UW–Madison’s Hidden Village Computer Game Selected for Sixth Annual Virtual STEM Video Showcase

Online Public Viewing and Voting Across Six Continents Ends May 12

May 10, 2020   |   By Janet L. Kelly

Fantasy characters and avatars in "The Hidden Village" guide students' movements and gestures to help them solve math problems.

A video about a UW–Madison online learning game titled “The Hidden Village: Mathematical Reasoning Through Movement” is among 170 videos featuring science, technology, engineering and math education initiatives selected to compete in the 2020 STEM for All Video Showcase. The public can view the short videos and, through May 12, they can communicate online with presenters and vote for their favorites.

“'The Hidden Village' is the result of a four-year project designed to better understand how movement and non-verbal communications improve mathematical reasoning,” states Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Educational Psychology Mitchell Nathan, who led the development of the game at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW-Madison’s School of Education.

“We developed this video game experience to encourage players to use their bodies while reasoning mathematically,” says Nathan. “We are participating in the showcase so a wide audience can see how embodied cognition—the idea that the entire body influences the mind—can lead to game designs that engage nonverbal and verbal forms of reasoning.”


Avatars model movements for students to mimic, such as using their arms to form repeating triangles.

The three-minute video focuses on how the game directs learners to move their bodies as they interact with the village characters to solve embedded math problems. For instance, one problem asks students whether the lengths of any two sides of a triangle added together must be greater than the length of its third side. The game’s avatar visually guides students to extend their arms out at their sides, place them at an angle to their midline and then bring them straight together in front of their bodies. The movements create ever-expanding triangles, so players can see how the triangle changes shape when they move their arms to make it larger or smaller.

The game tracks the players’ movements and the quality of their responses to embedded math problems in a richly drawn Hobbit-like environment, also allowing students and teachers to create and share their own movement-based math content.

So far, “The Hidden Village has been played by several hundred urban and rural high school students and teachers with content focused on geometry-proof performance and the development of mathematical intuition,” states Mitchell. “A range of students have played the game and we have found that English Language Learners and Limited English Proficiency students also benefit from using gestures and other body movements to lessen language and reading barriers in their math courses.”

The game was developed through a collaboration with Gear Learning (UW–Madison), the Simmons School of Education at Southern Methodist University and the Guildhall at SMU. The project was funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education and awarded to the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Videos presented at the STEM for All Video Showcase address improving K–12 STEM classrooms, informal learning environments, undergraduate and graduate education, teacher professional development and community engagement. The presentations cover a broad range of topics including science, mathematics, computer science, engineering, cyberlearning, citizen science, maker spaces, outreach, research experiences, mentoring, professional development, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core.

STEM for All Video Showcase still is attracting viewers and to date has 76,000 unique visitors from 181 countries. The STEM for All Video Showcase is hosted by TERC, in partnership with: STEMTLnet, CADRE, CAISE, CIRCL, STELAR, CS for All Teachers, NARST, NCTM, NSTA, NSF INCLUDES, and QEM. The Showcase is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation .