I confess that I came to loath Algebra class when I was in school, but times change and now kids are studying coordinate systems, irrational numbers (considering the swooning market aren’t all numbers irrational today?), logarithms, linear equations, fractional exponents and polynomials by playing video games.

Though some will always be skeptical that students are learning anything this way, the evidence is mounting that they can and do. The New York Times reports that in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn the eighth-grade math class is sounding like a video arcade, with students vanquishing virtual enemies and learning math in the process:

This fall, New York City is rolling out Dimension M — M stands for math — in 109 middle schools across the five boroughs after trying the game out in two dozen schools, including I.S. 30, last year. Like a modern twist on “Jeopardy!,” the fast-paced video game quizzes students on prealgebra and algebra topics ranging from prime numbers to fractions and complex equations. A correct answer brings 500 or more points, a wrong one as few as 25; the player with the most points wins.

“You have to be at the top of your game,” said Salma Nakhlawi, 13, who has been brushing up on her math skills along with her hand-eye coordination so that she can play the video game Dimension M with her friends. “I used to hate math, but I’ve started to like it. I actually understand it more.”

I’ve reported on Dimension M before, of course, and truth be told have been following Nt Etuks company since the first Serious Games Summit where he demonstrated an early prototype. But while there’s growing anecdotal evidence games are powerful tools for teaching and learning, hard evidence has been hard to come by. That’s about to change. According to THE Journal this week:

There’s a growing movement in academia and industry recognizing the value of this medium as an educational tool both inside and outside the classroom. This week, eight colleges and universities added their inertia to this movement, joining with Microsoft to launch a new alliance to study the benefits of gaming for math and science instruction and STEM equity.

The consortium, dubbed the “Games for Learning Institute,” is being led by New York University and includes Columbia University, City University of New York (CUNY), Dartmouth College, Parsons, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Teachers College. These members are matching an investment from Microsoft Research of $1.5 million to provide a total of $3 million in funding for the effort.

Adding to this tide, my colleague Lee Wilson of Headway Strategies is writing a white paper on the power of video games to teach, and we have a proposal pending for a panel to discuss the latest research findings at the 2009 Game Developers Conference’s Serious Games Summit in March.

Soon, when your kids ask for help with their Algebra 101 homework and your eyes glaze over, you’ll be able to tell them with confidence “go play a video game.” How cool is that?

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