Comment »Posted on Wednesday 1 October 2008 at 11:27 am by Jacob Aron
In Education, Mathematics

Playing a video game for 20 minutes a day can increase your mathematical potential, a study by Learning and Teaching Scotland has found. Apparently a daily dose of Brain Training on the Nintendo DS helped Scottish school children gain higher scores on their maths tests.

For the uninitiated, Brain Training is a fairly simple game that challenges players with short tests such as mental arithmetic or counting. The idea is to play the game daily with a view to improving your “Brain Age”, a fairly unscientific measure of how “young” your brain is. It’s pretty popular – even Nicole Kidman is at it – but can it really improve your thinking power?

To find out, over 600 pupils in 32 primary schools were given a maths test at the beginning of the study. For the next nine weeks, those in the control group received their normal teaching, whilst the other group were given 20 minutes of Brain Training at the start of each day. At the end of the study period the pupils were tested again, and the two scores compared. The control group showed some improvement, but those training their brains saw a further increase of 50%, from an average of 78 to 83 out of 100. They were also able to solve problems faster, dropping five minutes from an average 18.5 to 13.5 off their total test time.

Interestingly, children who were less competent at maths found the game more beneficial than their more able classmates, showing a larger increase in test scores overall. It could be that they find this non-traditional method of teaching more engaging than their standard lessons. The research also showed that both girls and boys benefited equally from using the game.

All positive results then, but will we be seeing Brain Training in classrooms an time soon? Unfortunately, I think the cost of equipment might prove to be prohibitive. The researchers who carried out the study make it clear they did not receive any financial aid from Nintendo, so presumably they forked out for the game and console themselves. Brain Training sells for around £15, whilst a Nintendo DS is close to £100. For a typical primary class of about 28 pupils, that works out at about £3200.

It makes me wonder if this would be the most cost-effective method of improving pupils mathematical ability, and perhaps more research is needed to find the teaching method with best “pound per percentage-point” ratio. Still, if you’d like to have fun and improve your mind at the same time, it could be that Brain Training is just the game for you. Personally, I think I’ll stick to Super Mario.

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