In my middle school classroom, I use games on a weekly basis. Sometimes, these games are fairly basic, and at first glance, one might wonder why something this unappealing would even be used. Dr. McLeod's first example was the infamous Math Baseball. When I first saw this, I chuckled a little to myself because a lot of my students actually enjoy this game for whatever reason. They like the reward system of scoring runs for getting questions correct. Even so, this game is very limited.
I have found a few uses for games such as Math Baseball. In this case, Math Baseball is focusing on computation. When we take five minutes out of a period to work on computation, I like the fact that the program tells students whether they are right or wrong. I wish it went a step further and gave an example of how you could come up with the solution (many games include this), but that can be left to the teacher. I can easily walk around and see who can decipher a large multiplication problem, and who still needs some extra practice. Everyone is showing their work, and I can go through and help to find the problem, or find a peer to offer guidance. This is a small formative piece of data, but very useful in helping me individualize for each student down the road. This could also be used as a pretest as well.
From a student perspective, one of the drawbacks of typical book work is the lack of any sort of timely feedback if students are working alone, or even in groups. It is entirely possible for a student to have a slight misconception, and go through an entire assignment without even knowing that something in their understanding is flawed. This is unfortunate because it can waste a lot of time and energy from the student, and can also cause headaches for the teacher when the problem could have been fixed ahead of time. I do encourage students to look in the back of the book to see if they are on the right track, but using the slightly underwhelming mathematical game can also serve the purpose. Students can know instantly whether they have the basic knowledge for the concept presented in the game, or if they should seek out assistance.
The following are a few examples out of thousands that focus on a certain concept and can be used for quick teacher and student feedback:
Algebra vs. Cockroaches
Catch the Fly
These types of games are all over the Internet, and frankly much easier to find than games that focus on deep levels of mathematical understanding in a fun and creative way. By no means am I saying that this should be a large portion of your curriculum. My goal as am educator is to foster deep mathematical understanding. The bottom line is that there is a time and place in education for these types of games, and when used correctly, they can benefit both students and teachers.
*Can be used as a brief formative assessment to help a teacher with future educational decisions
*Can be used as a form of quick feedback so students do not have to wait a day, or even five minutes to know how they are doing