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Wandering through the ancient wilderness, the young girl encounters an injured wolf pup.

To heal it she must create a medicinal poultice. And to create the poultice she — or more accurately the seventh-grader controlling her character within the computer game — must use estimation, ratios and fractions.

"It's a game you actually have to use your mind for," Conner Cattoway, a seventh-grader at Highland Junior High in Ogden, said as he attempted to solve the problem. "It's pretty fun to be able to do these things during math class instead of just getting a worksheet."

The game, created by a Salt Lake City educator, is now being used in a handful of classrooms in and outside of Utah and by a number of Utah home-schoolers. Scott Laidlaw left his job teaching math at a private school in Salt Lake City to create it along with other programs through his new company, Imagine Education. He acknowledges it was a risk but said it seemed like one worth taking based on the success of one of his previous math games.

After a Salt Lake Tribune article ran about his "Empire" game — in which his private school students built virtual ancient empires using math — he fielded calls and e-mails from across the country from educators eager to buy it. It wasn't for sale at the time, but Laidlaw saw a demand and decided to create the new game called "Ko's Journey."

In the game, an adolescent girl, Ko, becomes separated from her kin after the mysterious Others attack her home village. She must travel through the ancient wilderness, with a guidebook and help from various characters she encounters, to find her family. In her journey, Ko faces challenges and tasks that require middle-school math, such as ratios, graphing and geometry.

Though the story doesn't take place in any specific time or place, Laidlaw said it was inspired by a trip he took to Peru where he studied how to integrate ancient cultures into education. He wrote most of the game's story in the mountains of Peru.

"As a teacher I always wanted a curriculum like this," Laidlaw said. "It's engaging because the kids see and become involved in a story."

Alisa Morford, who home-schools her children in Genola, said the story holds her kids' attention. She said her 13-year-old son, who doesn't normally enjoy math, was eager to play.

"Really the math is no different than that of a textbook, but the application of it is what's intriguing to them, what makes them want to do it," Morford said.

Buzz Stumm, math department chairman at Highland, said his students typically use it a couple times a week after they are done with their work.

On a school day a couple months ago, one of Stumm's seventh-graders shouted "Yes!" when he told the class to start up the game after his daily lesson.

Seventh-grader Lupita Solorio said she enjoys that the story is about a young girl trying to survive on her own.

"It's helping me with my math skills, and we're not just reading from the textbook," Solorio said.

Seventh-grader Rainya Avila said the game has helped with fractions.

"It helps you with math, and it's still a video game," Avila said.

Laidlaw said middle-school math is key to many life skills, whether students realize it or not.

"We want to get students thinking, 'I'm not just doing math for something in the future, I'm doing it now because it's engaging me,' " he said.

To find out more

P To learn more about "Ko's Journey," an online math game for middle-schoolers created by Salt Lake City educator Scott Laidlaw, go to kosjourney.com. The individual version of the game starts at $30, and a version for schools starts at $329 for a classroom of 30.

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