Monday, September 8, 2014

Kindle Apps We're Playing - DragonBox Alegebra and Geometry

We currently have three Kindles in our house.  T received one for Christmas, last year. I purchased a second, as my "big expense" for this coming school year.  Then, A won one from our library's summer reading program, and all those Kandinsky cookies, and craft stick bridges we worked on through the summer ended up paying off doubly.  We had the fun of the projects, and the three girls swept the prizes, A with the Kindle, C with a cart of blocks, and E with an all day ride pass for the county fair.

The fair started the day we moved, so that pass went to a very grateful friend, but we've been making good use of the blocks, and the Kindle.  With school coming on, and our life in boxes...

...finding a few good educational apps has been a high on my priority list.  The catch being, of course, that my children absolutely despise any game with even the smallest hint of a suggestion, that it might be educational.  The only educational game they've ever willingly played, and truly enjoyed just for the sake of the game, and despite its educational value has been Cosmos Chaos!...

...a truly enjoyable, and completely educational, vocabulary game for Nintendo DS.  And, actually now that I think about it, it was really only D (age 11) who really liked that one.

That is not to say that I have given up, or that I can never get the children to try out a new educational game for me - just that I usually try not to use those two words together when presenting it to them.  Which is how I found myself purchasing We Want to Know's DragonBox Agebra 5+, a game promising to secretly teach basic algebraic concepts to children ages six and above.

DragonBox Algebra 12+, basically the same game as DragonBox 5+, but with more levels and operations to learn.

And DragonBox Elements, leaving algebra behind, and moving on to geometry.

First off, let me say, I love these games.  When I say that, I mean as a player, rather than I as a mother.  To see what they were like, I grabbed up one of the Kindles, and played my way through DragonBox 12+, and partway through DragonBox Elements.  They are fun, logic puzzle type games, and since I enjoy logic puzzles, I enjoyed the games.

Do they teach algebra and geometry secretly?  No.

It's hard to teach something secretly when you tell the person you're teaching, over and over again, what it is you're planning to teach "secretly".  In the intro, the ads, and every write-up from the game company, they mention that they are teaching children algebra secretly.

As soon as my children read those words - they were done.  These were clearly educational games, and they didn't want to play - without a little convincing, anyway.

Do they teach the concepts of algebra and geometry, secretly or not? Not really.  More than teaching, they are games that allow students to play with algebra and geometry.  Which to my way of thinking is much more valuable than a game integrating algebra and geometry into the play, anyway. 

There is not a lot of instruction.  Students must fumble there way through, and figure out what is expected, and how to accomplish the goals through trial and error.  This can lead to a lot of frustration, but also some real breakthroughs in mathematical thinking.

However, if you're looking for a game that students can play through, walk away from, and be able to pass a textbook style algebra test - these are not the games you're looking for. But, they do come with downloadable teacher's manuals (on the website), and printable worksheets to help you, as the teacher, walk your students from the games through into actual math terminology, and concepts.

Did my children enjoy the games, once they got past the educational aspects, and agreed to play them? Some did, and some didn't, but they were all willing to play through to the end of whichever game I gave them.

To begin with, I gave DragonBox Algebra 12+ to D (age 11), and asked him to try it out for me.  He likes math quite a bit, but does not like to be frustrated.  So, in order to convince him to push through his frustration to the breakthrough moments, I bribed him with a Lego set he's been wanting (not that I recommend bribing your children, just because I bribe mine on occasion).

He then sped through the game, and even requested DragonBox Elements.  He found the second game entirely frustrating, and with no further bribes being offered, gave it up after the second level (hence, the reason I don't recommend bribing your children).  Now that I know there is a manual for that game as well, I think I will print it for him, and see if the explanations there can help to alleviate some of his stress with the game.

E (age 9) who loves to compete with her brother, was happy to play through DragonBox Algebra 5+, without a bribe.  She really wants to make it through 12+ too, but so far has needed quite a bit of help in order to make through the higher levels.

I suggested to my teens (ages 13, 15, and 17) that they play through the Algebra 12+ game as an intro, or review to Algebra (depending on their age) at the beginning of this school year.  They have been faithfully playing through the levels, and seem to be "getting it", but I wouldn't say they love it.  In fact, when I asked them what they thought of the game, they answered with an, "It's okay."

They're no Cosmos Chaos, but for "educational" games, they're alright. The graphics are cute, the levels increasingly difficult, the instructions scant, but understandable, and with the additional resources on the website, I'd say it's they are a good concept, and worth the five to ten dollars we paid for the apps on Amazon.

Oh, and no, I am not being paid for these opinions - they are just for your information, one parent/teacher to another.  Really good apps and games are few and far between, and I'm happy to mention any we find along the way.


Sue Elvis said...

My girls liked Dragonbox Algebra. They are also wary of educational games. They don't like learning that involves trickery! The Dragonbox Elements sounds interesting. I shall have to take a look!

I hope you're settling into your new home. What a lot of boxes to unpack!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Sue - It is a lot of boxes. One by one, we're getting there, though.

Ticia said...

Especially for older kids. It seems like they've got a whole slew of them for preschool and early elementary, but then that's it. Your kids no longer need to have when they learn.

claireshomeeducation said...

Thank you for the well written review. We don't have many games in the house but have been looking to get algebra related ones to help T consolidate his understanding. These sound perfect.
I giggled at you bribing the children to use an educational game. In my house the children try (to no avail) to bribe me to play any game, educational or otherwise! T will thank you greatly for this review!!

Lucinda said...

This made me smile. :-) (been there with bribes!)
We all liked Dragon Box Algebra 5+ (once the kids explained it to me). I didn't know about the teacher's manual so I found it hard initially to see how it related to the textbook algebra I learned at school, but when I started doing a bit of algebra with my 10 year old daughter (in Ed Zaccaro's books) I started to see the connections. My kids will happily play secretly educational games it say it "counts" as maths for the day. We're going to check out the geometry version this week.

MaryAnne said...

My kids like educational games, but that may be because they've never been given the option of non-educational games...

These games sound neat! Here's hoping they are even better in a few years when my kids are old enough for them.

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

We have DragonBox 5+. My 7 year old played a bit with it, but it's not her favorite. She'd rather do Khan Academy, because she gets "points" there and can monitor her progress. DragonBox rewards are a bit disappointing... Oh, by the way, it's good to know that I am not the only one sometimes offering bribes of various kinds to get over the hump. Sometimes they work, more often they don't.