The computer game that parents - and teachers - are eager to encourage

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
Web-based maths resource Mangahigh is also popular with pupils during three-month Scottish trial

It is hard to imagine a scenario where parents encourage their children to play computer games instead of begging or bribing them to take a break. But that could be the impact of Mangahigh.

The maths games website has been set up by Toby Rowland, a co-founder of, the hugely successful skill games site which claims to host 350 million games a month.

Arguably if anyone knows what makes for a compulsive computer game, it is Mr Rowland. And with Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at Oxford University, as chair of Mangahigh's board of advisers, it would appear to be a winning combination.

"What we are doing is creating games that are incredibly playable, that kids can love, that also teach mathematics to a high level," says Mr Rowland, the son of Tiny Rowland, the late Lonrho tycoon.

The competitive element in the games is "incredibly powerful" and will spur pupils on, Mr Rowland believes. Topping the Mangahigh league at the moment is Greensward Academy in Essex, and pupils win bronze, silver and gold awards depending on their performance.

When he was running, Mr Rowland says "it wasn't that the games were necessarily all that interesting, what was exciting was the competition and the high scores".

"We can make exciting games about mathematics and kids will want to play them," he adds.

In Scotland, Mangahigh has been trialled for three months in 10 secondaries by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS).

Ultimately 14 teachers in seven schools gave feedback about the trial's success. Ten felt their pupils really liked Mangahigh; the remainder felt they liked it a bit - none said that their pupils didn't like it or really disliked it. Most of the teachers agreed that use of the site resulted in pupils doing more calculations than usual and being more engaged.

The response from the 290 pupils who took part in the survey was more mixed. Over two-thirds said they wanted to learn more maths to do better in the games, but the remaining 32 per cent said the games didn't spur them on to learn more; 80 per cent said they liked them, but a fifth were unmoved.

However, when asked if they would enjoy maths more if they could use Mangahigh, 93 per cent of pupils said they probably or definitely would. And when they sat tests based on the mathematical concepts they had covered in the games, they did 13 per cent better than before.

Julie Arrol, a probationer maths teacher at Mintlaw Academy in Aberdeenshire, has been using Mangahigh with S1-4 pupils since February. She turns to websites fairly regularly to help teach her subject, including

"It's essentially a page of sums on a screen and they can take a tutorial if they are stuck," she explains.

She also uses to hone her pupils' mental arithmetic skills.

But Mangahigh is different, she adds; its games are of a comparable quality to the ones pupils play at home. "The kids get quite engaged with tutpup, but after a while it becomes just the same thing over and over. Mangahigh is more similar to what they are used to playing in their own time.

"In the first week one boy spent two hours playing it at home. His dad came to parents' night very chuffed. Previously he had felt the reason his son wasn't doing well in maths was because he spent all night playing computer games."

Ice Ice Maybe is a Mangahigh game designed to get pupils used to estimating the answers to sums. If they estimate well, their penguins bounce to safety, but if they do badly, the penguins plummet into the "deadly Estim Ocean".

"Lots of kids are slow at these kinds of things and wouldn't realise that 140 is nowhere near the right answer to 46 + 37, for instance." says Ms Arrol.

Higher mathematical concepts are taught in games like Algebra Meltdown and Pyramid Panic, which covers everything from working out the area of a square through to Pythagoras's theorem and trigonometry.

"Mangahigh helps them practise things they really struggle with," concludes Ms Arrol.

Brian Clark, a development officer at the Consolarium, LTS's centre for games and learning, is also a Mangahigh convert.

"The Mangahigh team has developed a series of games for the 10-16 age group that requires the application of mathematical concepts from the first click of the `Play Now' button. It is one of the first games-based learning tools I have seen that really challenges pupils of all abilities, and, importantly, it is presented in a modern, accessible and Flash-based format."

Mangahigh games are free but if teachers want to see how their pupils are performing they have to subscribe.

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