A math game competition boosted student engagement.

Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can be a tough crowd—especially when it comes to math. But featuring the unpopular subject in an interactive video game and turning it into a competition managed to transform hundreds of freshmen at Waipahu High School in Hawaii into a pretty boisterous bunch.

“I was impressed,” said teacher Amelia Cook, who coordinated the algebra-focused competition that riled up more than 450 students. “I couldn’t even hear myself” because of all the cheering.

Four of the school’s seven Small Learning Communities for freshmen packed the cafeteria from 8:15 to 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 7 to compete in the school’s first-ever DimensionU House Cup Championship Tournament, Cook said. DimensionU, formerly Tabula Digita, is a company that produces multiplayer educational video games.

“It’s good they’re having fun learning something important,” said Carl Matsumoto, the school’s assistant principal. “This is the first time we had such a large competition, so it was exciting.”

The game’s setting is reminiscent of the “Halo” video game series, without the violence. The object is for a player, working alone or on a team, to overcome obstacles and answer multiple-choice math questions to earn points. The player or team with the most points after a number of timed rounds wins.