Math apps or hands-on materials…which will help your child more?

Many maths apps involve children in reading, comprehending, analyzing and solving problems while playing games. They can choose from a range of games, and the same game can be played over and over, with different content each time. Some even give parents statistics and progress reports. Games are often leveled, not always in difficulty, but frequently in the time given to answer questions. Number sense, greater than/less than, addition & subtraction are stalwart features in apps for Years 1& 2. The question is, will these help a child who is struggling with maths?

Let’s look in a little more detail at some of the features just mentioned:

They can choose from a range of games, and the same game can be played multiple times, with different content each time.

Children love games, and the apps are always bright, fun and graphically engaging. But are they mathematically engaging for a child who doesn’t get maths? The answer is, yes they are. Initially. But they are not tutors, and children who don’t understand the concepts behind the games will come unstuck and not want to play after a few failed attempts. For children who do understand the concepts, they’re great, especially as the content always changes.

Some even give parents statistics and progress reports.

Parents naturally want to know that their child is getting on well, and there’s nothing like a progress report generated on the spot. But are these reports really of value? If a child is getting poor results in one area, for example, what then?  The parent can mention it to the child’s teacher, and that may be helpful. However, because maths understanding builds on earlier level understanding, a problem that an app highlights may actually indicate a problem at a much earlier level. If this is the case, hammering away at the game’s level will do no good, and just frustrate everybody.

Games are often leveled, not always in difficulty, but frequently in the time given to answer questions.

We put a lot of pressure on our children to do maths quickly, but is this really a useful thing? Well, yes it’s fine, as long as we are sure that the child understands what’s going on. If a child doesn’t understand, they’ll guess when under pressure. Alarm bells should go off in your head if your child is guessing at maths. It’s a clear indicator that they don’t understand, and you need to take action. Get a proper assessment, find out what level they’re truly at and work on with hands-on materials on the relevant concepts.

Now there’s that phrase…hands-on. There is a significant difference between pictures on a screen and hands-on experiences. A child who doesn’t understand with pictures will often get it if they are given manipulatives because this is an earlier mathematical stage. An even earlier stage is acting situations out.

Number sense, greater than/less than, addition & subtraction are stalwart features in apps for Years 1& 2.

Modern maths has been embraced whole-heartedly by our education systems, and the latest apps are reflecting this. But if modern maths is all that it’s cracked up to be, why then are there so many children failing? The answer is that very few of our educational systems have moved far enough ahead in their understanding about teaching maths. Modern maths is all about children understanding mathematical situations and recognising what to do, but not all educators understand what to do if a child still doesn’t get it after they’ve gone through their palette of strategies. A lot more training is necessary to develop greater understanding of what to assess, how to take a child back far enough and then how to move them forward effectively.

Apps are great in giving practice in maths that a child already understands. If, however, our educational systems are still not up to speed with helping children with maths difficulties, do you really think that the makers of apps are?


Click here for help with 5-12 year olds’ maths


Comments

Math apps or hands-on materials…which will help your child more? — 3 Comments

  1. I agree with the points made regarding using apps as a way to remediate a child with maths difficulties. As an educational psychologist I come across many children who have maths difficulties. Concerned parents have complained that they have spent a significant amount of money to ‘help’ their children by using apps only to find that their children are very resistant to getting on the computer after the initial excitement of the new app wears off. Mathematical knowledge is cumulative and needs a step by step approach thus children with difficulties need to have their gaps in knowledge identified because without this mathematics becomes a foreign language or a game of guessing. Most children have the capacity to take the logical steps that school maths requires, they often are required to make far more complex deductions in their everyday life and do these with ease. Diagnostic assessment, developmentally appropriate strategies and good sequential teaching is essential for progress in mathematics. Apps can never take the place of this they are fun activities for students who understand maths concepts and can help to consolidate learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.