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A few years ago I was involved with a math education project which got me looking at other education Apps. They seem very game-y. Some are about hiding the pill in the ice cream - the format of a regular game with some math hidden so you swallow it, too. Others, more aimed at school districts, still tended to have game stuff wedged in for no educational reason. I understand this theory - even kids in school will figure out way to goof off with their tablets unless the math App feels like a game.

My boss was strict about looking for game tricks that would help, but everything needed an educational reason to be there. Most of the resulting exercises were also somewhat fun. That project fell apart before anything was published. Nothing here is directly from it, but is inspired by that "make it more fun by making it more educational" idea.

Mechanics

Menu/sequence: There are 35 exercises arranged into 8 categories (across 2 areas.) You can freely navigate and select any exercise. When you're inside of an exercise, double-tapping the upper-right circle returns to the menu.

But you can also play exercises straight through. After "winning" an exercise, Again/Next buttons pop up. Next jumps straight to the next exercise, the same as if you returned to the menu and tapped to start the next one.

Progress: Most exercises get more difficult as you get them right. In general, no mistakes goes to the next, one mistake repeats the current difficulty, and two+ mistakes goes backwards. Some exercises run through a specific sequence, then randomly generate "hard" versions if you keep on. Some give random "version 1" problems for a while then switch to version 2, then 3 as you get enough right (like 3 mini-exercises in one.) Again/Next will pop up when you've answered everything it has to offer. "Again" will continue with more randomly generated problems and can be done as long as you like. The progress bar (on the main menu, under each exercise) is just for fun. Playing through everything fills it about 1/2. That's just an incentive to play longer (you could think of it as "you've done all the training examples, now show me you understand it all together.") Filling the progress bar does nothing special. The Options/Menu area has a button to zero-out all progress for all exercises (a short-cut for deleting and reinstalling.)

Cheating: There's a way to quickly look through all problems in the current exercise, sort of. The cheat skips to the start of the next problem, and does nothing else. It won't show the solution to the problem you were on and if you had one part visible and 2 hidden, this trick won't show the hidden parts (but you can solve part 1, see part 2, then get bored and skip ahead.) The only use is to get an idea of how it progresses. Say you want to know how difficult the 1-10 skip counting exercise gets, cheat to skip ahead a dozen times and glance at each one, until it seems to repeat.

It's meant to be something no one would ever do by mistake. It also "turns off" real progress gain (until the exercise restarts, going back to your real progress.) Put a finger on each corner of the screen and tap with one of them - 4 fingers total, 3 down, 1 tapping. The tap can be in any corner. I use two hands. The area counting as a corner is pretty large. Once you have it, the 4th finger can tap, tap, tap to quickly skip through.

Number Tiles: The flat number tiles have a fast mode. You can always hand-drag them into the answer slots. Tapping one speaks the number. Dragging them is fun for a while, but soon becomes tedious. To speed up, tap any blank answer slot. A ? should appear inside. That's "tap-to-select" mode. The ? will move to the next, and persists through exercises. You never need to drag a tile again. Tapping the ? toggles back into tap-to-speak mode.

Therapy cow: After a mistake, a "therapy cow" may fall from the sky and jump around. It doesn't mean anything and can be ignored. It goes away on it's own, or by tapping it.

Descriptions of each exercise, by category

Numbers and counting:

Dragging blocks to make lines length 1 through 10. There's no counting here. This is just a typical exercise to get used to how numbers represent a quantity. It's not always rows 1,2,3,4 ... the next row jumps around to make it interesting. At the end the blocks stack themselves and let you knock them down. That's just for fun.

A version of "Pink Tower" from Montessori. This one has many blocks from 1x1x1 up to 6x6x6. There's no right or wrong. All you do is stack them in various ways and hopefully notice the 6x6x6 is as tall as two 3's or a 5 and a 1, and so on. The blocks will snap into place (if coaxed,) and the smaller ones leave footprints. For fun, a red thing walks around, attempting to climb them.

