Bottom line: Fantastic app for reinforcing core math concepts with fine motor and visual tracking benefits thrown in. Truly fun and engaging and perfect for parents or teachers who are looking for apps for children who need to work on elementary math skills.
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I never enjoyed math as a child, largely because I never enjoyed studying subjects that didn't come naturally to me. Even now, ask me to multiply numbers in the 6, 7, 8, 9 range, and I need to think hard to get the correct answer. So I'm the perfect person to test math apps for kids - if I enjoy it then it should be a breeze getting reluctant learners interested.
And I LOVED Marble Math Junior by Artgig Apps, which focuses on children aged 5 to 8. Their app Marble Math is the same concept and design, but the skill level is for children in the 9 to 12 year-old range. The app is conceptually very simple - the child solves math problems by rolling a marble through a maze and selecting the correct answer(s). Once the problem is solved, a portal opens through which the child drops their marble and moves on to the next problem. This is not your standard math drill app. Playing it requires the use of critical thinking skills, and yet it also manages to be both accessible and fun. I have played this app a lot (purely for testing purposes you understand, I take my reviewing role seriously) and I haven't been bored yet. If anything, it's a little addictive. Let me break out for you exactly what I enjoyed about it:
• The graphics are high quality, crisp and colorful. They do not look 'baby-ish' so this is one of those apps that is perfect for any child who need practice working on elementary level skills.
• The game supports multiple players and allows you to create a custom avatar.
• The music and sound effects are great - they manage to be perky without being irritating, which is pretty impressive. They can however be turned off in settings.
• The app works on fine motor and visual tracking skills by requiring the child to tilt the iPad in order to roll the marble through the maze. But, in a stroke of genius, there is an option to let the child drag the marble instead. This means that the app is accessible to children whose motor skills are not as developed and it also means that the app can be played keeping the iPad static (in a stand for example).
• Obstacles and bonus items add an extra element of fun to the game but can be turned off. Obstacles include things like green goo (slows down your marble) and banana peels (causes your marble to slip and fly around unpredictably). Bonuses include ghosts (unlike Pacman, don't flee from these as they enable you to roll through walls for a time) and crowns (earn you extra points).
• There are three levels of difficulty in the app:
o Level 1 works on addition of numbers from 1 to 10, equivalence and sequencing of numbers from 1 to 10 (using numbers, dice and tallies), shape recognition and sequencing using ordinals (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.)
o Level 2 tests addition using 10s, numbers from 1 to 20 and of U.S. coins up to $1, comparing clock faces and times (hours only) as well as numbers from 1 to 100, sequencing of numbers from 1 to 100 and subtraction of numbers from 1 to 20.
o Level 3 requires the ability to add using 100s, add numbers from 1 to 100 by finishing equations and add U.S. coins and bills up to $2, comparing clock faces and times (in 15 minute increments), identifying fractions (/2, /3 and /4) and multiples of 2, 3, 5 and 10, multiplication to 100 and sequencing of numbers from 1 to 1000.
• As you can see, lots of ground is covered here. Even better is that the skills targeted are totally customizable. At each level, the parent or teacher can select the skills they want the child to work on, ensuring the game can be tailored perfectly to that child's skill level.
• The math problem is written out at the top of the screen and when touched, it is read aloud. The app can therefore be used by children who are emerging readers.
• The app isn't timed, which encourages the child to think strategically - they don't have to just work out the correct answer to the math problem, they have to figure out how to roll the marble through the maze in order to reach that answer, avoiding obstacles and picking up bonuses on the way.
• Marble Math Junior taps into a really powerful learning tool that other apps often miss out on - failure. The child starts the game with three lives and there are ways to earn more lives as the game progresses. If a question is answered incorrectly, the child loses a life but they have the option of trying to answer the question again or, if they are really flummoxed they can use the 'Show Me' option.
• There is positive reinforcement, not just from the tracking of high scores but also, as points are earned, new styles of marbles become available for the child to play with. Collecting marbles is a great way to encourage a child to keep playing the game.
As you can tell, the developer has done an awesome job of leveraging game play concepts in order to reinforce important math skills, and they have done it in a way that is accessible to a wide variety of students. Why not 5 stars? Well, there are some additional features I would love to see built in before I could rate this app a Top Pick:
• I think the developer could tweak the settings a little more to broaden the range of difficulty even further. For example:
o If the child is asked to add numbers equaling 300, and they roll their marble over three 100s, there is a running total at the bottom of the screen. An option to remove the running total would require the student to solve these problems using mental math.
o Once the problem is solved, the app signals this by the portal opening (to great fanfare) so the marble can exit the screen and move on to the next problem. So, for example, if a child is told to collect all the numbers that are multiples of 3, once they have collected all of them the app tells them that the problem is solved even if there are still numbers on screen. An extra layer of difficulty could be incorporated in settings so that the portal will let the marble drop through it once the problem has been completed but the players must determine for themselves whether the problem has been solved or not.
o The child can select 'Show Me' and the app will solve the problem for them for free. I think it would be great if there were a setting that resulted in there being a cost if the child selects 'Show Me' - either their score would drop or they would lose a life for instance. This feature would insure kids make an honest effort before seeking help.
• There's no way to save the game, so if a child wants to beat their high score then they have to do it in one sitting.
• Minor point: sometimes there is no way to avoid obstacles like green goo or banana peels. That's fine because they just slow you down but being flushed down the drain costs 50 points - not being able to avoid that can be demoralizing!
• I would love it if currencies other than the U.S. dollar were supported.
• Other than high score, no data is collected, so unless an adult is watching the child play they can't determine which problems the child is getting right or wrong. The game really encourages independent play, so it would be great if it could also track areas of strength and weakness.
It really is a terrific app however, and definitely worthy of top pick status because it targets so many different skills in a way that's both accessible and fun and its replay value is fantastic. It's also excellent value at only $1.99 and I really do think it's a must-have app if you are the parent or teacher of children who are functioning at the elementary level in math.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer whose favourite marble as a child was a nice heavy clearie with a green tinge. She always played for keepsies.