Math Education Software has a Long Way to Go

I was very busy this weekend working on the semi-annual site update (I am SO getting last place in the Search Engine Optimization contest) and starting on my book – Beyond SAS Basics: Tips, Statistics and a Naked Mole Rat and on TOP of all of that, I had to take the world’s most spoiled 13-year-old shopping because there are apparently some items of clothing and footwear existing in Santa Monica that she does not own yet.

Unhappy camperI’m also working on a proposal for math education software and I got to thinking that there is SO much out there, how can there possibly be the need for any more. In (very) partial payment for the shopping spree, I had The Spoiled One review math games and websites for me. Since I don’t see the need to call out any particular resource just because she happened to randomly land on that one today, the names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

As background, I should tell you that she was recently accepted for a summer program for high-achieving girls, scores above average on standardized tests for math (not as above as WE would like) and has never made a grade below a B in anything. (Because in our house a C means you are grounded until the next report card.) On the other hand, homework is sometimes accomplished only as a means to effect the return of all of her confiscated electronics. In other words, she is a little better on achievement and motivation than the average student, but hardly a paragon of mathematics virtue. And here were her reviews:


Video of Rap Song on Mathematics Topics (Because, you know, you kids these days like that)

… Um, distracting. I learned nothing because I couldn’t understand the lyrics.

Place Value Video Lecture

Not really for someone my age (13). Kind of stupid anyway.

Pre-Algebra Game

Sucks! (She drew a picture here to indicate how much she hated it.) BORING. Doesn’t really work. (Punctuated by another picture)

Game with Word Problems

The game was good I guess … (a few minutes later…. ) Never mind. It didn’t give you the right answer after. I HATE THIS SITE.

Game on Factors and Multiples

OK. Not creative or fun. (Another picture, that looked something like this

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Sites on Math in Every Day Life/ Real Life Math

Eewww  NO!!  Doesn’t make me like math!

Mucho Math– The only one that didn’t suck

“That one with the Hispanic math teacher and the kid. That one was okay and kind of funny even though the topic it was on wasn’t really at my level.”

I found this last comment extremely interesting because I knew who she meant. I had sat my daughter down at a computer on a web page with over 1,000 videos, games and other math resources and she came up with the same option that I thought was one of the best ones I’d reviewed when I was doing  the same thing a couple of months ago.  The teacher is Lawrence Perez. The innovation he has included is really quite simple – he has a student in his video.

Having reviewed numerous other options myself, I have to say I agree with my daughter on much of it. The absolute WORST thing you can do in designing mathematics software is have it get the wrong answer, for example, when it asks :

If Y = 5 + x**2    and Y = 14    what is X

and you put  -3   and it says

WRONG!  The answer is 3

Of course, -3   is also a valid answer and then you have a student who says,

“I hate this program. It sucks!”

Not as bad, but also frustrating are those programs that don’t tell you the answer, but simply come up with the next question.

If you say that both of these problems are examples of poor design, well, I agree with you, but poor design seems to be rampant.

Having a game or video that is too basic is not the problem of the software, of course, but MAYBE whoever marketed it as being at the middle school level. Or, it may just be that there is wide variation among students and was not appropriate for this particular student.

Yes, I’m generalizing from an N of 1 (well, 3 actually, if you include me and my brother, who is a math teacher and has had generally the same responses), but from what I have seen so far, there is a whole lot of math education software out there that is not effective in interesting students enough to use it. Sometimes the game doesn’t even do the minimal job of providing the right answer, something any parent could accomplish with a $1.29 stack of index cards by writing the question on one side and the answer on the other.

Every time I have done this experiment, whether with me, my daughter or someone else, the outcome has been equally underwhelming. Even more underwhelming is the fact that almost NONE of the designers/ producers of these resources even MENTION the thought that perhaps one would evaluate  the software and see if it has any impact at all. The attitude seems to be “Here you go”.  Period. Kind of depressing.

I guess the good news is that there are about a bazillion more games, videos and other resources out there to try.

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One Comment

  1. Yes i agree with it really math education software need a long way to understand but it is very helpful for young children’s and help to improve their knowledge. keeping sharing like this wonderful information

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