I have been fairly critical in the past of the majority of Maths iPad apps, since very few offer anything other than mind-numbingly repetitive practice of number skills. They are often 21st century versions of worksheets containing 100 questions on that have been known to be used for detentions.
Yesterday I came across an app that is a little bit different. It is called DragonBox, it is available in the Apple and Android stores for £1.99 and it aims to teach you algebra. It arrives in Britain off the back of some impressive success elsewhere in Europe (check out what Wired had to say about it here). After about 24 hours of owning the app, I can honestly say I am seriously impressed.
Here’s the difference between DragonBox and most other Maths apps: you learn concepts by playing it. DragonBox does a great job of introducing equations, the idea of balancing and the role of the equals symbol without explicitly teaching you what you are doing. Our Maths department were instantly impressed, as were the 9 year olds I tested it on yesterday.
The wired article raises some important issues. Whilst DragonBox constantly encourages you to figure out things for yourself, it can result in you knowing how to play the game without knowing why something is true. A blue monster divided by a blue monster equals 1. Is this really a problem? Understanding of the rules can easily be built upon with the necessities of why?
There are also the difficulties of how it could be used in a school setting, citing evidence that teachers ‘didn’t know what to do with this’. Surely developing the understanding of why would be an ideal role the teacher? A few simple substitutions of the blue monster to a number and the question of why is accounted for. I have just signed up to trial their web-based version and cannot wait to give it a go.
It is about time a Maths app like this arrived on the market and I am already looking forward to seeing what they can come up with next, or perhaps more importantly – what they can inspire others to come up with next.