Price: Free to use; paid options
Summary: An online math game for students in Grades 1-8 that is based on curricular standards.
Prodigy is an online, self-paced mathematics game for students in Grades 1 to 8. The concept of the game is centered around a mythical fantasy world, where students are challenged to conquer quests in order to defeat the evil Puppet Master. The ability to cast spells to battle wizards and move up levels requires students to accurately answer mathematical questions. The math questions are aligned to curricular standards based on a player’s geographical location. In Canada, the content students are challenged with aligns with the Ontario mathematics curriculum. The game’s content also aligns with curriculum in the United States, Australia, India and England. Prodigy offers questions that cover a wide range of thinking skills including fluency, knowledge and interpretation, with the ultimate goal of not only understanding content but in the independent application of knowledge (Prodigy, n.d.).
With an increase in households and schools having access to tablet computers, math apps are becoming increasingly popular to engage students in mathematics (Zhang et al., 2015). Prodigy is an example of a popular math app that is based upon the idea of gamification. Gamification uses “game design elements in non-game contexts” (Deterding et al., 2011, p. 10). Prodigy is appealing to young students because it uses game-like elements, such as colourful digital aesthetics, diverse avatars, meaningful choice, game points and leaderboards in order to increase motivation (Albertazzi et al., 2018; Ferrara, 2012). Studies show that math apps help to improve student learning and specifically help struggling students lessen the academic gap (Zhang, M., Trussell, R. P., Gallegos, B., & Asam, R. R., 2015). In a study of Grades 1 to 4 students in two different elementary schools, Morrison et al. (2020), found that students playing Prodigy were highly engaged in the storyline, and were motivated to work on math questions in order to increase their levels in the game. This may be why many educators are turning to Prodigy to help motivate their students and enrich the mathematics curriculum.
Critique and Implications for Education
There are many benefits that come with using Prodigy in the classroom. One of the most common ways teachers are using Prodigy is as an online math station (Morrison et al., 2020). Having Prodigy as part of a station-based routine means there is little preparation beforehand and requires a small amount of teacher attention (Morrison et al., 2020). Morrison et al. (2020), observed that students playing Prodigy are able to keep their attention on the game for the majority of the time.
Prodigy is easy for educators to implement in a classroom setting. Aside from the initial startup and creation of student logins and passwords, Prodigy requires little setup time from teachers; it is ready to play almost immediately. Students can even connect directly through their Google accounts. There is also a comprehensive support section on the Prodigy website that offers troubleshooting tips for teachers, parents and students with personalized instructions and images pertaining to the system being used (Desktop, Android or iOS). If the question is not answered through the detailed explanations, there is an option to submit a ticket.
Prodigy allows teachers to differentiate instruction for their students. The game begins with a placement test that all students must complete. Through the completion of a series of questions in different mathematical strands, algorithms analyze and place students at an approximate grade level. Prodigy then adapts the content and questions to support each diverse learner so all students can achieve success and build math skills. Teachers have the option to manually override and change these levels if they find that they are not suitable for an individual student.
Another benefit to using Prodigy as an online technology tool is that scaffolds are provided for students who may need a little extra support when solving math questions. Virtual manipulatives (counters, fraction strips, coins, base-10 blocks), drawing tools (pencil crayons and eraser), hints (lightbulb icon) and text to speech (speaker icon) are all available for students to use on each and every question. Prodigy also gives students instant feedback on every question answered, thus encouraging more independent thinking and problem solving. As Zhang et al. (2015) found, a math app that provides immediate feedback to students and breaks down math questions into smaller steps is beneficial for struggling students.
Teachers have the ability to assign mathematical questions and assessments based on the content currently being covered in class. This allows for repetition and reinforcement of previously taught concepts. Prodigy then delivers a detailed report of how students performed on the assessment in order for teachers to gauge understanding (Kampen, 2019). This report includes the number of questions students answered, the time it took to answer each question, and the percentage of questions answered correctly.
Prodigy also offers a host of other diverse reports for teachers. A majority of the reports identify students struggling to grasp and understand concepts. Others include the percentage of curriculum covered to date and student usage. The reports are visual and easy to interpret. In addition, Prodigy provides a dashboard that provides a quick overview of student progress throughout the week, including a leaderboard, analysis of where students answered questions (school versus home), and the type of skills worked on throughout the week.
Prodigy can also be a great reward for positive behaviour and may be used as a tool for fast finishers in the classroom as a form of mathematics enrichment. Students also enjoy the social aspect of the game. If playing at school, students can connect with classmates and choose a world to battle and play in together, providing a sense of connection and camaraderie.
Currently for Canadian schools, the curriculum that Prodigy gathers their content and questions from is the Ontario math curriculum. This is the only option available for Canadian schools. Furthermore, Canada is a country filled with many diverse languages. At present time, Prodigy is only offered in English.
The time students spend on non-educational aspects of the game may also be considered a negative aspect of Prodigy. Some students tend to spend a lot of time customizing their avatar or homes. Others spend time travelling around to different worlds on the map. Morrison et al. (2020), suggests that Prodigy may want to add a limit to the amount of time students can spend customizing their avatar and working on non-content based features of the game.
Prodigy contains an in-game chat feature, which can be a concern regarding student privacy and protection. Currently Prodigy only allows students to send a message using predetermined sentence starters, therefore never allowing personal and private information to be shared. As well, the chat can be completely disabled by having students play in offline mode.
Even though Prodigy is easy to implement for teachers, in order to benefit from and understand the detailed reports and features on the teacher dashboard, extra training and support may be required. As well, in order for students to receive the full benefits from the game, teachers need to take the time to demonstrate and explain the features and format of the game. For example, many students are not aware of the various built-in scaffolds that Prodigy offers (text to speech etc.).
One last critique of Prodigy is that the paid member features are advertised quite prominently throughout the game. The main Prodigy toolbar has a large M icon, which when clicked instantly displays a YouTube video of the benefits of becoming a Prodigy member. Monthly messages are also sent to entice students about the new features available for members only. At many points throughout the game, students are tempted and bombarded with advertising boasting additional features such as new dance moves, different gear, unique avatar styles and more pets to play with.
Access and Cost
In order to use Prodigy, students must have access to a device with an internet connection. The web-based version of Prodigy works on Windows, Mac and Chrome based platforms. Prodigy also works on mobile devices with the download of the Android or Apple Prodigy app. Students are able to access Prodigy at school or at home. As long as students have a device and internet access, they are able to play and practice mathematical concepts wherever they are, therefore making this tool a viable resource for blended and remote learning.
There is no cost for schools to use Prodigy. One of the company’s main philosophies is that Prodigy is “free for students and schools, forever” (Prodigy, n.d.). There is however a premium membership that parents can pay for. Although parents can connect to their child’s account for free and access basic reports, the paid premium membership allows parents to view a more detailed dashboard with advanced reporting and goals. They can also offer their child extra rewards and prizes such as full access to all game areas and increased options for pets, gear and accessories. It is important to note that students still have access to all educational based content through the free version of Prodigy. The premium membership costs $8.95 a month per child, although discounts are offered for longer term commitments.
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