Matching numbers words to digits ("two" with 2.) This starts showing random 1-10 digits and you drag the words over. Then it flips to showing words and you drag the digits. Then it flips to using incorrect spellings (one, won, wun.) For fun numbers are in batches of 3-5. Also for fun it alternates between one-at-a-time and all at once.

Simple counting on number grid, up to 20. Sequences are things like 1 to 10, 10 to 1, evens, odds, 1 to 20, 20 to 1 ... .

Matching digits 11 to 20 with the words. This is the same as the 1-10 version, except no alternate spellings

Idea of numbers

These are about matching a group of 6 things with the number 6, and vice-versa. The idea is that at first children merely memorize the number sequence. So far 1, 2, 3 is the same as a, b, c. Learning 3 actually means OOO and when you see OOO you can say "three" is the next step.

Counting items. These are always in a line. At first pushed together. Then with spaces between, then changed shape and color. They come in groups of three to hopefully trick you into thinking "this is 2 more than the last one, which was 6, so this is... ." They alternate between showing all 3 at once, or one-at-a-time, just for fun. To answer faster, can tap to get the ?.

Counting jumbled different color and/or size items. They can be hand-dragged to help count them. For fun they come in 2 at a time and the areas change between various-sized rings and rectangles.

This one shows you a number and you have to drag cubes into the lines to make it. In edu-speak, the previous were number-to-representation and this is representation-to-number. Tapping the "crystal" pops out extra blocks. Tap each number when you think the blocks are correct. For fun, and to reduce dragging, each line starts with some blocks. Also in groups of 3 (it's surprisingly fun to try to use the extras for one number to finish another one.)

Matching numbers to dot-patterns, from 1 to 10. This works the same as the "match digits to words" from before except it now counting. The dots are arranged a 5x2 pattern or 4x3 or domino-style. As before, it switches around starting with the digits, or the dots, then later it has you match only dots to other dots in different patterns, then finally random combinations.

Counting items arranged randomly in a grid, up to 20. Tapping them toggles a little dot, just as an aide. In theory this encourages you to think of them as a group of three, a cluster of 6... and add them.

The same as the pervious "dots 1-10" exercise, except going up to 20. There are no domino patterns for numbers past 12, but this version adds words (you may see "fifteen" and need to find the tile with 15 dots.)

Zero

These are repeats of previous exercises, but using zero.

Matching word "zero" with number 0. Like the 1-10 version, except using 0-4 and always a 0. This also eventually uses tiles with dots, where the 0-dot tile has nothing on it.

Counting cubes in lines, using 0-6. The same as the 1-10 version, except one line is always 0, which is just an empty line.

The reverse version number-to-representation, using 0-6 with a guaranteed 0. Drag blocks to make each number; tap the number when you think it's correct. It's a little fun that 0 means "drag them all out."

Misc exercises, I

Counting some cubes according to a rule. The rules for what to count vary: in/out of the square, only cubes or only chips, only small or large items, only stretched-out ones, or a certain color. Sometimes the big square is there just to confuse you. Tapping the rule reads it out loud.

Measuring. You get a rod and 2 blocks to play with to help measure it. Sometimes both blocks are free, other times one is anchored midway (the hope is this will encourage thinking such as "there are 2 to the left of the one I can't move. and I can measure out 4 to the right, giving 7.") Eventually it starts varying the size of cubes - a short rod might be 7 small cubes long, while longer one might only 3 long.

This is from the kindergarten Core "understand 11-19 are ten plus a single digit." As usual you have to fill each area with how many it says. But the areas are now 10x3 and length 10 blocks are added. The sequences tend to things like 2, 12, 22 or 9, 10, 11 (nine is 9 one's, while 10 is only a single ten.) Other than that it tries to avoid too many 1's. There's no way to dispose of cubes - if you pop out too many 10's it might be some work shoving them out of the way.

Sorting, based on a variety of rules. They're the same as before: color, size, chip vs. cube, regular vs. stretched. Some have 3 categories (color, size.) Objects pop in and out of areas as you pull them into the side. You're not allowed to drag into the wrong area, and it counts as a mistake to try (for the progress bar on the main menu.)

