MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Math has never looked as fun as this adventure: traveling back in time to the Mayan civilization of Central America.
“It’s important to your survival rate within the confines of the game,” said Maria Burns Ortiz, co-founder of 7 Generation Games. “We make educational video games and the tools to develop them.”
In their office tucked away on a quiet street in Minneapolis, game developers create fun, interactive video games that combine math, history and culture.
“What we started doing was looking at ways to create more culturally reflective curriculum so kids could learn in context,” Burns Ortiz said. “We’re very focused to date on indigenous communities as well as Latino communities.”
These communities are not usually the focus of educational video games. At 7 Generation Games, however, they take center stage by teaching students math and history not only in English, but also in Spanish and in languages spoken by Native American tribes such as Ojibwe and Lakota.
“Everything we do, every culture we’ve worked with, we work with elders and cultural experts on the team,” Burns Ortiz said.
Studies by the US Department of Education show that students of color in public schools are lagging behind in math skills.
While Hispanics make up 25% of students, they represent only 17% percent of those who pass Algebra I in 8th grade. Native American students, who are 1% of public school students, represent less than 0.4% of those who pass.
“Kids were underperforming in math, which is a big problem, not just for Native youth or Latino youth, but certainly youth of color tend to do worse on the standardized tests,” Burns Ortiz said.
This is where these video games come in, by marrying culture with curriculum.
“The latest thing I just worked on was kind of positioning this character,” said Ali Mohamed, who worked on the programming for one of the games. “It’s pretty cool. I think one of the most important things is that you can do something good, and so it’s been interesting to see how educational video games have evolved.”
But the real test comes from students who try it, like Eva Ortiz, who said it’s better to fill out a math worksheet every day.
“This is actually easier to learn from,” she said. “Worksheets, it’s just repetitive, I feel.”
It’s the kind of commitment Maria Burns Ortiz hopes can also help students see their future potential.
“Once you open that door, it opens up the possibilities that they think are there,” she said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to do, not just build basic math skills, but build those skills so students can go on and achieve anything they want to achieve.”
It’s something they hope will happen by igniting the imagination. Right now, 7 Generation Games is being used in schools across the Upper Midwest, Pacific Northwest, as well as in Arizona and California.
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