S.M.A.R.T. Adventures Makes Math Fun For Girls!

S.M.A.R.T. Adventures is a series of games created to empower girls and develop their math skills, giving them the self-assurance to take on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.S.M.A.R.T. Adventures

We spoke with S.M.A.R.T. Adventures chief scientist and founder Emily Clarke about the awesome new game and the story behind its creation.

"When I was in the 4th grade I hated math more than anything in the world," Emily said. "I cried at homework. I was terrified of tests."

Emily's parents, who were both engineers, were surprised that their daughter was so repelled by math. Her mother, Kathryn Clarke, set out to create a new technique that would help Emily to become more engaged and excited about learning math.

"I improved rapidly to grade level and beyond," Emily said.

Five years later, she had grown to love math. She applied to a math-heavy magnet school that focused heavily on STEM subjects.

"As part of my education we were expected to do a senior project," Emily said. "I applied the techniques my mom used to teach me to develop a math game for girls that would inspire and encourage them."

She developed a game that helped girls learn math, and tested out her new project on a group of local elementary school students.

"The teacher I was working with told me there was nothing like the project I'd done on the market," Emily said.

Together, Emily and her mother founded Kata Enterprises, Inc. to make Emily's new game widely available. The game eventually developed into the game S.M.A.R.T. Adventures™ Mission: MATH…Sabotage at the Space Station, an application for the iPad.

Emily is currently working toward a Ph.D in developmental psychology to learn more about girls in STEM. Her acquired knowledge will help her optimize the Kata Enterprises, Inc. games to best teach and engage girls.

"The technique involves approaching the problem from different angles," Emily explained. "One thing I did in 4th grade was to learn facts in different languages to get a new approach. It's about motivation, positive thinking, and how to get girls to stay excited."

S.M.A.R.T. Adventures allow girls to explore the world presented in the game, and to learn from the experience of not getting the right answer every time.

"We really tried hard to get that element in our game," she said. "We don't penalize our players when they guess. You're still learning when you guess. So the pressures off. There are still high expectations, and you're still doing something really advanced, but it's not that you need to get an A. You just need to learn, and you need to understand."

Emily's research revealed that girls in particular have a tough time with time limits and penalties.

"Time limits don't motivate them. They stress them out," Emily said. "When they can't finish a test in time, instead of thinking 'I can improve and go faster next time,' they think 'I can't do this, I must not be any good at it.'"

To develop S.M.A.R.T. Adventures, Emily and her mother thought about the games they found the most interesting and engaging.

"We thought a lot about the games we liked the most, and those were the ones with really compelling stories," Emily said.

S.M.A.R.T. Adventures follows the journey of a secret agent traveling to a space station to solve the mysterious problems taking place there using math.

"Girls like games with stories, and they like learning through stories," Emily said. "Our game's story is based and focused on the fact that you're rewarded for doing math by revealing more of the story. You're motivated to find out what happens."

The game focuses on 4th grade math. Firstly, it was the year that Emily initially struggled with math. It also happens to be a crucial learning year for students hoping to advance later in math.

"You do a lot of really important math then," Emily said. "You build the foundations for higher math when you learn algebra, geometry, division, and angles."

However, Emily doesn't want to stop with just the 4th grade.

"We have definitely toyed around with branching into upper math," Emily said. "Because this story is based on a mystery model, it's fun for everyone. Even parents really enjoy the game."

Emily's research has also demonstrated that girls can benefit from seeing a girl they identify with and admire doing math and science. It's also important to see strong females who look and act like them in leadership roles.

"We wanted to show the players women in lots of different roles," Emily said. "Some of our favorite characters are inspired by characters from fiction."

The game also tries to do away with stereotypes.

"The genius scientist isn't this nerdy computer guy, but an older woman, like a grandma, who uses her cool grandma stuff as gadgets," Emily explained. "We have women secret agents, astronauts, doctors, and chemists. We wanted to put them in there and show them different things."

Players also get to design an avatar that looks just like them, with over 24 million different possibilities for customization.

"In our research there was a lot of talk that not every girl gets to see herself in a lot of games. It mattered to us," Emily said. "It's fun to see yourself in that universe as whoever you want to be."

The avatar system existed even in early versions of the game.

"Even in the early models when we were testing, the girls would say their favorite characters was themselves," Emily said.

S.M.A.R.T. Adventures™ Mission: MATH…Sabotage at the Space Station is available in the iTunes store for $7.99.

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