I recently received an email suggesting that I check out the website MangaHigh.com, which has interactive math-based games for elementary through high school students. Now, I am generally pretty skeptical of such things. For one, they are usually of relatively poor quality. If you really want students to be interested in a computer game, you have to compete with game companies which pour millions of dollars into detail, graphics, and gameplay—and kids can tell the difference! For another thing, trying to make math “interesting” and “relevant” by spicing it up with interactive games can backfire: why would you need to do that unless it is actually boring and irrelevant? It is like trying to get your children to eat asparagus by hiding it inside their hamburgers. Kids are not fooled by this. (In fact, asparagus is one of the most delicious vegetables I know, but only if it is fresh and cooked right; if not fresh or overcooked, it is disgusting. I will let you make the appropriate metaphorical inferences.)
Nevertheless, I was intrigued, especially since my correspondent claimed that this website was endorsed by the eminent mathematician and educator Marcus du Sautoy. So I visited the site and tried playing a few games… and was pleasantly surprised! The games are fairly high-quality and humorous (I actually spent twenty minutes or so playing the first game I tried, even though it was rather easy for me), and the site promises to track points and accomplishments for students who register (a definite requirement if you want to get students hooked on the games).
On the flip side, the commercial status of the site isn’t completely clear—you can play all the games for free but it claims this is “for a limited time”, so I’m not sure what happens after the limited time is up. The site also appears to have very little to do with Manga, so the title is a bit odd. But these are minor considerations at the moment.
I’m still not sold on the idea of interactive games for teaching math—but if you’re looking for such things, MangaHigh.com seems like one of the best sites currently out there.