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Is Prodigy Math Game Adaptive? Our Algorithm, Explained

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Student sits at a desk on a tablet with mathematical symbols behind them including a plus sign, equal sign, pie graph and more.


  • School Leaders

Prodigy is proud to be one of the world’s most fun and engaging massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) focused on driving student outcomes in math through game-based learning.  

Unlike short mini-games, MMORPGs keep students coming back day after day, month after month and year after year.

We’ve found a unique formula that combines students’ love of digital games with standards-aligned math content and keeps students engaged while they increase their mathematical knowledge.

Did you know the adaptive math content students see when they play Prodigy is based on an adaptive algorithm?

Prodigy Math Game’s adaptive algorithm automatically detects students’ strengths and areas of need and keeps students in their zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978).

This means the math content is:

  1. Challenging enough to allow them to develop key skills, and
  2. Intuitive enough to drop them back to prerequisite skills when it detects a student is struggling in a specific area. 

Ultimately, Prodigy’s algorithm works to meet your students where they are in the curriculum. While students are building towers and winning wizard battles, our adaptive algorithm works in the background to determine students’ needs.

Students aren’t even aware they’re being evaluated based on the questions they’re answering — they’re simply having an amazing time playing their favorite MMORPG!

Image of question in Prodigy Math Game

How does the algorithm work?

In a study based on digital learning experiences, researchers reviewed various methods of math-based learning activities and found that:

Gamified activities contributed to increased student performance levels in math learning. Significantly higher performance levels appeared in a gamified condition combining competition, a narrative, and adaptivity with individual performance game elements.

Jagušt, Botički & So, 2018

It is this precise formula that underpins the method behind Prodigy’s world-class digital game-based learning resource.

How Prodigy keeps students challenged and engaged at the same time

Imagine you’re a fourth grade student who has strong number sense skills. You’re able to play through fourth grade material such as multiplication and division with few to no errors.

Your journey through a skill might look something like this:

Diagram showing the skill mastery process for a hypothetical student playing Prodigy Math Game

At the end of this pathway, the Prodigy algorithm has identified that you have skill mastery in this area for your grade level. It then moves along to find where you are in your learning.

This may even be at a grade level that is higher than your actual grade in school. This provides you with material that is challenging but attainable, so you’re working in your ZPD.

Now imagine you’re a classmate of our first student. You’re also working on multiplication and division skills in Prodigy. However, you make some mistakes on questions as you progress through the content.

As you make mistakes you receive feedback on your incorrect answers, including the correct answer. The Prodigy adaptive algorithm will then provide additional questions in order to best place you so you’re also working in your ZPD.

Diagram of a student's progress through Prodigy when answering questions incorrectly and correctly.

As you can see in the example above, this student’s pathway may appear more complex than the first student. However, Prodigy is supporting this student through the adaptive algorithm so that they’re also playing at the appropriate level and making progress in the area of number sense. 

Randomized control trial research on adaptive assessment platforms has revealed dynamic-learning programs that adapt to students’ individual needs and provide feedback to their teachers had “strong, positive effects on student achievement and motivation” (Faber, Luyten & Visscher, 2017). 

Research has found in-game feedback can help to motivate students (Faber, Luyten & Visscher, 2017). This is precisely the formula Prodigy uses to assess student performance, determine appropriate content, and provide actionable real-time data to teachers.

When does the Prodigy algorithm kick in?

Short answer? The moment students begin to play. The adaptive algorithm in Prodigy Math Game is constantly working behind the scenes.

It applies a spiral review methodology to continue to assess and review student knowledge as new content is delivered. At the same time, essential knowledge that isn’t yet mastered gets reinforced.

Let’s dive deeper into what that means through the figure below!

Chart demonstrating Prodigy's algorithm

The top branch is focused on fractions and builds on students’ prior knowledge. First, it evaluates their base knowledge of fractions — working with manipulatives such as fraction strips and number lines to show fractions in a variety of ways. They continue to hone their skills over time until they can create line plots by measuring lengths in fractions.

The bottom branch shows the progression of skills needed to learn how to read bar graphs.

A student would work on both these concepts throughout the school year until they can combine the skills and display their own data.

The algorithm ensures students are re-applying their knowledge in a variety of ways to keep progressing through both skill branches.

How teachers can use Prodigy Math Game for student-centered learning

Students from 1st to 8th grade all have different learning journeys. Prodigy doesn’t create boundaries for students. Instead, it allows them to continue on a personalized pathway that helps them grow and see positive outcomes.

The goal is to find the sweet spot in skill mastery and development that challenges and engages each student.

Research has shown that game design elements, such as the use of badges, can affect the interest of the user (Plass, Homer & Kinzer, 2015).

Screenshot of in-game badge collection for Prodigy Math Game

Prodigy uses badges and in-game rewards to incentivize students to keep playing and, in turn, gathers more data and allows the algorithm to continue sending the student the right questions for their skill level.

As students master skills, they earn in-game rewards to help incentivize them to continue in their learning. Plus, Prodigy’s assessment tools make it easy to support students where they need it most!

In order to make full use of the Prodigy algorithm, teachers can create Plans, Assignments and Test Preps to help with areas of need. Even if a student has completed all their assessments, they’ll still get adaptive questions as the algorithm works its magic. 

Preview of the assessments widget in the Prodigy Teacher Portal.

Prodigy teachers have access to a full suite of assessments to help ensure their students are learning the content they need to know.

If students happen to be playing outside of an assessment their teacher has created, rest assured our adaptive algorithm is working tirelessly to ensure your students are always receiving standards-based math content.

Prodigy's mascot, Ed, smiling against a purple background.
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