Do educators in your building(s) use mathematics apps?
How effective are they in helping primary school students learn?
Is it worth using math apps at all and, if so, what types should you use?
To answer some of those questions, researchers Robin Kay and Jae Yeon Kwak reviewed the relevant literature published from 2005 to 2017.
What types of mathematics apps emerged?
In Kay and Kwak’s 2018 study published in the Journal of Computers in Education, they compared four types of mathematics apps used in primary school classrooms:
- Game-based — Apps that involve learning and practicing concepts while playing games.
- Productive — Also known as tool-based apps, they’re used to produce artefacts or create products.
- Practice-based — Apps designed to help students learn content and apply specific mathematics skills.
- Constructive — Apps designed to help students focus on exploration, making sense of new information, as well as skill acquisition and data management.
3 Characteristics of high-quality math apps
To determine the quality of each type of math app, researchers established three characteristics as highlighted by the literature.
Perceived learning value
One of the most researched characteristics of math apps is “perceived learning value.” That is, how effective an app is at supporting and promoting learning.
In other words, how easy or intuitive it is to use any given app. Usability is especially important for younger students. Directing too much cognitive load solely toward using an app can inhibit their ability to acquire concepts and, ultimately, learn.
Jennifer Fredricks, a Union College dean and professor, suggests there are at least three aspects of engagement: behavior, emotion and cognition. According to Fredricks, then, a math app must be highly interactive, emotionally engaging and cognitively engaging to support learning.
Note: Pre- and post-tests were conducted to assess students’ performance levels before and after using all the mathematics apps.
The app that offered the highest perceived learning value was Prodigy — the game-based app that’s adaptive and curriculum-aligned. Almost 95% of students agreed that it helped them learn to add or subtract.
“[Prodigy] was universally perceived as the most helpful in terms of learning basic subtraction and addition concepts… It is possible that high ratings for usability and engagement influenced students’ perceptions of learning. In addition, the game-based app could have been played at home and this extra time on task, while not formally documented, may have contributed to perceptions of increased learning.”
In terms of ease of use, just over 80% of primary school students rated Prodigy second highest after the practice-based app, Math Tappers. Interestingly, though, Math Tappers received the lowest perceived learning value rating.
“It is not surprising that this app was rated as harder to use than the practice app, given that it had a complex design involving different challenge levels, high interactivity, rich graphics and a wide selection of problems. The app’s game-like, story-based structure may have enhanced engagement and motivation, thereby explaining why it was perceived as being easier to use than the Thinking Blocks and Show Me apps.”
Prodigy also received the highest engagement rating among all students.
“Prodigy offered a strong narrative, clear goals, a distinct rate of progression, high interactivity, adaptability to student responses and rewards. These factors have been reported as highly desirable in past studies”
In recent years, game-based learning has surged in popularity. But not all game-based math apps are necessarily engaging or effective. It’s important to research and test them out before implementing them in the classroom or across schools.
In the case of Prodigy, however, primary school students rated the game-based learning platform most highly in terms of perceived learning value, usability and engagement.
“This app provided a sufficiently challenging learning environment, positive feedback and rewards, friendly competition among students, adjusted questions based on student skill-level and constructive feedback.”
See Prodigy in action!
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