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About Our Research

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Our Research


Popular culture offers little outside-of-school support for children's mathematical learning. Computer games are a potential exception. These games exert a tremendous pull on some children. While many games purport to be educational and even to promote children's mathematical learning, there is little research to support these claims. Researchers are beginning to get a handle on the conditions under which students learn mathematics in school, yet almost nothing is known about how computer game-playing can support and extend children's knowledge of mathematics. In addition, researchers and software developers have paid little attention to the disparities between boys' and girls' involvement with these games. While computer games could provide the opportunity for increased mathematical learning by both boys and girls, the reality is that girls are not benefiting from the potential of computers to promote math learning. For girls, the computer's screen seems to be a kind of glass wall. They are allowed to glimpse its worlds from a distance, but are not invited inside.

About Our Research

Our research addresses the following questions:

  • How can children learn significant mathematics from computer games?
  • What are the characteristics of games, and of game-playing contexts, that support learning?
  • What patterns are there in girls' and boys' approaches to games -- and in their learning from these games?

We explore these questions through research with elementary and middle school students, and draw on the fields of mathematics education, informal learning, children's play, and gender issues. We call our project Through The Glass Wall to emphasize that one of our goals is to help girls break down the "glass wall" that the computer screen sometimes represents: a wall that keeps them from acquiring important knowledge about technology.

Outcomes of our work include:

  • A deeper understanding of the three research questions above
  • Detailed descriptions of how children learn mathematical thinking with computer games;
  • A set of criteria for evaluating games based along three dimensions:
    • mathematical potential
    • gender equity
    • game design leading to engagement
      (We call games fulfilling all three criteria MEGS - mathematical, equitable game software)
  • A web site including:
    • a summary of the criteria mentioned above,
    • descriptions of several dozen mathematics-related computer games,
    • in-depth reviews of many of these games based on these criteria
    • extensive lists of print and Web-based resources on gender equity, mathematics, and computer games

These outcomes are based on three studies, each of which involved intensive observation of and interviews with children aged 7 to 13. This work has taken place in afterschool programs, summer camps, and laboratory settings. Two studies examined how girls and boys in a summer computer camp used and learned from a variety of mathematically-oriented computer games. One of these involved looking at which games girls and boys chose to play and who they chose to play them with. In the second, we observed a group of girls playing a game specifically designed for girls, focusing on how they collaborated and competed with one another. The third study involved extensive work with a small group of children in an afterschool program. We focused on the way the children played a well-designed mathematical computer game and the kinds of mathematical thinking they developed over a period of several months.

We are disseminating our findings to researchers, to attempt to open up new lines of research; to publishers and game designers, to influence their game development process; and to educators and parents, to help them become more informed consumers of computer games.

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