# Math drills via the smartphone

IT IS tough to call something a smartphone when it’s packed with apps like iwhoopiecushion, Zombie Crisis and Pimple Popper.

Yet for a lot of children who own or have access to smartphones and Tablets, such is the fare of the day.

I tried to smarten up my own devices recently, in hopes of helping my nine-yearold son push ahead with his fourth-grade math studies in a way that might not feel quite so like drudgery.

Of the apps I tried, which were aimed at elementary-school children, a few clear winners emerged. Rocket Math (US$1 or RM3.10) and Rocket Math Free, both on Apple, were good for grades three, four and five, as was Math Bingo (US$1 or RM3.10 on Apple). Another good option, especially for younger children, is Kids Numbers and Math (US$3 or RM9.30 on Android and coming soon on Apple).

For the money, Rocket Math delivers the most value. The app, which is for children four to 12, is a math practice session disguised as a game. For the younger ones, it covers basic counting, addition and subtraction, and for older ones it covers multiplication, division, fractions, square roots and entry-level algebra principles.

Students can launch a rocket into space for math-based “missions,” like solving multiplication equations while the rocket is in orbit, and they may also perform more basic calculations and earn money to modify their rocket for the next mission.

Tasks are changed each time they appear, so if students fail to complete a task, they can’t simply choose a different answer to the same question and hope for a better result.

And the scratchpad feature, where you can solve a problem before offering your answer, is nicely done.

Students can also sign in under different names, so more than one child can use it at a time.

My test subjects didn’t seem bothered by the limited number of levels in the free version, but the US$1 (RM3.10) fee for the paid version seemed a small price to pay for the ability to play the game to its full 56-level limit.

No Android version is available yet, and I found nothing that was quite as nicely pitched for the older elementary-school age group. But the Android Market features many so-called brain building apps that are aimed at adults, but would suit children fine.

Such apps, like Math Workout and Math Attack (both of which are free), are meant to sharpen the user’s problem-solving skills, with marginally challenging math tasks.

Rudimentary flashcard apps also exist, like Math Practice Flash Cards. But the drawback is that such apps lack the friendly feel of the ones in the children’s category. If you sit with your child and work together, your own tutelage could at least partly compensate for these shortcomings.

For Android and Apple device owners with younger children, Kids Numbers and Math is a good choice.

For the youngest learners, the app includes counting and number comparison exercises, and for slightly older children it includes addition and subtraction and a memory game.

If you’re wondering whether the app might suit your child’s abilities, consider an example from the Advanced Exercises section, which is the most difficult. Students are asked to solve the equation “10 + 6 - 7 = ?”

Whenever an answer is given, a woman’s voice offers a range of encouraging responses, like “Great job!” or “Keep practicing.” The tone was in line with what I’d expect from a first or second grade teacher.

Unlike many other free apps, the graphics are sharp and generally professional-looking, and the overall production quality is good.

The paid Android version lets the children choose optional sounds and use a slightly wider range of numbers with certain exercises, but until I stumbled on those options in the “preferences” section, I hadn’t noticed such limitations.

The Apple version will be free, but will offer a limited range of exercises. The unlimited version will be available through a US$3 (RM9.30) in-app purchase.)

Math Bingo (US$1 or RM3.10 on Apple), is also worth downloading. A bingo board fills the screen, with seemingly random numbers. When the game begins, an equation tops the page, and pupils choose an answer from the numbers on the bingo board.

The app tests addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills, and features a scoring system that rewards faster answers.

Math Bingo offered an excellent range of difficulty. The most difficult multiplication prob- lems — like 16 x 19, for instance — are hard, but not impossible, for more advanced students to solve. Of the 25 possible answers to that question, for instance, only three ended with the number 4. The easiest problems are more along the lines of 4 + 4.

I would recommend installing more than one of these apps, if only to place a few healthier choices onto the family’s app menu. Speaking of which, not surprisingly, in the weeks since installing the apps, I’ve yet to find my children playing with them on their own.

I’ll need to devise a little incentive to make that happen — perhaps adding a bit of screen time to their daily allotment if they play with these apps. Until then, my devices will continue to be smartphones in name only. — NYT