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algebrachallengeStudents across Washington did some serious algebra work this week — and I mean serious like 400,000 problems in four days kind of work.

As part of the Washington State Algebra Challenge, K-12 students used an iteration of a learning app called DragonBox to try and solve 250,000 equations in just one week.

They did that and much more, as 4,000 students ended up finishing off nearly 400,000 equations for the past five days.

“It’s fun to watch them get excited and competitive about math,” Governor Jay Inslee said in a press release. “Every one of these students might be a future doctor, engineer or business owner and these kinds of competitions really help generate enthusiasm for boosting STEM education in Washington.”

dragonbox2Participating classes had a chance to play a free online version of DragonBox, a multi-platform math learning game among the top-selling learning apps in the App Store. The original game was developed by French-Norwegian game-based learning company WeWantToKnow. Last year, the company partnered with The Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, which has helped improve the app and conduct classroom trials to add adaptive level and tutorial generation, teacher support tools and other features.

For the Challenge, a specially-developed platform was adapted to meet the Common Core Standards for mathematics that’s being implemented statewide. Live progress of the challenge was updated at and prizes for every grade level (K-12) will be given to classrooms that achieve the highest percentage of mastery per student.

After the Challenge, teachers will now be able to use DragonBox for free during the 2013-14 school year and also utilize an analytical tool called Teacher Portal that provides feedback and shows student progress.

The game is designed to have the most dramatic effect at the elementary level for those who are embracing algebra for the first time, but any students can find benefit.

centerforgamescience“We also think the game is useful for older kids as well, both to gain a new perspective on algebra and for remediation of concepts that were not fully absorbed in earlier grades,” said the UW’s Kate Fisher.

But it’s the first-timers that can benefit the most. Many elementary school students may get the wrong perception and shy away from math and science if they run into early stumbling blocks.

“Once interest and engagement is gone, the task of producing effective advanced material that draws students towards STEM is significantly harder,” Fisher said. “Conveying this material in a way that is effective, fun and engaging and in an environment that children naturally gravitate towards can help create a positive perception towards mathematical thinking, funneling a significantly larger number of self-interested students into STEM fields.”

Using games in the classroom is certainly a new idea, but one that people like Northeastern University-Seattle CEO Tayloe Washburn see great potential for, especially in Seattle.

The Washington State Algebra Challenge was sponsored by WeWantToKnow and Technology Alliance, which is now working with the Washington State Department of Commerce Broadband office to design a project-based, student-driven apps development computer science course, along with a K-12 Apps Challenge in 2014.

Previously on GeekWire: Northeastern Univ. CEO: ‘Gaming in Seattle is a submarine industry’

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