Three Drexel computer science undergraduates claimed the U.S. title at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Competition, which was held April 20-23 in Seattle, for their design of a mathematics teaching smartphone application.
Team Drexel Dragons, composed of seniors Matt Lesnak, Keith Ayers and Nicolas Taylor Mullen, competed against teams from across the country and were selected as finalists, going on to win the Game Design — Windows Phone category with their app, which was titled “MathDash.”
“Imagine Cup is arguably the most prestigious serious game competition in the nation and the world,” Frank Lee, adviser to the team and co-founder and co-director of Drexel’s game program, said.
The team competed in the first round of the competition last December, defeating over 325,000 competitors and moving on to the second qualifying round, where they succeeded in claiming the title. Currently, the team is getting ready for round 3 of the World Competition. In two weeks, Team Drexel Dragons could be selected to compete at the finals in Sydney.
This year’s theme for the Imagine Cup was, “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.” With this theme in mind, the winning app, “MathDash,” was created to help students understand math in a fun, effective way.
“Our game ‘MathDash,’ that won in the Mobile Games category, is a game that teaches kids from first to eighth grade arithmetic,” Lee said. “Our goal was to not only make a game that was educational but was [also] a whole lot of fun to play. I believe we succeeded.”
The team knew that game designers today often try to create an educational game by first starting out with the fun aspect and adding the educational value on top of it, usually leading to negative results.
From the beginning, the team approached the game very seriously with two goals in mind: It had to be good as a game and needed to stand on its own so as not to feel like “educational” software.
The game provides players with numbers that float around the screen with an equation bar at the bottom of the screen. With the sum of the equation already given, players must drag two numbers to the equation bar that adds up to equal the sum. The game was designed this way to make players understand the math instead of simply guessing the solution.
A progress bar located at the top of the game allows players to track their success. Because the progress bar is continually decreasing, players earn more progress points for every solution they solve. If they fail to correctly answer a solution within an allotted time, the bar will reach zero and the game will end.
“‘MathDash’ takes a simple approach to teaching abstract problem solving. … By reversing the way a question is asked and limiting the numbers players can use, players have to come up with an available solution out of all the possible solutions given to the equation,” Mullen said in a video created for the competition that helps explain the app.
The game was designed as part of the team’s senior design project and is being field tested by schools in the Philadelphia area.
“MathDash” started as a PC game designed by two of the team members in Lee’s class, “Serious Game Design and Development.” From there the idea of creating an educational math game developed, and the students spent the summer further developing the idea. The idea to compete in the Imagine Cup helped to mold “MathDash” into the game it is today.
“MathDash” is scheduled for release for the Windows phone this June, and plans are underway for the team to create versions for iPhone and Android. The team has formed a company for the purpose of this release.