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Gamification in the High School Mathematics Classroom: A Literature Review

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The resolution of this proposed research is to increase understanding on how gamification from Pearson System of Courses in a high school mathematics classroom affects the classroom setting

The research aims to get a closer look at how student motivation, engagement, and higher order thinking skills are affected by the use of gamification in the classroom. The research also aims to find if there are any barriers of using gamification in the high school classroom. A brief definition of what gamification is will be given to lead the knowledge into the research. The document proposes a mixed method research design where both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected and analyzed. The results from the two data sets will be compared and interpreted.

Keywords: gamification, education, mathematics, secondary, barriers, engagement, motivation, higher order thinking, Pearson


Project Background

The “Pearson Foundation is developing 24 online courses…to satisfy the new American common-core state standards (Gutstein, 2013). Whether teachers like it or not Pearson will be a part of their lives (Gutstein, 2013). In Washington County Maryland, a county in the western part of Maryland, an app called Pearson System of Courses has been purchased for secondary mathematics teachers in Geometry and Algebra 2 to utilize as their primary resource in the classroom. While using the app every day on Chromebooks, many questions have occurred. Does the app with its game like elements increase student motivation and engagement? Does it create higher order thinking and discovery learning? Are there barriers with using the app? These questions coming from different mathematics teacher throughout the county has prompted the reason to explore this proposed research topic.


The purpose of this mixed method study is to relate student motivation and engagement with gamification and explore how gamification enhances and affects a high school mathematics classroom at North Hagerstown High School (NHHS) in Maryland. At this stage in the research, gamification will be generally defined as the application of game elements from Pearson System of Courses in activities to encourage student engagement.

The proposed research will include the secondary students in a high school mathematics classroom in Hagerstown Maryland at NHHS. Due to these students being in different math classrooms in the school, the research location will be in various mathematics classrooms at NHHS located on the second floor of the building. The requirement of utilizing Pearson System of Courses in the mathematics classroom leads to the research questions identified:

  • Does gamification increase student engagement and motivation?
  • Does gamification improve higher order thinking and learning?
  • Does gamification create barriers in the high school classroom?

Responses to these questions can provide Washington County and teachers with guidance on the best use of Pearson System of Courses which incorporates gamification from an app on the Chromebook. Creating an understanding on how gamification affects student engagement, motivation, or higher order thinking and learning and what barriers gamification may have in the classroom can give a pathway for implementation with the app in the classroom. Having a clear understanding of Pearson System of Courses and the merging of gamification with the app can improve teacher utilization and learning transfer of the curriculum for the students. Research will be supported and hosted by the seven math teachers at NHHS that use the Pearson System of Courses app in their classrooms. The study will take place over a period of time of a school year with validated survey instruments, and interviews of students and teachers employing the Pearson app that creates gamification in the classroom will be conducted.

Literature Review

This literature review purpose is to explore the research available regarding gamification in the high school mathematics classroom.



Gamification can mean many different things to many people. For the purpose of this review, and proposed research, we will use Ramirez and Squire’s (2014) definition of gamification: “gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts”.


This literature review explores published peer-reviewed articles on research relevant on gamification. The articles used were written between the years 2012 and 2019 with the exception of one being from 2003 all written in English. To find literature, the JMU library search engine was used with various databases having research, most of the research was taken from the ERIC database. Overall, over 14,000 results were generated with the word gamification. Thirteen results were relevant to gamification in terms of student engagement and motivation in secondary education. Only three of those thirteen results focused on mathematics. Twenty results were generated in terms of gamification and higher order thinking and 134 results generated with gamification and barriers with only four being based on secondary schools. To find the research that was relevant, the keywords were used to narrow down the research from the 14,000 results.

A draft Literature Review Map (Figure 1) was created to break down the articles into three categories for gamification: motivation, barriers and higher order thinking.


Erenli, 2012

Kiili, 2015

Pechenkina, 2017

Ramirez, 2014

Richards, 2014

Yang, 2015

Bottge, 2003

Hong, 2014

Khan, 2017

Watson, 2016

Higher Order Thinking

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Al-Azawi, 2016

Cheong, 2014

Deterding, 2012

Dichev, 2017

Gambari, 2016

Lister, 2015

Sanchez-Mena, 2017

Figure 1: Draft Literature Review Map


Theoretical Contributions

During the course of research on gamification Self-Determination and Cognitive Evaluation theories were prevalent as well as the Transtheoretical Model of Change. Self-Determination theory is “the need for competence, the need for relatedness, and the need for autonomy” (Hammerschall, U., 2019). Gamification allows students to have the experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness which fosters student motivation and engagement that results in enhanced performance, persistence and creativity (Hammerschall, U., 2019).

Cognitive Evaluation Theory supports the feeling of autonomy with three factors “choice, acknowledgement of feelings, and opportunities for self-direction” (Hammerschall, U., 2019). Gamification allows students to work individually towards a goal or they can work cooperatively with another student (Gambari, A., Shittu, A., Daramola, F., & James, M., 2016).

The Transtheoretical Model “defines a widely accepted model of behavioral change” (Hammerschall, U., 2019). Hammerschall states that the Transtheoretical Model contains five stages of behavioral change:

  • Precontemplation: no intention for change behavior
  • Contemplation: initial intention for change behavior
  • Preparation: preparation for change behavior
  • Action: actually change behavior
  • Maintenance: keep changed behavior

Depending on which stage students start at will be the basis on how gamification will go in that students’ eyes. Students will be coming from a traditional classroom setting, to now a gamification classroom setting, if students are at the first three stages, they may not be willing to change their behavior to give gamification a try.

