In a world of exciting, shoot ‘em up, Saturday commercial cartoon math games, how is a quiet little math app to stand out?
Because that’s how we prepare ourselves to do math, right? We jump up and down, squeal with our friends, play exciting music, tank up on sugar and adrenaline rush and –
No. We don’t. That’s a terrible state of mind for math.
I volunteered when my son was in elementary school, and was horrified by the shift in educational fashion since I was a kid. Back then, math was quiet time. The teacher took reading groups aside, while the rest of us worked problem sets at our desks. We had the mental and physical space and quiet to train the quieter side of our brains.
Not so in my son’s classrooms. Children were bouncing up and down, elbows in each other’s faces, talking a mile a minute. Every time was social time, and all math had a verbal component. Educators seemed to have a theory that making math verbal would help students solve word problems, notoriously the hardest part of math. And making math exciting, would make it interesting.
But as a mathematician and parent myself, I know it doesn’t work that way. Solving word problems is harder because there are three parts – one part translating words into the math problem, one part solving the math, and one part translating back to words and closing the circle – making sure that you’ve answered the question. My observation is that most kids fail at attention span on word problems, really. The steps are still difficult enough for them that by the time they reach the end, they’ve forgotten what the question was.
A little quiet goes a long way to improve attention span. Not to mention how much more enjoyable kids are to be around when they’re quiet.
My math app PatternBlocks – and its mobile app version Mandalar – are quiet time for math. No verbal babbling, no adrenaline pumping, no rules. Just quiet creativity, dragging shapes into place, where they click together. Click or tap on them to rotate them to fit. Paint them whatever color you want. Let the shapes suggest a picture, or use them to draw your own. When you’re done, you can show off your artwork. Or scrap it and start over.
Nope, the apps have no bells and whistles. There’s no shooting, no score. Just soothing quiet time with geometry. There’s a lot to be said for a soothing math app.