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A Look at Perseverance in Learning

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Girl thinking with her chin on her first with one plus one equals two on a chalkboard on the right side.


  • Prodigy School

Perseverance in learning can be defined as sticking with a learning task even when it’s tough. The concept of perseverance has been a focus of great attention for parents, educators, and educational researchers alike. 

But what does perseverance look like in the world of game-based learning? To better understand the relationship between Prodigy Math and our users’  math perseverance, we implemented surveys* and reviewed learning-based data points generated from game play.

What did we learn about perseverance in math? Read on to find out!

A look at perseverance in learning

Perseverance has been recognized for more than a century as a key psychological trait promoting success in areas like education. For example, Dr. David G. Ryans (1939) traces the study of perseverance as far back as 1912, when (fun fact!) it was first measured by asking a person to "stand on their toes as long as possible". 

Today, perseverance continues to be recognized as an important character trait, and there is strong research to back it up. In a systematic review involving more than 44 research studies with a collective 60,000 participants, Drs. Lam and Zhou (2019) observed a robust relationship between perseverance and academic success.

Of course, perseverance isn't everything. In a study led by Dr. Jon M. Jachimowicz (2018) looking at over 125 studies, it was discovered that mixing passion with perseverance is critical to success. This is part of why we at Prodigy Education believe so strongly in the power of game-based learning and in our Motivation First! philosophy of education.

There are many elements of students’ lives that impact the way they approach learning. Each learner approaches their own learning journey a little bit differently. While math perseverance is one element that we seek to understand, it’s important to note that perseverance is not the only trait needed for students to experience success.

Why perseverance in math is relevant to Prodigy Education

A young girl stands in front of a blackboard holding a tablet.

Our goal at Prodigy Education is to have a positive impact on students through game-based learning as we aim to achieve our mission of helping every student to love learning. Through this work, we wanted to understand what patterns, if any, could be detected regarding math perseverance in relation to Prodigy Math because it could help us to share relevant information on student learning with parents and teachers.

Our methodology

We took an approach that included data from three different sources to help us understand what patterns related to math perseverance might exist. The three data sources were:

  • A survey of parents/guardians
  • Learning data* generated from Prodigy Math
  • A 4-item in-game student survey* for students in 3rd - 8th grade based on previously validated instruments such as Sturman & Zappala-Piemme (2017) and Duckworth (2009). An example item presented the statement: "When learning math, I never give up even when things get tough" to which students were asked to indicate their level of agreement on a 5-point scale (5 = Strongly Agree, 1 = Strongly Disagree).

Our findings on perseverance and problem solving in elementary math

Parent Survey

Among over 1,000 respondents, more than 6 in 10 parents reported that their child’s level of perseverance in math has improved since using Prodigy Math.

Chart showing that 6 of out 10 parents say their child's level of perseverance in math has improved since using Prodigy.

In-Game Student Survey

We provided in-game surveys* to Prodigy users in 3rd - 8th grade and we received over 1.1 million responses. Let’s dive into what we found.

75% of Prodigy users have high levels of math perseverance.

Pie chart showing that 75% of Prodigy users self-reported high math perseverance.

Figure 1: Prodigy users were categorized based on their average self-reported survey scores as having low or high levels of perseverance.

Younger Prodigy users were more likely to perceive themselves as students who have high levels of perseverance.

Bar chart showing that younger Prodigy users were more likely to perceive themselves as having high math perseverance.

Figure 2: Relative percent of Prodigy users who self-identified as having high levels of math perseverance, broken down by grade.

Prodigy users who perceive themselves as having math perseverance had slightly higher academic performance in Prodigy Math than their peers and the trend was consistent across all grades.✝

Bar chart broken down by grade showing the impact of math perseverance on accuracy.

Figure 3: Answer accuracy, by grade, comparing Prodigy users with low self-reported math perseverance to Prodigy users with high self-reported perseverance.

In-Game Learning Data

Prodigy users with higher math perseverance were less likely to display disengagement behaviors in Prodigy Math such as quitting during a math question, “keymashing” (defined as entering random numbers/letters into a question), or submitting an invalid response.

Bar chart broken down by grade showing the correlation between math perseverance and invalid responses in Prodigy Math Game.

Figure 4: Percent of invalid responses entered, by grade, comparing Prodigy users with low self-reported math perseverance to Prodigy users with high self-reported perseverance.

Fostering perseverance in math

Staying persistent in the face of a learning challenge can be considered to be an important trait; however, so is thinking outside the box, trying different methods, and asking effective questions when you need help or support. 

There are lots of great resources for teachers or parents who want to help foster learning perseverance while also maintaining respect for each student’s individual learning journey and lived experience.

  • Review Dr. Ana Katharina Shaffner’s website, Positive Psychology, which includes a deep dive into perseverance and also includes activities, books, and more
  • Check out the PBS series Keep Going! Building a Culture of Perseverance in Math Classrooms for some ideas you can implement
  • Letting students have fun while practicing math through game-based learning tools like Prodigy Math may impact students’ level of perseverance

Prodigy Math Game is an adaptive learning platform for grades 1 to 8 that motivates kids to answer math questions in a fun, fantasy-inspired environment. Sign up today for a parent or teacher account to make learning math an adventure!

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*Responding to questions was/is optional for students. All data is anonymized and aggregated. No personally identifiable information (PII) was collected from students during this process. Findings are based on responses to questions at the time. Individual circumstances may vary, results are not guaranteed.

✝This research was not designed to attribute impact or levels of math perseverance to the use of Prodigy Math as there was no control group of students who weren’t using Prodigy Math included in the analysis.