Harnessing the Magic of Adventure Math
How one game helps students engage, take ownership of their learning and transform into "mathemagicians."
by Justin Hancock, TJS Learning Specialist
Every child is on a personal journey in which they encounter academic and social struggles. Adventure Math, a math-focused roleplaying game I created, allows students to embrace these struggles together, through the comforting lens of their imagination.
Students are naturally interested in the interactive storytelling, imaginative play and dice play the game provides. Students create characters who must overcome problems using math and logic, aka "mathemagic," as they train to become more powerful mathemagicians.
A Game 20 Years in the Making
Adventure Math grew out of another game I created in while high school, Attack Math. In Attack Math, two people build competing equations and "attack" each other using numbers and math operations. Fast forward twenty years, I attended the Math Plus Conference in Kansas City last summer, and the idea of Attack Math returned to me.
As I thought of ways to involve an entire classroom in the game, I realized that combining elements of Attack Math with those of traditional roleplaying games would allow for the entire class to be involved and work together. From there, Adventure Math formed.
Making the Game by Kids, for Kids
As with all roleplaying games, my students needed characters. All too often, children are spoon-fed experiences through characters created for them instead of by them. From the beginning, I wanted students to have creative freedom so they might feel ownership and responsibility for their characters.
They create characters that range from minor alterations of their actual selves to talking dragons, amoeba and even muffins. As they roleplay as these characters, they create voices, make decisions that reflect their characters' ethics and see the effects their choices have on others. Every action they take matters when it comes time to coordinate as a team to solve problems.
Teamwork, Struggles & Problem Solving
When students encounter problems in Adventure Math, the solution often requires teamwork. Whether they're trying to defeat a group of Trogs (half-tree, half-frog creatures) or unlock a mysterious door, their success hinges on the ability to communicate and execute their ideas in the moment. Students learn that, while success and failure might ultimately depend on something as simple as a roll of the dice, the likelihood of success can be greatly improved by altering equations in their favor.
This constant struggle keeps the math part of Adventure Math interesting. In language arts, we learn that conflict is the driving force of a story. Without conflict, stories become stagnant. Through Adventure Math, I use conflict to motivate students to use math concepts to overcome problems.
While I'm excited by the potential Adventure Math holds as a curricular tool, I'm most encouraged by the enthusiasm I see in my students. From day one, their response has been overwhelmingly positive. They take pride in their characters' successes and feel the weight of their struggles. Students love offering ideas for the direction our story might take. One student even said she wants to write a series of books about a group of adventurers when she grows up.
It's rewarding to watch students develop their sense of imagination, solve increasingly complex equations and build bonds through teamwork and shared experiences as the game evolves.
The Adventure Continues
As I develop Adventure Math, I would like to integrate it further into my classroom and curriculum, allowing students to gain experience for their characters in all aspects of their study, practice and testing. Eventually I would like to create tangible resources that could be easily used by other teachers, students and families. Perhaps, with a lot of hard work and a few lucky rolls of dice, I might be able to see Adventure Math incorporated into classrooms around the world.
About the Author
Justin Hancock has been teaching, mentoring and developing education programs for ten years. He has a passion for helping individuals achieve their dreams. Justin believes his mission goes beyond helping students achieve academic success and extends to promoting well-being, creative problem solving, and awareness of the self and others. He is proud to teach at The Joy School because he believes students with learning differences deserve specific, tailored instruction that meets them where they are.
Bachelor of Science in Economics with a Minor in Business from Texas A&M University