The framework of gamification needs to come from these motivational and behavioral change theories. These theories provide a set of requirements for gamification “for a long-term learning process that motivates students and helps to change their learning behavior over a longer period of time” (Hammerschall, 2019).

Design and Methods of Research

In the various studies found in the research, the researchers used several different methods and approaches to conduct their research. However, majority of the research was conducted using mixed methods with both qualitative and quantitative data. One of the studies conducted a mixed methods research of 15 teachers in a K-12 setting using a survey instrument with personal interviews conducted (Watson, W., Yang, S., & Ruggiero, D., 2016). Another study conducted was also a mixed methods research with 37 eighth grade students, a “quantitative method used a repeated measures design with staggered baselines” then a “qualitative inquiry complemented quantitative comparisons of students’ performances” (Bottage, B., Heinrichs, M., Chan, S., Henta, Z., & Watson, E. 2003). An additional study did a “quasi-experimental design that was predominately quantitative in nature” using two control groups of about 72 participants aging from 12-15 years of age (Khan, A., Ahmad, F., Malik, M., 2017).

Research Context

Data in the research was aligned to the research questions the researchers were searching for. Most of the studies randomly selected the participants from either a group of K-12 education teachers or a group of students. One study did select participants using a snowball sampling (Sanchez-Mena, A., & Marti-Parreno, J., (2017). Participants selected in the Bottge study were from two different student groups based on achievement level. Eleven low-achieving students were picked and 26 average-achieving students were chosen (Bottge, et al. 2003). Instruments to conduct the research were various throughout the different studies. Some of the studies included brainstorming sessions, baseline test and then creating a project for students to do, as well as, surveys and interviews.

Methods of Data Collection and Analysis

Numerous studies reported on using validated instruments to conduct their research while some created their own. Killi, Devlin, Perttula, Tuomi, and Lindstedt (2015) created their own game that they administered as a pre-and post-test with a treatment group and a control group. Pechenkina, Laurence, Oates, Eldridge, and Hunter (2017) collected statistical data generated by the app and collected average grades from the schools learning management system to compare data between two cohorts. Khan, et al. (2017) conducted a baseline survey at the beginning of the study and to collect data they used “quantitative methods such as classroom observations, and pre and post-tests to statistically analyze” the data. Sanchez-Mena, et al. (2017) and Watson, et al. (2016) both conducted structured interviews while Watson, et al. (2016) also used validated survey instruments. All the studies and research conducted a statistical analysis after collecting all of the data from their populations.

Synthesis and relevance to current study

Interventions Developed

Only one study showed that an intervention was developed. In Kiili, et al. (2015) researchers created a new game called Semideus. They “used it as a pre- and a post-test for a three-hour intervention in which ‘they’ studied the effectiveness of Wuzzit Trouble, a game built…to enhance mathematical thinking and problem solving skills” (Killi, et al., 2015). While comparing the data between the two different games, results found that “a game can be used as a test instrument in experimental settings and even relative short game based mathematics interventions can be effective” (Kiili, et al., 2015).

Primary Practical Contributions

Finding literature on motivation, the barriers, and higher order thinking associated with gamification in a secondary mathematics classroom was the goal while searching for literature selections for this review. The primary limitation found for this review was the lack of research directly related to secondary classrooms and mathematics. Due to this limitation, doing this research will provide the opportunity to add this research to the limited amount currently on gamification in the secondary classroom setting. This literature review will set the foundation for a graduate applied research proposal on gamification.

Proposed Research Design and Methods

Previously mentioned in this literature review, this research will address gamification in a secondary mathematics classroom and how it can affect motivation, and higher order thinking skills and if there are any barriers that a teacher may encounter when using gamification. A mixed methods design will be used which will involve collecting both quantitative and qualitative data and merging the results from the two. To collect qualitative data, the researcher will collect data through observation of the students in the classes using the Pearson System of Courses App and validated surveys collected from the students. The researcher will then collect quantitative data from both pre- and post-tests.

Expected Findings

Research findings will come from a mixed methods study conducted at NHHS in mathematics classes using the Pearson System of Courses App. The findings expected will answer how gamification affects student engagement and motivation, the barriers gamification may have in the classroom setting, and the links gamification may have on higher order thinking skills.

Relevance and Significance

Results from the mixed methods research will give feedback on future use of gamification in the secondary mathematics classroom. The researcher expects that this study will give insight on how gamification motivates students, what barriers it may cause and how it can help students with their higher order thinking skills before post-secondary school. The hope of this study is to benefit Washington County Public Schools in the knowledge of how Pearson System of Courses benefits the students in a mathematics classroom.


While conducting research, there seems to be more research done on gamification in post-secondary schools or other curricular areas besides mathematics. From the research already done there seems to be “insufficient evidence to support long-term benefits” and gamification has grown rapidly in the past few years that is has “outpaced researchers understanding of its mechanisms and methods” (Dichev, C., & Dicheva, D. (2017). As noted in the theoretical contributions section, limitations of gamification being successful can be hindered by the first three stages of the Transtheoretical Model. If students are in the precontemplation stage, contemplation stage, or the preparation stage of the model, the “use of gamification to increase motivation during these stages would be useless” (Hammerschall, U., 2019). Another limitation to take into consideration is the novelty effect. Due to Pearson System of Courses being a fairly new app with not much research to be found on it, “the novelty effect must be taken into account when evaluating education technology initiatives as it can skew the results” (Pechenkina, et al., (2017).


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“Gamification in the High School Mathematics Classroom: A Literature Review.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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