U of W alumnus creates educational board game

‘Mathopoly’ designed to engage young students in math

Created by a U of W alumnus, Mathopoly is a new board game that gives students the opportunity to learn mathematical concepts and formulas in a fun way. Willi Penner

Eight years ago, University of Winnipeg grad Willi Penner’s education class was assigned a project to encourage different modes of instruction for kids in Grades 5 to 8. He came up with Mathopoly, an educational board game based on mathematical questions.

Since then, he has been promoting the game as an educational tool to engage children in learning.

“I was a terrible math student growing up, so I took that assignment to heart when it was given,” Penner said. After graduating from the U of W, he moved to Brandon to get his education degree before relocating to Calgary, where the married father of one teaches at a junior high school.

An advocate of non-textbook teaching, the 34-year-old says kids learn from Mathopoly (a name derived from the words “Mathematical Opportunities Using Poly-Numerals”) because it is disguised as a game.

The game itself is loosely based on the property-owning board game Monopoly, but instead of solely paying for spaces, players have to answer math questions from various strands of the subject to own them.

“I use it in my classroom and when kids have played it, it goes over well,” Penner said. “Kids need variation in the classroom to get them interested.”.

After spending eight years on the game, Penner began the process of getting it patented. Last month, he appeared on an episode of the CBC’s popular TV show Dragons’ Den, seeking investors.

The experts on the show were less than positive.

“I’m just thinking, I could become the hero of all kids in Grade 7 if I gave you $150,000 to burn that thing,” said Kevin O’Leary from the show. “I see the game as detention ... I think they should call it math hell.”

Kids need variation in the classroom to get them interested.

Willi Penner, teacher and CREATOR of Mathopoly

The cold reception didn’t discourage Penner.

“I have no issues with anybody saying no to an investment, I just feel they attacked an educational tool,” he said. “It’s kind of odd to really slam an educational tool because those five dragons are not teachers. If they were teachers, it’s a totally different story.”

After the show, Penner managed to find private investors through Calgary connections to help fund his endeavour.

Some education students agree with the Dragons and think that the game may not be effective for all students.

“Teachers in math classes are there to guide and facilitate – if the kids are left alone they can easily lose track, especially in middle years,” said Ronna Joudan, a third-year U of W education student. “At that age, teachers are meant to be there to facilitate the class and to put a game in front of them is a lack of motivation.”

Penner doesn’t think so, and hopes to tap into a niche market of teachers, schools, school divisions and learning centres.

“I presented the game at a (Manitoba Teacher’s Society) SAG meeting here in Winnipeg, and if all the feedback I had received from that was negative I would have stopped a long time ago,” he said.

Mathopoly is in production now and will be available early December. For more information, visit www.mathopoly.ca.

Published in Volume 65, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 4, 2010)

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