Usually, playtime and study time are considered separate and distinct and, at least for some students, running around at recess is far preferable to sitting in math class. But in Kent Crenshaw's prep class for the math portion of the standardized ACT test -- which many U.S. colleges use to evaluate students for admission -- play, and games in particular, have become a big part of the curriculum. But not just any games.

For the second consecutive semester now, Crenshaw, who teaches at Germantown High School in Tennessee, has incorporated into his lessons so-called brain games from a San Francisco-based company called Lumosity. Lumosity launched in 2007 and is spearheaded by neuroscientists and other big brains from universities like Stanford, Harvard and Johns Hopkins [source: Perng].

The basic idea behind the company's specially designed 35-plus games is to provide the same sort of training for the brain that regular trips to the gym provide for the body. The games are based on a still-developing field called neuroplasticity, which posits that the brain, when faced with new challenges, can be reshaped in ways that improve memory and boost thinking speed and effectiveness [source: Perng].

In a nutshell, Lumosity's computer-based games, which can be played by people of all ages, provide the challenge needed to reap those mental benefits. They're also, however, designed to be both simple to play -- with straightforward graphics and instructions – and fun, so as to encourage people to play them again and again.

Although still early in his use of the games, Crenshaw is already a proponent of their impact. "At the beginning of the semester, I give a practice ACT test, and at the end I give them another, and it seems there is a statistical difference there," says Crenshaw, who is in the midst of a more formalized study to determine the impact of the games. "[Playing the games] is helping them."

Even as he awaits the results of the study, which will help determine if his school will incorporate Lumosity's brain games into more classes, Crenshaw says the very fact his students try to beat one another is a good thing. "They love to compete and check high scores," he says. "One kid would go home and spend hours playing."