Bottom Line: It might not be Angry-Birds-style fun, but it is definitely more engaging than worksheets! Great supplement to teach algebraic thought and problem solving for Grade 4 and up. Try for FREE.
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The Fun Way to Learn Algebra is an app from developer Hands-On Equations and Dr. Henry Borenson. This supplemental curriculum is available for schools and at home, and features a visual approach to learning algebraic equations that makes use of manipulatives.
This Level 1 app features six video tutorials. Each video is 2-3 minutes long, and briefly teaches the goal of the exercises. After playing a video, students get to practice the concepts learned with ten exercises for each lesson. The Hands-On Algebra approach uses a scale as a visual to represent both sides of an equation in balance. Pawns (to represent the unknown x) and number tiles are placed on the balance beam to solve algebraic equations.
There is even a Lite version of this app, for those who want to actually try it before committing. And for those who can't get enough, there are apps for both Levels 2 and 3. The skills progression is as follows:
- In Lesson 1, the student mentally tries to figure out the value of the pawn that makes both sides balance by using reasoning or a guess-and-check strategy. The game pieces do not move in this first lesson.
- In Lesson 2, the student places the game pieces unto the image of the balance scale to represent both sides of the abstract equation.
- In Lesson 3, the student uses "legal moves" with the pawns to simplify and solve for the unknown X.
- In Lesson 4, the student learns to use legal moves with the cubes.
I can't give you the perspective as someone who doesn't like math, because I have always loved algebra. It's a system of rules to follow, and that's just my style. But what this app does quite well is to make this system easily accessible for those who need a more tangible representation, and it gives a clear understanding of what the rules are.
I am no math pedagogy expert, but I like how this system presents algebra (the website does have some evidence for the overall program, for those who are interested). It was accessible to me as an adult, and both of my sons (8 and 11) could complete the exercises. My 8 year old really benefited from the visual representation of how to balance each side of the equation.
By Lesson 6, the last lesson in this app, the user will be able to solve equations such as x + 4=2x +3 and 2(2x +3)=x+9. (If, by the way, this made you cringe or sweat, think about downloading this app for yourself!) This is about 5th-6th grade level around my area, but check what your child is currently doing before choosing which level to purchase. Starting at Level 1, however, is a good choice for any math-reluctant students. A little easy success can go a long way in building confidence.
There is background music available, but thankfully it can easily be muted from each lesson page (my aversion to background music is well-established by now, I think!). The organization of this app is excellent. From the home page, individual user accounts can be created. From each user's main page, the lessons are clearly organized, and the lock symbol quickly indicates which lessons have been attempted.
Common Core State Standards have students learning "algebraic thinking" starting even in kindergarten, and first grade standards begin focus on using unknown whole numbers. Of course, not all 6 year olds will find this app motivating enough to use. It's not cute, there are no rewards to earn, and the positive reinforcement chime and message is the same after every complete problem. It's geared more as an educational support for children starting in the upper elementary grades (though younger math lovers will probably think it's great!)
The goal of each lesson is clearly presented in the video, but I did feel at times that the instructor made a jump in logic that a child might not make. In Lesson 3, after demonstrating how to remove the same amount from each side to help solve for x, he said, "this means that the pawn must be worth 7," without really explaining why. Ideally, the younger learner will have the support of an adult to help fill in any teaching gaps.
I also wished that there was a number pad to choose the number, instead of a scroll. When the numbers get bigger, it's a pain to scroll up for each box, and I always scrolled too fast and had to go back. I also think this app would be improved by adding a few more "fun" features. Why not have more than just pawns to represent x? I can understand the need for simplicity when creating the standard materials, but the beauty of an app is the room for creativity.
Overall, this app is a great choice for parents and teachers. There are over 80 equations in this app, presented in a very easy-to-understand way. Anyone who has ever said that they are no good at algebra should consider checking out this app, and de-mystify the whole process. With a lite version available to try out, it's hard to lose.
Heather Hetler already has a good understanding of basic algebra, but she still had to solve all of the equations in this app for fun. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.