Monday, July 08, 2013

Learning Algebra In 42 Minutes

I'm skeptical--not because I'm some sort of math purist or anything, but because my own experience with manipulatives and apps and "let's make learning fun by turning it into a game" informs me that the hype is much greater than the reality (Gettysburg aside).

From Forbes:
On average, it took 41 minutes and 44 seconds for students to master Algebra skills during the Washington State Algebra Challenge using the DragonBox App.

The Challenge, co-sponsored by Washington University’s Center for Game Science and the Technology Alliance included 4,192 K-12 students. Together, they solved 390,935 equations over the course of 5 days in early June. According to the Challenge’s calculations, that’s 6 months, 28 days, and 2 hours worth of algebra work.

What’s even more impressive, “of those students who played at least 1.5 hours, 92.9% achieved mastery. Of those students who played at least 1 hour, 83.8% achieved mastery. Of those students who played at least 45 minutes, 73.4% achieved mastery.”
How was this mastery evaluated? That's not mentioned in the story.
I downloaded the app and was astonished to see how quickly my son (then 7) learned to do complex algebraic equations.
Does anyone believe that a normal 1st grader can really do algebra?  It drives me nuts when non-math people show off something some young child is doing and say "this is algebra!"  Uh, the vast majority of the time it's not.  If it were, we wouldn't still be struggling to get some 12th graders to pass algebra.

Unless you think that this app is the silver bullet we've been missing all along.  My experience is that there is often a huge gap between the game or manipulative and the transference of what's learned there to actual algebra.

Yes, I'm skeptical.  Show me.

Update, 7/9/13Linked by Joanne :-)


PeggyU said...

I'm dubious as well. Where do you find more information about it?

Darren said...

Darren said...

At the Google Play store the app is $10. I'd be completely fair and demo it rigorously if they gave it to me, but I'm not willing to spend $10 on it!

Joshua Sasmor said...

There's a problem here - what this app does is train you in a particular way of assessing algebraic knowledge. Then you can "pass" the assessment, and you've "learned" algebra! Sounds like a standardized test crutch to me...

CyberChalky said...

I mostly agree with you Darren; it is unlikely that the skills learned solely through this application/ framework are transferable.

However, as a starter activity, it can provide pre-algebra students with an introduction to some of the core ideas.

I am a Mathematics teacher (in Australia), and I have trialed the program with my son and some students, and it has (limited) value. What it needs to be powerful is a teacher on the side to gradually manage the transition to true symbolic manipulation and application.

Given that it needs this, I don't see it as particularly valuable beyond any number of other resources that are available cheaper. I will note that it has potential valuable for students who are early algebra, but have disengaged and are determined that they cannot learn the topic - it might be a way back in for them, which is of potential value.

My final impression is that it is oversold, and overpriced - but still fun.

Elaine said...

I believe it says later on the article that further work is needed to fully transfer the knowledge to pen and paper...

But if it it's that good... Why am I teaching summer school algebra?

Anonymous said...

I work for WeWantToKnow and would of course like to give you a trial to the game. I can't find an email address to contact you on. Please email me on