Teachers as the creators of the technology
The time where teachers just modelled or facilitated learning using new technologies has long passed.Recently, their interest in new technologies started to shift from ‘user’ profile to ‘creator’. Today, there are fantastic apps and softwares designed directly by teachers. The story behind each creators interest in making an app or software is going to vary. I tried out Math Evolve for iPads and I had to say I was very impressed not only with the design features of the app, but also with its content. Looking at how the progression of mathematical concepts were created. I wondered if the designer had talked to a maths teacher. I was neither right nor wrong as the designer was a teacher. So this is the story behind the creation of MATH EVOLVE by ADAM COCCARI, Founder of InterAction Education and an Elementary school teacher.
The origins of Math Evolve began long ago, when I was a child growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, enchanted by the thrill and creativity of playing video games. However, like most inventions, the idea to create a maths game came from practical challenges in my daily life. I started teaching 4th grade in a small independent school with no formal training or education degree. I knew that I loved working with kids and helping people learn, so I thought it would be a great place to start. The school quickly saw my interest and ability to teach maths concepts, so I was put in charge of the maths classes and curriculum for 4th grade. As you probably remember, in 3rd and 4th grade you are forced to memorize your multiplication facts (times tables), usually through a mixture of flash cards, verbal recitation, and speed drills. Some children take to this naturally and learn them quickly, but for others it is painful. Unlike some subjects, knowing the multiplication facts is absolutely because they are the foundation of all maths that comes afterwards (fractions, percentages, ratios, ect). So, it became my task to get my students to reach automaticity with the facts through any means necessary. I would use every tool in my arsenal: flash cards, visual aids, physical toys, and long speeches to teach them about how important it was.
I would have them play games, jump around the room like a madman, and even have them do relay races involving multiplication, all with the hopes of getting them excited about maths.
It was a tough battle, because at the core of it, memorizing these facts is really boring for most kids. The flash cards and quizzes can feel like torture, and it becomes even harder when they get home. They need to practice in the evenings, but the kids loathe it and the parents don’t want to get in fights every night about it. It becomes a source of tension for a lot of parents, and most would rather give up and enjoy the time with their kids than get in a fight every night about flash cards.
It was in this context that I realized that both teachers and parents needed better ways to make maths. We used a computer lab for an hour a week, and I started using a lot of free educational games on the Internet to reinforce the maths facts. I grew up loving video games as a kid, so I knew first hand how engrossing and rewarding games could be. The kids loved the games because they provided a fun change of pace, instant feedback, and competition amongst each other. I saw the power of educational games and the potential they held, but most of the games that were available were very basic and cheaply made, so the kids would tire of them quickly and never choose to play them in their own time.
It was around this time that the iPad was first released, and I bought the first version. I brought it over to a student’s house for a tutoring session, because I knew this particular student was obsessed with video games but had a deep aversion to maths. I found a few maths games for him to play, and I watched as his fear and anger toward maths practice melted away as he tried to defeat some robot dogs in an app called Maths Ninja. I saw how well the touch screen worked as a device for educational content, and his anxiety about maths was alleviated when presented in a game context. Although I found a few good apps for my students to play, I was surprised by the general lack of truly fun and high-quality educational games available for the iPad and iPhone (this was 2010). Most apps merely presented the facts in flash card format, requiring you to simply type in or touch the correct answer. These apps usually had the maths separate from the game, thus the game became a thinly-veiled way to get children to practice maths facts in the traditional format.
As the app developed, I would bring it in to school and have my students and friends test it and provide feedback. As in all projects like this, we made lots of changes along the way in response to input from our testers. The most important insight was that some kids were very good at video games but struggled with the maths, whilst others were very good at the maths elements but had no experience playing a game like Math Evolve. This caused me to separate the game difficulty and the maths difficulty options, which is the feature that makes Math Evolve suitable for a very wide range of skills and abilities.
Math Evolve In The Wild
Now that Math Evolve has been out for 18 months, I couldn’t be happier with the response it has received from both parents, teachers, and students around the world. It has received many wonderful reviews and rewards, and is now available on every platform. I have had many parents write to me and leave reviews saying that Math Evolve is their child’s favorite app, or that it is the only way they can get their child to practice maths. This let me know that we were successful in realizing my initial goals, and that Math Evolve has given parents a fun way to improve and reinforce maths facts at home without a battle.
We have also seen lots of educational sales from schools and districts around the world. I think the best way to use Math Evolve in a classroom setting is as a change-of-pace activity to reinforce the facts that students are learning through other methods, or as a station through which groups of students rotate. Other teachers use it as a reward (which I love), for successfully completing other maths assignments. I don’t know exactly where and how it is being used everywhere, but It’s great to occasionally see things about Math Evolve being used in education. Just last week the New York Times published an article about the use of iPads in Dutch schools, and opened the piece by saying that Math Evolve has been incorporated into the curriculum of the Netherlands. A teacher sent me a video once on twitter of her entire classroom in England playing Math Evolve together, and all the kids were cheering and celebrating as they destroyed the enemies. These moments make me feel like we have truly succeeded and also incredibly proud, knowing that an idea that started as a dream and sketches on paper has touched thousands of students across the world.
Please visit http://mathevolve.com/ for more information.