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EMAT7650 Applied Project – Overview

Bill Daly


            This project is an extension of the EMAT6700 project, a web based topic review game called Math Jeopardy.  While the output of the EMAT6700 project was a very satisfying from the viewpoint of student engagement in an Algebra1 class, there are a number of issues that provided a strong motivation to extend this project in the EMAT7650 Applied Project.  Perhaps the greatest issue is that I found myself teaching Physics rather than Algebra1, which renders that Math Jeopardy game useless in my present classroom.  Even if the content is a match with my present classroom, there were several other deficiencies that needed to be corrected in the current rendition of the game.  In the following I discuss how each of these issues was addressed.  Following this, I give a brief overview of how the game is structured and played.


Issues Addressed:

            One issue that required modification is that the name needs to be more generic.  This is why the name and voice over are changed from Math Jeopardy to Academia Mania. 

            A second issue that arose from student feedback is that in the original game students are questioned, they get the answer wrong and the game moves forward.  Students wanted to see the correct answer when they missed a question.  This was a missed instructional opportunity in Math Jeopardy, which is corrected in Academia Mania.  If both teams miss a question, the game automatically goes to a screen showing the original question with the answer highlighted.  Students view this for as long as they wish and then click a button to return to the game.  Additionally, there is a “Key” button on the main game board.  Students may at any time click the key button to view the most recent question.  This is provided for the case where one team misses and the opponent gets the question correct and students are returned to the game.  The team that missed the question may wish to see the correct answer.

            A third issue that arose from teacher observation is that timing proved to be a difficult classroom management issue.  It required intensive, disciplined teacher involvement throughout the game.  Exactly when is time up?  What if I delay and opponents object to the other team having gotten more time.  In the original game, at times the focus moved from high quality engagement in the content to argument and frustration concerning how much time was allowed to answer the questions.  I felt that it was a simple matter to make this very objective by including a countdown timer in view while the question is presented.  If a student answers early, the timer is interrupted and the game moves one.  If the countdown timer makes it to zero, the game proceeds as if a student answered incorrectly.  While this countdown timer is incorporated in the present game, it remains to be seen whether this reduces some of the student frustration observed earlier.  Including this countdown time does have one drawback, for which an additional feature was added to the game.  The question duration is embedded in the XML file and is just a teacher’s best estimate of a good tradeoff between giving students enough time, while making the game proceed at a reasonable pace.  It is difficult to change this in real time.  So a feature was added to the game called “Time Scale”.  This value is a blanket multiplier to all of the time attibute values.  The default value is one and it may be set either during game setup or during game play.  If during play (or during setup) the teacher’s view is that students have been given too much time, students seems to be more confident than expected and the game is dragging on too long, the time scale can be set to a number less than one.  For example, setting time scale set to 0.75 would give students 45 seconds on a question that was programmed for 60 seconds.  Likewise, if students are continually timing out and getting frustrated, the teacher, during game play could increase the time scale value.  A time scale of 1.2 would give students 72 seconds on a 60 second question.

            A fourth issue that resulted from teacher observation was that in the original game, when one team was in play, the opposing team had no motivation to be engaged.  While that time limit will help this a bit, it will likely continue to be a problem unless attended to.  The solution that is incorporated into Academia Mania is that if team one misses a question, they lose their point and play is turned over to the opponent for a decremented point value (not decremented for one point questions).  The opponent must answer correctly or they too will lose a point.  To encourage the entire class to be engaged, the opponent is given only 15 seconds to answer.  The rationale for this is that they are encouraged to be working on the answer during opponent play, just in case the opponent misses.  If so, they are hopefully motivate to have an answer ready to go in short order.

            The final area which was considered was to allow for differing numbers of teams.  As this was considered, this alteration was dropped for two reasons.  First, the single player game still appears to be a worthy goal to provide a tool for students to review independently.  However, to record students’ names, student high scores and student responses requires server side scripts in something like PHP which is beyond the scope of what was intended for this version.  Nevertheless, this is a worthy goal for a future version of the game, which could become quite sophisticated in terms of student review and guidance.  For example, it is not too much of a stretch to consider an item analysis feature for individual play wherein, not only is the student score recorded, but advice on recommended areas of study is provided based on the particular questions that were missed.  The second reason that the number of teams was dropped was due to considering the effect of more than two teams.  It is likely that I will never incorporate this feature, since it would degrade some of the issues cited above.  For example, if there were 4 team play, while team one is up, team 2 is motivated to be engaged, but teams 3 and 4 are much more likely to become distracted.  Also, the concept of turning over play for a reduced number of points becomes problematical as the number of teams increases.  It was decided that the optimal number of teams is either one player or two player.  But the problem of large team sizes with only a few contributors still looms.  I am convinced that the solution to this problem, if it arises, is to play the game in a computer lab with several two player games ensuing with smaller team sizes.


Game Play: 

            When the game is initially entered, a screen is displayed with selection boxes.  The time scale, described above may be set at any time, but the Subject, Course and Topic Selection must be done in a specific order.  This order is intuitive and “out of order” selections are inherently prohibited since the selection windows are not populated.  In the present version of the game, the only content that is available is

                        Subject:  Mathematics

                        Course:  Introduction to Vectors and

                         Topic:  six topics are presented to choose from. 

Five of these six topics must be selected.  As content is added there is no limit to the number of possible topics in a category, but exactly five must be selected since these are placed into the five rows of the game board.  Other subject such as physics and history (along with their course titles) are bogus topics included just to demonstrate the selection ability.  At the present time, there is not content to support these selections.  These will be removed or supported with content if the game is rolled out for more general use.  However, there is virtually no limit to the number of subjects and courses that could be supported but the game.

            Once the list of possible topics appears in the left, the user click on the desire five topics, one at a time, and the topic is moved to the list on the right hand side.  They may be moved back to the left list and other reselected if the user changes their mind about which topics to include.  Only when the right hand list is complete with five topics may the user accept the topics and move to game play.  If the user hits the “Accept” button before five selections, a reminder message appears.  At the present time, depending on the speed of the internet connection, the user may have to hit the accept button more than once due to a time delay in the XML files being loaded.

            Once game play begins, alternating teams pick a category and number of points, and the game manages itself.  Once the button is clicked, students are given a fixed time to answer the question.  If correct, points are awarded and play move to the opponent for the next question.  If incorrect, a point is deleted and play moves to the opponent for the same question.

            When creating the content files for the game, the teacher will optimally classify more difficult problem with longer time limit and greater point value.  There must be at least 25 questions to populate the game board.  But there is no limit to the number of questions.  But ideally this longer list of question will be designed to fit into the 25 categories.  The way the game operates with more than 25 question, is that if more than one question is assigned to a button, the game randomly selects the question.  It may be useful to view the game board as a three dimensional array, with the third dimension being the number of questions assigned to the button:
















In this example, topics 2-5 have only one question per button.  These question would remain the same each time the game is played.  For topic one, buttons 1 and 5 would randomly select from the four questions behind these buttons.  Button 2 would randomly select from three questions and button 3 would randomly selected between two questions.  Button 4 would be static from game to game.  Ideally, this feature may be used to randomize order of the answer or increase the number of numerical or conceptual choices so that students will be less likely to memorize the correct answer.  The content and structure of this three dimensional array is completely determined by the XML which contains the content.


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