Counting on Frank

What is Counting on Frank?

Counting on Frank (CoF) is the first commercial product resulting from the Electronic Games for Education in Math and Science collaboration between researchers in computer science and education, teachers, and commercial game developers for Electronic Arts.

In CoF the player's goal is to help a boy, Henry, and his dog, Frank, win a contest to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar by collecting clues as the reward for solving mathematical word problems. The main educational activities in CoF are solving the word problems, using the clues to determine the number of jellybeans, and playing four other mathematical strategy games (mathgames), each with several variants.

The primary entertainment elements are the "click-ons" in each of the eight main scenes on CoF, ie. objects that, when clicked on, trigger a humorous animation that is generally unrelated to the educational activities. Other non-educational entertainment elements include animation sequences as rewards for correct answers to word problems, and humorous dialog by the main characters.

So tell me about the study...

Where to find out more
The full study is available in PostScript or MS Word format from our archive. If you just want the important bits, read on:

Summary of Study
There were two components to the Counting on Frank study: classroom and home use. In the classroom, children in grades 3-4 played CoF for 40 minutes twice a week for four weeks. They completed questionnaires at four points during the study: at the beginning, middle, end, and six weeks after the CoF sessions ended. The questionnaires measure the children's performance on word problems similar to the ones found in CoF, as well as their attitude towards math. The home-play portion of the study took place over spring break. Children took home computers with CoF, and could play as much or as little as they wanted. The childrens' actions were recorded into log files, which were then (and are still being) analysed for useful information.

A major concern during the design of CoF was whether players would actually use the mathematical activities, or just spend all of their time playing with click-ons. This study found that this was not a problem, as children both at home and at school spent a significant amount of their time (55%) on the math activities.

Positive Feedback
CoF was successful in many respects. It is attractive to most boys and girls of ages 8-12, and exposes them to a wide range of content that is recognisable as math. Children enjoyed being able to move at will between any of the wide range of activities offered. Several aspects of the game encourage children to think about the underlying concepts of mathematics behind the puzzles: the large (over 15,000) range of possible solutions, wide variety of clues to the solution, giving redundant clues, limiting the number of clues that can be saves (and therefore be used to determine the solution to the game), and providing a number line visualisation of the impact of clues on the solution set.

And Some Things to Work On
The main question that remains is: to what degree does CoF contribute to learning math? In the controlled school sessions, students showed greater performance gains on the word-problems after doing worksheets than playing CoF (although this may be at least partially due to the similarity between the worksheets and the tests, and pre-test performance results were high enough that there was limited room for improvment.) CoF seems to be more suited to practising word problems, rather than learning how to solve them, due to the limited number of word problems, and limited variety of these problems. CoF may have limited effectiveness as a stand-alone learning tool.