Three mini-games involving equal/not-equal, and less/equal/more. It runs through them as you get the old ones right. First decide if two areas are the same or different. For fun it gives a random mix of "same," "different," "equal" and "not equal." After a while it switches from a line to loose objects. Next it switches: the items are always unequal and you have to label them both with greater/fewer (or less/more.) After a while it has you compare dots on tiles.

The last mini-game combines them. First you choose same/different. Then you have to choose from between <, = and >. In theory, having placed more/less it's obvious why a single </> symbol is an improvement. In theory.

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Skip counting

Counting up to 40. By 1's, then skip-counting, but not too hard. Everything is in proper multiples - 5, 10, 15 but never 12, 17, 22.

Skip counting anywhere between 1 and 100, including odd multples (the 12, 17, 22 example.) The middle numbers are sometimes filled in (like the picture) and sometimes not.

This is the more normal skip-counting. Nothing to drag - you just tap the correct spot. This is faster but it's easier to just tap the pattern without thinking about the numbers. Bunnies also hop across. They have no educational value (if you have disabled the wrong-answer-cow, the bunnies will also stay home.).

Addition / Subtraction

Try to make a number by adding 2's, 3's ... . You get strips of 1 to 5 cubes to try to make a target number. The size of the area to fill and the number below are the same - the number doesn't do anything. You "win" as soon as you fill the area. The equation (on top) is just a decoraction. It's displayed as you add strips.

At first you get random length strips. Sometimes a few singles, but never enough to make the number. Later on you get "puzzles" with only one solution, like making six out of 5,4,3,3 or 5,4,3,2.

Four mini games about making an equation with strips. Part one you're given a sum like 2+4 and have to make it by dragging strips into line. You're only allowed to place the correct strips, in the correct order. Part 2 is the reverse. You're shown a row line a strip of 2 and a strip of 4, and have to drag in the "2+4" equation tile.

The next two parts are the same, but with three numbers. You might have to make 2+3+2; or be shown ABBBBCCC and have to select the "1+4+3" tile.

Introduction to number lines. At first you're shown scrambled 1-12 and need to pick out each one (drag the number line that amount and tap the tile.)

The rest are finding how far apart 2 numbers are. Section one of the numberline is locked to one number. You don't have to, but you can adjust the second section to help figure the distance. It's also used to show wrong answers. Later versions have you start at the larger number (the second yellow bar goes backwards.)

This is the same as "block strips" except with a numberline. At first you're show a locked numberline (two sections.) You have to drag the equation to makes. Part two you're given an equation to make, like "4+2," and need to make it.

Tapping the ball switches between sections (drag the blue bar, tap the ball, drag the yellow bar.)

This is the same as the previous, except using subtraction (the second yellow bar runs backwards.) After getting enough subtractions correct, it mixes subtraction and addition (and still either "make this" or "decide what this is.")

Given an equation like 3+??=7, use the numberline to find the missing number. As you slide your numberline segment the ?? on the tile changes to your guess. To keep it from being too easy, You're no longer shown the total. When you have it adjusted, tap the tile.

There are four versions: find second addition, "3+""=5," find second subtraction, "5-?? is 3," find first with addition, "??+2=5" and find first subtraction, "??-2 is 3." You're always just sliding one segment to the correct length.

Geometry

Giving regular N-gons with 3-10 sides and sort them. At first they differ by several sides, then later you might get 7,8 and 9 sides to sort. Eventually they're stretched, for fun. Like the other sorting, dragging them against an edge pops in/out, and you can't pull something into the wrong area.

Latin-style number prefixes (the kinds used in n-gons.) Another one matching words to numbers, then numbers to words, then misspellings.

Matching words for regular n-gons from 3 to 10 sides with the shape.

Matching the types of triangles, then later quadrilaterals. Each has two sample shapes (for isoscoles triangles it randomly shows an acute and obtuse version.)

Misc-II

Matching with roman numerals, up to 20. Eventually runs every version o matching: roman numerals dragged to the correct digit, vice-versa, 1-at-at-time with wrong spellings (XV, VX, VVV, XY,) then random missing items.

