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Review: Motion Math puts “Action” in learning fractions

Admit it: math is one of the least-liked areas of schooling. When I taught high school math, I jokingly said it was the dreaded four-letter word of students’ experiences and tried to explain that “fractions are your friends, not your foes!”. I knew the challenges of learning math didn’t have to be hereditary as parents exclaimed (“I’m no good at math, so why should my kid be?”), so I was always looking for ways to connect to the world of my students.

Now there’s hope … and I don’t mean the unglamorous “drill-&-kill” worksheet style of using technology to teach mathematics. No. Motion Math does something so much better: it makes learning number sense, and in particular fractions, percentages, decimals, and the parts-to-whole concept… well, FUN!

Based on their Stanford School of Education Master’s project report, the developers Gabriel Adauto and Jacob Klein, ground Motion Math in their key findings:

1. Fractions are a difficult content area for many students and crucial for later math achievement.

2. Number line estimation is an important skill underlying the conceptual understanding of quantity and more advanced math operations.

3. Physical experiences of intellectual content can deepen understanding and increase engagement.

4. Learning games work best when the design creates no separation between gameplay and learning.

The concept seems simple and the execution is phenomenally entertaining and challenging. A star is trying to return to its home in a far-away galaxy. For it to blast off towards home, a given amount is displayed (like 0.5, 1/2, or 50%) and the star falls down towards a number line at the screen’s bottom, which isn’t always a single unit labeled 0 to 1  (nice touch!). Using the iPhone or compatible device, the player’s task is to tilt the phone so that the falling star lands at about the approximate location on the line (the halfway point, in this case). Should you miss on your bounce, hints are provided – an arrow points you in the direction it should go; equal tick marks show up on the line; etc. My only problem with Motion Math is that the amount that is displayed is too small – but then again, I’m over 40. *grin*

The developers describe it in this way:

Motion Math helps learners perceive and estimate many important representations — numerator over denominator (1/2), percents (50%), decimals (.5), and even pie charts! By connecting each type with its distance on the number line, learners can develop a fast, accurate perception of fractions.

The game tightly connects the gameplay with learning: you have to know your fractions to make it back up to space. Tilt controls make for fun gameplay and help reinforce the learner’s physical connection to the content, turning the mobile device into a virtual manipulative — a way to physically interact with math.

Check out their video:

A Kid’s Dream of School from Jacob Klein on Vimeo.

The app is simply an educationally stunning use of our beloved devices. As someone who has seen computers and technology enter the classroom – where SMARTBoards are used in dumb ways, where graphing calculators were drooled over but not always allowed – there could be no better way to spend $0.99. And apparently I am not alone. Motion Math has been receiving rave reviews, including by the Wall Street Journal Tech Blog, for their fun and powerfully educational app.

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Motion Math was provided for review on iSource.com. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About Us” link.

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