Can digital games and brain-training exercises be successful in boosting children’s math skills? New studies suggest that not only can digital games boost math scores but that they do so dramatically.

In a 2013 study from the Rossier School of Education in Los Angeles, Michelle M Riscocente, PhD, explored the effects of exposing fourth graders to the iPad fractions game Motion Math. Teaching students fractions and engendering enthusiasm in students for this subject has been notoriously difficult for math teachers. In results from 122 participants, students’ fractions test scores improved an average of over 15% after playing Motion Math for 20 min daily over a 5-day period, representing a significant increase compared to the control group. Self-efficacy and enthusiasm also went up for the students who played the game,

A 2015 Stanford Study found similar results. The study tested 59 third graders at Big Dipper Academy in the Big Tree School District of Sequoia, California. One group played the mobile game Wuzzit Trouble, an operational pattern recognition game testing mathematical thinking. Students took a test before the experiment and afterwards to measure “number sense,” a general way to gauge student comfort with numbers. The mean difference between the pre and post total scores on testing was significantly larger for the treatment group than for the control group, suggesting the game had had a positive impact on the students’ mathematical abilities.

The incorporation of digital games into educational curriculums is quickly becoming a centerpiece of educational policy. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of K-8 teachers report
using digital games for instruction. Four out of five of these teachers say their students play at least monthly, and 55% say they do so at least weekly. Educators in the Hillsborough County School system in Tampa Florida have looked at the reports and are adopting the digital game strategy themselves. They hope that with the adoption of TiVitz, a math-strategy game that covers concepts from single-digit addition to multiplying and dividing by percentages, math performance will improve. Entire schools are also being structured around the digital game based educational structure. Quest to Learn, a public grade 6-12 school, has based its entire pedagogy around the idea of play, has incorporated digital games into all of its lesson plans across all subjects. Though it was only established in 2009, preliminary results are promising. In addition, its students are performing at or above New York City public school averages on standardized tests, and in 2010 the school ranked in the ninety-seventh percentile in student engagement across city schools. Using games in education has been a controversial matter, but the improvements in math skills and the general indicators point to a real consideration in educational policy towards making it a more widely used teaching tool.