2012

Drill and Thrill- Factor Samurai

I touched on this in a previous article about the pros and cons of drilling math skills. Basically, we all know that studies show that drilling doesn't have a ton of impact on students.  As an educator and a video game player, I wonder why this conclusion is true.  We play video games like Angry Birds, etc. that involve a ton of repetition.  There are slight variations, but ultimately it's the same old song and dance.  So, why do games impact individuals more than something like a math worksheet that drills the same thing over and over.  Interest, loss and reward, a direct sense of relevance brought on by the immediacy of the situation. Games bring relevance because if you don't master the concept in the moment, you die or lose. What's worse than losing, right?  The desire to win makes mastering the skill important.  These things are generally absent from academic based drills.  So, what do we do to fix the situation?  We play games.

Factor Samurai is a free app available for ipad, ipod touch, and iphone that closely mirrors the famous Fruit Ninja app.  The main difference is that we have pulled the wool over the eyes of our audience.  Instead of slashing fruit with swipes of your finger as it is tossed in the air, you are slashing composite numbers into their prime factors.  All the while you are trying to avoid hitting any prime numbers.  This doesn't sound too bad unless you consider the fact that there are roughly 5-8 numbers in the air at any time.  So, does this app yield the qualities that make something stick in your brain.  Is there an immediate need that requires a skill to be used?  Yep.  What happens if you don't have the skill?  You lose. Quickly. What happens if you do well?  You get different colored swords, the numbers get more challenging, and there are more numbers on the screen.  Finally, everytime you lose the game, it records your score.  When the top 10 places are taken, you have to work to beat those scores.  Talk about goal setting.  Who doesn't want to beat their personal best score, or better yet, the best score of their buddy? 

Factor Samurai includes all of the elements of interest, loss and reward, and a sense of relevancy that brings students (and teachers) back to it time and again.  There are three different levels of difficulty which amp up the challenge in some pretty big ways.  This is a game that "drills" a math skill.  The difference is that it builds in an intentional approach to drilling that bring all of the above mentioned qualities and in the end achieves the result of build fluency, developing mastery, and maintaining interest. 

My biggest criticism of Factor Samurai is that it is harder to play on the smaller screen devices.  It definitely shines on the ipad.  This free app is a must for any parent or teacher wanting to give their students something productive to do mathematically while still having some fun.


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