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Math Snacks Early Algebra: Exploring Imaginary Archeological Sites With Curse Reverse

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Participate and share : Poster

Wednesday, December 2, 4:30–5:30 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

RutH Torres  
Sara Morales  

Learn how math educators, mathematicians, learning specialists and game developers collaborated to develop and test an online game and support materials around early algebra concepts. Math Snacks Early Algebra is a series of educational, inquiry-based and constructivist activities that can be used with existing curriculum.

Audience: Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Mac, PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Please make sure Flash Player is updated when using Google Chrome or Mozilla as web browsers. To test this, play any of the games from the website.
Math Snacks games and website will perform better using Mozilla Firefox browser.
Topic: Games for learning & gamification
Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: Math, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues.
  • Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Game Developers for Math Snacks Early Algebra, a National Science Foundation grant, have developed 2 new video games and 1 interactive tool around foundational skills which students needed to succeed in Algebra. This session will be set up for participants to play with one of the new games, as we believe that gameplay allows the teacher to become the facilitator of learning, incorporating various strategies to guide learners.

Curse Reverse, is a side-scrolling game in which players navigate puzzles by building towers, hanging platforms, and bridges with variables. The primary goal is to help players develop an understanding of how variables can represent specific amounts and can be used when an amount is unknown. Players also develop an understanding of grouping, like terms and building expressions. The team has developed ‘bonus levels’ to provide specific reflection points around key content.

Learning Objectives:
1. To gain awareness of Math Snacks Early Algebra new suite of games
2. To develop discussion, regarding how computer-based games can enhance the math learning experience
3. To explore assigning and changing values and coefficients to variables to solve puzzles by playing the computer-based game Curse Reverse

Math Snacks has undergone careful user testing, formative evaluation, and research to document learning gains. In 2013-2014, 741 fifth grade students participated in an experimental study to measure the effect of Math Snacks games and related inquiry-based activities on their understandings of ratios, coordinate plane, and number systems including fractions and decimals. Findings showed that Math Snacks does make an impact on students' conceptual understanding. A significant amount of data for Math Snacks Early Algebra has been collected and will soon be analyzed and disseminated.

A full description of study findings, "Impact of Math Snacks Games on Students’ Conceptual Understanding" was published in the Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
A description of study methodologies, "Measurement in Learning Games Evolution: Review of Methodologies Used in Determining Effectiveness of Math Snacks Games and Animations" was published in Technology, Knowledge, and Learning.


This presentation will allow attendees to interact with technology tools that can be used to support teaching. All of the Math Snacks Early Algebra materials are designed to enhance the curriculum used by teachers and not intended to replace it. Therefore, participants will be able to evaluate and provide feedback on these materials. Curse Reverse will allow participants to engage and explore the learning in a similar way as their students. Participants will be using digital devices to interact with the tools. They will also have an opportunity to engage in questioning, problem-solving, and provide feedback to researchers on how this experience can transfer into the classroom.

Participants will explore the following key concepts:
Building skills with algebraic expressions and patterns
Solving pre-algebra riddles with defined and variable values
Use variables to represent numbers while exploring imaginary archeological sites built from algebraic expressions
Understanding that variables can represent quantities as a key feature for pre-algebra learning
Experience mathematics as something that can be explored
Ask questions and make conjectures
Practice and reinforce simple mental math

Participants will begin by having a general discussion on what students may know or not know about algebraic expressions and patterns and how Math Snacks computer-based games address this gap.

Participants will then have a 15-20 minute Game Play introduction. They will use their laptops to access the Curse Reverse game. The game’s narrative structure build players’ sense of accomplishments, and imaginative art motivates the progress through increasingly difficult game sites.

In groups of 4-5 people, they will engage in a bonus hands-on activity. The Curse Reverse Keys activity is designed to get students thinking about the use of coefficient, variables, and constants to evaluate expressions. Behind locked doorknobs is a secret image and participants will use the curse reverse keys to uncover it. The goal is to come up with different algebraic expressions that will evaluate as many doorknobs numbers as possible and uncover the secret image.

After this, participants will play Curse Reverse for 15 minutes as a Game Play Enrichment session.

Finally, a 5 minuteS session of reflection and assessment will encourage participants to talk to each other and share strategies.

Supporting research

Chamberlin, B., Trespalacios, J., & Gallagher, R. (2012). The learning games design model: Immersion, collaboration, and outcomes-driven development. International Journal of Game-Based Learning (IJGBL), 2(3), 87-110.

Chamberlin, B., Trespalacios, J. H., & Gallagher, R. (2014). Bridging research and game development: A Learning Games Design Model for multi-game projects. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Educational technology use and design for improved learning opportunities (pp. 151-171). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.

Torres Castillo, R., & Morales, S. (2019). A Protocol for Reviewing Off-the-Shelf Games to Inform the Development of New Educational Games. In K. Blashki, & P. Isaías (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Human-Computer Interfaces and New Modes of Interactivity (pp. 40-58). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-9069-9.ch003

Torres, R., Toups, Z. O., Wiburg, K., Chamberlin, B., Gomez, C., & Ozer, M. A. (2016, October). Initial Design Implications for Early Algebra Games. In Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play Companion Extended Abstracts (pp. 325-333). ACM.

Trujillo, K., Chamberlin, B., Wiburg, K., & Armstrong, A. (2016) Measurement in Learning Games Evolution: Review of Methodologies Used in Determining Effectiveness of Math Snacks Games and Animations. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 1-20.

Wiburg, K., Chamberlin, B., Valdez, A., Trujillo, K., & Stanford, T. (2016). Impact of Math Snacks Games on Students’ Conceptual Understanding, Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 35(2), 173-193. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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RutH Torres, New Mexico State University
Sara Morales, STEM Outreach Center, NMSu

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