A clock with roman numerals. The only action is placing the correct number in the slot. The clock moves ahead a few hours each time, doing it all again once the clock is filled.

A sun (with glaring sunlight,) and moon (which brings darkness) spin with the clock. Placing the roman numerals isn't terribly exciting but watching it spin through a few days is kind of fun (and possibly educational "intro to the funny way clocks work?"

Groups of 2-addend addition-only flash cards, in set patterns (each set of 4-6 cards is one particular pattern. Pattens are: 10+(random 1-9) and the reverse; all same sum (3+8, 6+5, 10+1); constant plus interval (7+2, 7+4, 7+6, 7+8, 7+10,) and the reverse; both +1 (3+6, 4+7, 5+8, 6+9); and commuting (random pairs: 3+6, 6+3, 1+14, 14+1, 12+6, 6+12.)

I'm not sure how well the "Addition" exercises lead up straight math like this. I just liked these patterns and put it at the end in Misc, since why not. There are also bunnies that hop around for no reason. I figure everyone has a snooze-reflex to flash cards, so many seeing a bunny would help.

To Do

Spelling for 11-20 (oneteen, threeteen, sixenteen.)

Privacy Policy

No information is collected by this App. No names, ages or locations; there's nothing to buy so there's no financial data.

A better App would at least collect scrubbed usage statistics (for example, which exercises no one ever spends more than 15 seconds on.) This doesn't even do that.

Misc Notes

Every exercise has the rule that it won't just say "wrong" and move on. You have to keep trying until you get it right. I think this works out better than the alternatives. It lets you give a subtle not-so-scary error message (you know your answer wasn't right, since you didn't go to the next problem.) And every problem ends with you definitely knowing the correct answer, and with a happy sound.

One problem is avoiding "try stuff until you get it." The trick is to give a longer delay after a mistake, so it's clearly faster to try to get the correct one. Another is scoring, but that's not a problem at all. After someone gets it wrong (or wrong twice or whatever you like,) you can count it as a mistake while still having them need to get it right.

FAQ

Q: Why the cutesy name in an otherwise non-cutesy App?

A: It took me 2 weeks to name my cat. Finally settled on "Abby." For this I was thinking "Early Numeracy," or "Math Game_056." It's hard thinking of a name you don't hate.

Q: Clearly the first two "correct" sounds are a small bell being dropped on a hammer. But what is the last one?

A: The third "correct" sound is conceptual: a glass of apple juice being poured and drunk. It seemed more fun than the usual cheering or trumpets.

Q: Why do the number sounds sometimes mess up?

A: There are two sets of 1-9 sounds: normal, for taps, and fast for when the computer does a count-off. To mix it up, there's a third set of slow numbers They rarely, randomly play instead of the normal ones.

Q: Where can I find a real rug with that pattern?

A: If you're serious, I'm sorry - it's not based on any specific rug. But if you're mocking it, let me tell you that is a great rug. It goes in the dining room and is a beautiful non-ironic red plush. The gold is patterned like trim or curtain rods with knobs, or filigree. It classes up your meals. Then it can be streets, or the fat parts can be cities for when you play under the table with your hot-wheel cars. It's a great rug and you know it.

Q: Are there details on how the cow works?

A: Yes. The cow randomly appears after any mistake (the chance increases slightly after each mistake and is lower if you've recently been cow'ed.) Where it falls is random. The little jumps it makes are also random (both the timing and the force, which is why it sometimes seems to stampede.) When you move a block or number tile, the cow will face it, enabling you to lead it around.
It will leave after a minute or so, or randomly after being tapped. Tapping the cow also shoos it away from your finger. There can only be one cow at a time. There are 4 moo sounds (none of which are from a real cow,) played semi-randomly.
The cow is made with simple game-physics joints. The head-bob, tail wag and leg flex are the result of tweaking settings, and involve no coding. Even the way it turns itself feet-down is code-free - it just naturally does that when air-borne since the feet are heavier than the head. If you've used Unity3D, it's all just character joints and settings, especially the Spring numbers. They are tricky, and in my first try it was un-cow-like junk, but it can be done.

 

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