Game-based math learning can open up new educational possibilities

4 min readSep 14, 2020
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 federal grant from the US Department of Education, which enabled us to expand our original product to something far more substantial.

As a first step, we modified the original Wuzzit Trouble game to operate with an adaptive engine that drew on a large database of puzzles to match the difficulty of the puzzles presented with the player’s current ability to solve them. (So in the new app, players encounter many more “Gears” puzzles, and different players will encounter different sequences of “Gears” puzzles that are at the upper limit of their ability based on their performence so far.)

Following successful classroom trials of the “Gears” puzzle with an adaptive engine, we embarked on the design and construction of two additional puzzles covering more areas of mathematics, that drew on the same adaptive engine, and we developed a real-time, comprehensive formative assessment that provides feedback through our proprietary, multi-dimensional BrainQuake Score.

The entire system is presented to the player (student) by way of a “World Map”, a familiar game-interface where progress and navigation are handled by moving along a geographical path through various regions. (See image above.)

The three puzzles, Gears, Tiles, and Tanks, are built on integer arithmetic and algebra, on linear growth and algebra, and on proportional reasoning and fractions, respectively. Gears is the greatly expanded version of the Wuzzit Trouble puzzle. But (and this is the “but” or our “Yes, but …” response) we did more that put in an adaptive engine and change the visual design. We also added some additional features that, in addition to being fun variants of the puzzle, provide…


Developing children’s true math proficiency