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Curriculum and Instruction News

UW-Madison spinoff releases latest educational game – aimed at fractions

August 18, 2016
by David Tenenbaum, University Communications

A Madison maker of educational games has just published Diffission, a visual game to teach fractions to middle schoolers without the pain of the traditional "skill and drill."

The software will generate up to one billion shapes, and users will have to build fractions from them, says Filament Games CEO Dan White, an alumnus of UW-Madison's School of Education.

"It's very tactile, and imparts a conceptual understanding of fractions that's very difficult to convey using traditional numerical methods," says White.

Filament Games screenshot
A screenshot from Diffission, a new game from Filament
Games in Madison, asks players to create the fraction 1/2
from the on-screen elements. (Filament Games image)
Diffission joins 13 other games in Filament's "library." The company sells individual games on the web, but its marketing strategy focuses on licensing the library of games to schools or school districts.

In August 2015, the Sun Prairie school district bought a district-wide license for all students.

White and co-founders Alex Stone and Daniel Norton were already experienced gamers in 2007, when they began work on an ocean science game at UW-Madison.

"The player took on the role of a researcher on an alien planet, trying to understand the ecosystem," White says. "We presented the game at a conference, and a member of the audience from the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation approached us about plans to build a curriculum on ocean science."

Kauffman's $1 million grant "allowed us to hire our first staff and figure out how to be a real company," White says. Filament now has 40 full-time employees and offices on West Washington Ave. in Madison.

Filament has three business lines: developing and publishing its own games, distributing games made by others, and doing contract work for companies or organizations. 

Filament emerged with UW-Madison's games-for-learning research program that's now called Games+Learning+Society, says the program's director, Kurt Squire. "Filament was our first 'in house' development team, when we were housed at UW-System's Academic ADL Co-Lab, and Dan White graduated from our program."

Squire and Constance Steinkuehler, co-director of Games+Learning+Society, will be leaving UW-Madison for the University of California-Irvine at the end of this year. Both are currently faculty members with the School of Education's No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Many of Filament's employees were educated at UW-Madison and UW-Whitewater. White has a master's degree from UW-Madison's Department of Curriculum and Instruction, while Stone has a BS in computer science. Norton is creative director.

Filament Games
Art Director Alexander Cooney creates environments for an upcoming Filament game.

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