The BrainQuake math learning product is built on years of research into mathematics education

How did we get to where we are now?

BrainQuake started life as an initiative to take a promising body of university research in mathematics education and turn it into a product that could be made widely available to any student in the world, young or old.

That history, coupled with our driving commitment to subject each version of our product to independent—and ideally peer-reviewed—university research, resulted in Digital Promise naming BrainQuake the “Top Entry in the Learning Sciences” category in its 2016 Research-Based Products Campaign.

Here is a simple-looking arithmetic puzzle you often come across in puzzle collections. How quickly can you solve it? (Normally I stress that mathematics is not about speed; indeed, most mathematicians I know work slowly, as do I. But this time it’s different. The goal is to see how you do when you work quickly.)

PROBLEM: A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost on its own? (There is no special pricing deal.)

How did you do? The most common answer people give instantly to this problem…

Students in Oakland, CA, using Wuzzit Trouble as a suplementary learning resource in a classroom in the pre-COVID era. When classes are conducted over the Web, with students in their homes, digital games can play a much more central role.

Faced with students having to learn remotely in their homes due to the pandemic, teachers need to find new ways to keep their students engaged. Educational video games provide an obvious mechanism. If well designed, they are both educational and highly engaging. I don’t say that because I design educational video games; rather I decided to create educational video games because research carried out by me and many others had demonstrated their educational power.

Back when I and some seasoned veterans of the video game world and the educational technology world created BrainQuake, we viewed video games as being ideally…

In the new “BrainQuake” app, players progress though a series of puzzles of three different kinds (called “Gears”, “Tanks”, and “Tiles”, respectively) by navigating a path through the World Map. An early version of the “Gears” puzzle was originally released as BrainQuake’s launch app “Wuzzit Trouble”. Image of my own progress through the World Map playing as a “strong” player (hence the name).

One question we get asked from time to time from people who have enjoyed playing our launch app Wuzzit Trouble is whether that puzzle is part of our new BrainQuake app. The answer is a “Yes, but …”

Wuzzit Trouble was a standalone mobile game that presented players with 75 puzzles based on a digital gears mechanic. Based on very positive critical reviews and two independent, peer-reviewed, comparison-group university studies that showed the game led to substantial learning gains (see the Research page on our website), we applied for, and were awarded, a 2.5 year, $1.1M …

Extract from the BrainQuake website

Like many other companies, BrainQuake often describes our lead products as educational games. But what does that mean, exactly?

It seems like a simple question that will have an equally simple answer: surely, an educational game is one where a player learns something by playing the game.

But that can’t be the answer, because a player learns something by playing any game that involves some kind of problem solving.

I should note that I don’t mean this in the trivial sense that the player learns to play the game. …

Children at a middle school in Oakland, CA, engage in some “hard fun” with the BraidQuake Gears puzzle in math class.

At BrainQuake we develop “hard fun” math-learning activities.

But what exactly does that term “hard fun” mean? It’s certainly not our term. I first came across it in early in the New Millennium, when I was starting out on my investigation of the potential of video games to provide good mathematics education.

The term was introduced by object-oriented programming pioneer Alan Kay to describe an activity that is both challenging and enjoyable. The educational benefits of hard fun activities include learning how to manage frustration, develop and test new strategies, and gain confidence.

In a video game, hard fun activities…

Education thought-leader Sir Kenneth Robinson, born March 4, 1950, died August 21, 2020.

Just as I was getting ready to write this week’s blogpost, the news came out that the fabled, British-born, education thought-leader Sir Kenneth Robinson had died, aged 70.

Along with many educators, we at BrainQuake have been greatly influenced by Robinson. His thinking about education, especially in relation to creativity, was made particularly influential by virtue of his ability to give engaging and entertaining — while at the same time highly thought-provoking — public talks. His 2006 TED talk in Monterey, CA, turned him into an Internet star.

I particularly like the animated video of a talk he gave in…

Pioneering video-game scholar Dr. James Paul Gee, currently the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literary Studies at Arizona State University.

In 2003, Professor James Paul Gee, a cognitive scientist who at that time was a profes­sor of reading at the University of Wisconsin, published a thought-provoking book titled What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. That same year, I and two colleagues at Stanford University organized a three-day research workshop titled Gaming2Learn, aimed at bringing together leading education researchers and successful game developers to examine the prospects for developing good video games that provide good learning. …

School children at a school in Oakland, CA, playing the BrainQuake launch app Wuzzit Trouble in class

One of the known benefits of game-based learning is that, providing the game is designed and constructed sufficiently well, it can help students adopt a positive and confident attitude towards the subject the game is intended to develop mastery in— in our case mathematics, with our particular focus being the hugely important general skillset of mathematical thinking and creative problem-solving capacity.

The importance of developing a positive attitude to a subject being learned was highlighted by the cognitive psychologist Carol Dweck in her ground-breaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, first published in 2006, where she contrasted a growth…

Students working on the BrainQuake Gears puzzle (in the original Wuzzit Trouble app). The more advanced Gears puzzles do not have unique “right” answers. They are all about finding optimal solutions under a constraint. You can optimize the number of bonus items collected (and in some cases the number of penalty items avoided), and the number of moves taken, but you have to collect all your bonus items before you collect the final key. That requires a range of important 21st Century math skills.

I don’t know the answer to that question. Other than to say they use it in lots of different ways.

I can say that, in many cases, people use math without knowing it, since we have succeeded in creating mathematical tools that where the math is completely hidden.

Google is one example. Search engines are implementations of mathematical algorithms — more complex versions of the familiar procedures we have for adding, multiplying, subtracting, and dividing numbers. Similarly, when we look for items to buy on Amazon or any online store and then place an order, we are instructing mathematical algorithms…


Developing children’s true math proficiency

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store