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NEWS | June 13, 2017

Virtual battlefield increases math scores for middle school students

By Ensign Rob Donnelly Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Junior high school students might not always get excited about mathematics, but when you incorporate math into video games and inject competition, these local Lowcountry students have a blast.

Sixth graders, seventh graders and a mixed group of sixth and seventh graders competed in the sixth annual Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Department of Defense Virtual DimensionU Math Competition, May 23rd, 2017. The DimensionU program is a multiplayer, first-person shooter-like game where players have to answer math questions when shot or complete challenges depending on the different style of game.

The Charleston team, sponsored by the Navy, funded by the Office of Naval Research, competed against teams in Rome, N.Y. and Picatinny, N.J. representing the Air Force and Army, respectively.

“SPAWAR has been hosting the tri-county DimensionU competition for the last six years,” said Shanda Johnson, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Outreach Director for SPAWAR. “This year the local preliminary competition was held in March and there were approximately 60 students from the districts here. The participating district this year was Dorchester County District 2.”

The sixth grade team from Alsten Middle School and seventh grade team from Gregg Middle School both won 1st place in their categories, and the mixed group from Rollins Middle School earned 3rd place.

Murray Burn is a shining example of the outcome the DoD SPAWAR STEM program has helped fund to increase national student participation in STEM. Murray is a SPAWAR intern, first introduced to the game in middle school during a robotics class. He is going to be a sophomore in college at the Citadel here in Charleston this fall, studying computer science with a minor in cyber security. Until school starts he will be working with some of the same individuals that helped lead him down his educational pathway. He plans on commissioning into the military as an officer when he completes his undergraduate degree.

“It was our Friday kind of thing that we did just for fun,” said Burn. “We’d have competitions, we’d divide the class in two and we’d win candy or extra credit. It’s more interactive than getting on a board and writing down math problems. This game is interactive, fun, and relatable,”

The adoption of the DimensionU Math program into the tri-county school district curriculum has demonstrated positive results according to teachers and administrators.

“Dorchester County District 2 found that it improves their test scores,” said Karen Cooke, a STEM Outreach Coordinator for SPAWAR from STEM Lowcountry Collaborative. “It’s used in all sixth and seventh grade classes. Berkley County School District utilizes it for Gateway to Technology, a middle school precursor to Project Lead-the-Way, which is an engineering curriculum. Another teacher used it to bring students that were not performing well in math up to speed.”

Aydin Abaza, Jakob Gillard and Caleb Davis, comprising the seventh grade team, commented that the DimensionU math game has helped them increase their state testing scores and Math Inventory score (another school metric), as well as pushed their interests into the STEM field. Gillard will be starting engineering and robotics classes next year. Abaza has already build his first computer.

Johnson described the concept and theme of SPAWAR’s STEM Outreach Program as “Seed, Nurture, Harvest, and Reseed.”

“We plant the seeds in the early years, we nurture those seeds through our STEM outreach programs, and we harvest them by bringing them back in as paid-interns,” said Johnson. “We hire them as early as 16 years old. We bring them in as student interns in high school. They’re also able to come back in our ‘New Professional Program’. What we ask them to do when they come back is to give back and help the younger students, which is ‘reseed.’”

Not only do administrators like the results, but students also feel like the learning tool achieves its goal of teaching kids math in a fun, comfortable medium--video games.