Primary children’s attitudes towards electronic games and effect of electronic games on primary children’s mathematics learning

  • Ming Chen

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Electronic game playing is a very popular activity for children today. In the last few years there has been much attention to the potential of using games for learning. Though there have been some negative sides to electronic game playing – such as the claim that game playing is linked to aggressive or addictive behaviours (Sandford & Williamson, 2005) – a number of empirical studies suggest that games can be a tool for learning (e.g. McFarlane, Sparrowhawk & Heald, 2002, Miller & Robertson, 2010, 2011).

    The purpose of this thesis was to investigate children’s attitudes towards electronic games in Scotland and China and examine the effects of mathematics electronic games on the mathematics achievement and mathematics attitudes of primary school students. In the first part of the research, a total of 44 students from one primary school in Scotland and 127 pupils from two primary schools in China participated in the study investigating their attitude towards electronic games. This study found that electronic game playing was a very popular activity for both Scottish and Chinese children and they had positive attitudes towards electronic games. Children were motivated by the fun aspects most. However Scottish children spent more time on gaming than Chinese students. Moreover, Scottish children tended to regard games primarily as a source of enjoyment and for entertainment, while games seemed to be a learning medium besides fun for Chinese students.

    The second part of the study examined the effects of a mobile phone game ‘Brain challenge’ on Primary 4 students’ achievement in mathematics and on students’ attitudes towards mathematics. An experimental control-group design with repeated measures analysis was employed to explore mathematics performance and attitude differences within groups at three time points. A sample of 17 students was randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. In the first three weeks, the mobile phone game group children played a mobile phone game for fifteen minutes in the classroom daily and the other group of children acted as no-treatment controls. For the next three weeks, all children played the mobile phone game for fifteen minutes every weekday. Mathematics performance data were collected at the start, after three weeks and at the end of the study. In addition, interviews were conducted with the students and the class teacher to provide extra data to help explain the results of the quantitative data. The findings provide evidence to show a positive effect in speed of computation and percentage accuracy rate after playing a mobile phone game in a longer 6-week period. No significant difference was found in mathematics attitude after playing the mobile phone game.

    The final study attempted to address one of the weaknesses of much research in the area of game based learning: the fact that many studies use no-treatment controls. Fifteen Primary 3 students were divided into two groups by stratified random assignment. Both groups were involved in learning the same mathematics processes. They used either a technology-based online electronic game or a paper-based card game for 4 weeks and then swapped conditions for another 4 weeks. The methods used were similar to the mobile phone game study, a pre-post design measuring performance and attitudes together with in-field observation to provide extra information when interpreting the results of the quantitative data. Results from this study were somewhat mixed: it was found that the online electronic game positively impacted on children’s mathematics attitude. The improvement in children’s mathematics performance from the card game was significant. In contrast, no significant gains were found in students’ mathematics performance after online flash game playing. When a between-group analysis was conducted, there was no significant difference between the two conditions.

    The overall results provide some evidence that electronic games can be an effective learning tool to improve primary school children’s mathematics skills and mathematics attitudes. However not all the findings supported the use of electronic games, although some aspects of the methodology could have influenced the findings, such as small sample size, short intervention times and problems with treatment fidelity. There are implications for teachers and for future research into game-based learning.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Miller (Supervisor), Beth Hannah (Supervisor) & Susan Rodrigues (Supervisor)

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