Maths - Fire their enthusiasm

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
A dragon-themed app teaches equations in an engaging way

When I started teaching in Norway it seemed that fun and learning in maths were not allowed to mix. That's when I began to research game-based learning. I developed a computer algebra game and tested it on my class of 16-year-olds: the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

I contacted teaching colleagues and introduced the game to classes of different ages in other schools. The results were promising. About 80 per cent of the students who played it were able to solve equations after just two hours, learning in minutes what would previously have taken me a term to teach.

The game, DragonBox, involves matching tiles and dragging and dropping them on top of each other to cancel out other tiles. The problems become progressively more complex and the characters are eventually replaced with algebraic symbols. The students do not realise they are learning maths: the whole game revolves around them unlocking a series of dragon-like creatures as they progress. We keep instructions to a minimum - good games are intuitive and students quickly work out solutions by themselves. It's great for revision, too.

In my experience, teachers spend 90 per cent of their time on instruction and only a small amount of what is left over on high-level thinking and conceptualising - the part that has the potential to truly inspire and motivate their students. With the basics taken care of, using game-based learning, I had much more time to spend on these higher-level exercises.

Most children enjoy computer games: they are designed to be rewarding and addictive. And subjects such as maths and science lend themselves perfectly to the format because there are no language barriers, only universal truths. Games offer immediate feedback, interactivity and the ability to progress at one's own pace. Moreover, they motivate children to search for solutions themselves.

What started out as a proof of concept in a few classrooms became an app that is now on 20 per cent of all the iPads in Norway - we even knocked Angry Birds off the top spot in the Apple App Store. We were not the first to try this: other developers have tried game-based learning but without a great deal of success. I believe this is because most of these so-called games are just electronic versions of traditional exercises.

We believe we will be able to teach children the entire primary and secondary maths curriculum in 30 hours using computer games. Imagine what could be achieved in the remaining time.

Jean-Baptiste Huynh is a maths teacher and founder of game-based learning company We Want to Know. His algebra game DragonBox can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play. More information about the game can be found at

What else?

Check out josephbull's template for a PowerPoint game based on Angry Birds.


An interactive doubling-up game shared by gav1717 asks students to choose the answer that is double a randomly generated number between 0 and 50. Who will get the highest score?


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