Using mathematics game-based intervention on children with special educational needs: Preliminary findings


  • Lilia Marcelino CICANT - Lusofona University
  • Conceição Costa CICANT - Lusofona University
  • Carlos Santos ISEL-IPL and CEMAPRE- University of Lisbon



mathematics game-based intervention, special educational needs, arithmetic competencies


Many video games incorporate positive learning principles, stimulating students' cognitive functioning and promoting problem-solving and spatial abilities. The high levels of engagement and involvement that some students can achieve with video games are notable. Hence, video games for children with a long history of school failure, such as children with special educational needs (SEN). Moreover, it may give educators immediate and ongoing assessment of students' progress. When complemented with human tutoring, video games as a game-based intervention may improve mathematics performance since instruction is more effective when adapted to students' learning needs and pace.

As part of the research project "GBl4deaf – Game-based Learning for Deaf Students (PTDC/COM-CSS/32022/2017), the video game "Space adventure: Defend the planet!" was designed to stimulate arithmetic competencies in deaf and hearing children. The player must use elementary arithmetical and spatial concepts to rebuild an abandoned space station. Each challenge has three difficulty levels. In the game challenge used in this study, the player must add or remove particles to collect resources. The current research focuses on two questions: The study follows two research questions: Q1: Did the students make any progress in mathematics achievement after playing the video game?; Q2: Is the gameplay of Space adventure: Defend the planet! an engaging experience for players? A pre-and post-game mathematical test was applied to measure mathematics achievement and an observational grid to gather information about arithmetical procedures. Ten fourth- to ninth-graders participated in the study - four girls and six boys, aged between 9 and 16, three deaf and seven hearing students with different special needs (dyscalculia, cognitive deficits, autism spectrum disorder, deafness and Asperger syndrome). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, children played the video game using Zoom video conference software in 8-12 sessions (50 minutes, two a three times/week). The results show 4% to 19% of mathematics progression after children played the video game and indicate that they maintain the use of counting-based procedures throughout the game sessions. For instance, they kept counting both addends starting from 1 or counting by 1, 2, 5 or 10 using a number line. The current data suggest that the videogame "Space adventure: Defend the planet!" allows educators to gather immediate information about students' difficulties and progression.