EDU605 – Unit II: (Analyze and Evaluate) Designing Differentiated Math Games- Removing the One Size Fits All Approach to Educational Game Play

Analyzing and Evaluating Research Article

The article I chose to analyze and evaluate for my education context of K-12 is Designing Differentiated Mathematics Games Discarding the One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Educational Game Play by Christine P. Trinter, Catherine M. Brighton, and Tonya R. Moon.

The scope of this assignment requested that we utilize a peer reviewed article and the subject was differentiating in elementary education. While these parameters did lead me to an article which fit these searches, I was presented with several articles. It took quite a bit of time for me to find one which I felt was valid and strong. I finally decided to settle with one on math, because I enjoy doing math and I feel that mathematics is something that students need within their curriculum to make them well-rounded students and productive citizens of our society. The following is my analysis and evaluation of this article.

The purpose of the article was to present a guide for modifying traditional math games into differentiated math games which can be used in primary classrooms. The game design and implementation described in this article were used in a research study, Project Parallax, in which “teachers used curriculum as a vehicle for increasing the identification of talented students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas, particularly those from underrepresented areas” (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015, p.90). It is clear the authors’ argument is for differentiating, and incorporating differentiation within math games. The article refers to Tomlinson’s three avenues for differentiation: differentiating the content, the process, and/or the product (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015), then relates it to game design. “Game design requires thoughtfulness and creativity, and when well executed , games afford an ideal context for differentiating instruction” (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015, p.90).

The authors describe a vignette of Ms. Jones’ second grade classroom. In terms of the participants, this was one classroom of 15 who represented a federally funded project of problem-based math units. These classes were comprised 11% ELL, 19% SPED, and 58% eligible for free/reduced lunch (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015). The problem presented was there were a variety of needs in regards to the concept of patterns in math as evidenced by the unit pretest in Ms. Jones’ class. There was a need to find a way to differentiate her instruction to engage students, while meeting the various levels of understanding of patterns within her classroom. The question was how they could use differentiated games to meet this need.

The author describe a four-step method of game design:

Step 1: Determine the Learning Goal. This process revolves around identifying learning goals specific to what students should know, understand, and skills.

Step 2: Choose the Game Format

Step 3: Modify Aspects of the Game While Considering Options for Differentiation

Step 4: Design Relevant Graphics

The conclusion stated the game created “encouraged students to make connections among multiple representations of mathematical topics… supported students in their abilities to transfer new ideas to unfamiliar settings” (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015, p. 93). The article reports there was a positive response from teachers indicating it was an effective tool for learning and practicing (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015). However, there was no data to support this claim. This made me question its validity. Although, in theory, I find the methodology to be effective, this would of been much stronger had there have been data to support the transfer of learning and responses from teachers. So while the findings make sense to me, as an educator, and one who is familiar with UBD, the findings are not substantiated with evidence. I suggest additional research, with a more structured research process including the use of data, to validate the results.

It is evident to me the authors find value in differentiation using math games. “In a differentiated classroom, it’s the teacher’s goal to figure out where a student is in relation to key learning goals and then provide learning experiences that will push the learner a little further and faster than is comfortable” (Tomlinson, 2001, p.22). The vignette described a teacher, Ms. Jones, who had done that and realized differentiation was key to target students individual needs in relation to the understanding of patterns. “Teaching should be differentiated to help each child capitalize on strengths and compensate for or correct weaknesses” (Sternberg & Li-Fang, 2005, p.252). Mrs. Jones recognized her students had varying strengths and weaknesses in terms of patterns, and needed to address them all.

It was evident research on differentiation was conducted as evidenced by the reference to Tomlinson’s three avenues of differentiation. In addition, the method described in this article is reminiscent of UBD principles. Wiggins and McTighe (2005, p.24) describe 3 main stages in backwards planning:

Stage 1: Identify desired results

Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence

Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction

This identifies the terms of the effectiveness of the method. Understanding by Design (UBD) is a planning process utilized successfully by educators for years. I assume the authors replicated the process using a framework similar to UBD because of its proven effectiveness.

In the end, I felt the biases of the authors may have played a role in the findings. Although the authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the the research, authorships, and/or publication of the article, the abstract led me to believe differently. The game design and implementation described in this article were used in Project Parallax, in which two of the three authors served as the principal investigators. Furthermore, the curriculum used in this study was developed by Project Parallax as well (Trinter, Brighton & Moon, 2015). This leads me to think, together with the lack of data, biases may have played a role in the findings of this study.


Sternberg, R. J., & Li-Fang, Z. (2005). Styles of thinking as a basis of differentiated instruction. Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 245–253. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4403_9

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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