Math drills via the smart­phone

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY -

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

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