Bottom Line: This fun app is just what the teacher ordered for making adding and subtracting more tangible to young minds. Not only are all of the numbers displayed with accompanying beads that come to life during the problem-solving, but the developer, Marbotic, also offers parents "smart numbers" for sale that include access to all three math apps that they make. No smart numbers? No problem! The app is completely fun and functional without them.
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iPad only ($2.99)
Marbotic has brought numbers to life in a tangible way for children by using Montessori-inspired learning techniques. There are no set lessons within the app leaving children free to explore and experience the wonders of addition and subtraction at their own pace. The app has several settings to adjust level of learning and the optional purchase of the "Smart Numbers" may be very appealing for parents who have kiddos that like to have something in their hands related to what they are learning.
The app opens to the home screen where cute little aquatic friends are available for a little tap and discover fun. The upper left of the screen contains the settings option where the smart numbers option can be turned off or on. When smart numbers are on, the playing screen relies on the user's placement of them on the screen to create the problems. When it is set to off, numbers zero through nine are available at the base of the playing screen and can be dragged to the problem areas. Also in settings are choices of playing with doubles in addition such as one plus one or four plus four, adjusting the minimum and maximum "interval of the result" in addition and choosing the minimum and maximum "interval of operands" in subtraction. You're going to ask me what that means and I'm afraid to say, "I have no idea." -but I don't. The developer is French and I can only assume french math is different or that I chose the right career path of writing and art instead of mathematician. I fiddled with the settings and never noticed what it was changing. That would normally spell disaster for an app I'm reviewing, but I'm happy to say that in this case, it did not. The app has plenty of options for being worth the $2.99 price tag. Back to the home screen and there is an option to turn off background music, choose from eleven languages which include American English, British English, German and Spanish for example. In the lower right corner is the parent's corner which is protected by, wait for it, a math problem. That made me laugh because it's a more difficult math problem than the kiddos using this app, so don't fret. In this section, the developer explains a bit about the app, introduces the smart numbers and letters and provides links to the website, social media and the app store. All that's left is to return to the home screen and choose addition or subtraction to start play.
Both addition and subtraction are set up the same way. Without smart numbers, the numbers zero through nine are lined up on the bottom of the screen. The main area is dedicated to the math problem where children can slide the numbers they are interested in to add or subtract. When a number is chosen, it is narrated and the number of beads are shown below each number. The beads come alive with adorable smiley faces and can be moved moved one at a time to help reveal the answers. In subtraction, beads eat other beads to demonstrate their loss. Sometimes beads cheer as a group and now I want pet beads. There are three levels available in the play areas: baby chick, medium chicken and big rooster. These settings adjust which prompts are given and which areas are left blank for the child to figure out. For example, in baby chick mode, eight plus one is placed by the child and then the answer is revealed when the beads migrate to the answer. In contrast, in rooster mode the problem eight plus ____ equals nine is given and it is up to the child to solve that the number one is missing.
The app worked really well with no technical bugs and is cleanly designed. The illustrations and animations are fun but don't take away from the point of the app. The only area I had questions about was mentioned above with the interval settings. The developer sent me a pack of Smart Numbers to try out and I have to say, they are made really well. Sturdy wood with dots on the back that my kiddo couldn't pull off. There is rarely a toy here that he can't destroy but these numbers are holding their own. You want to know what else? They actually work the way they are supposed to in the app. Remember those toys that came out several years ago for Angry Birds, that we all bought for Christmas and then neither adult nor child could get them to work with any reliability and they went straight to the bottom of the toybox? Not this time. These smart numbers aren't getting stuck in the bottom of the toy box. I downloaded all three Marbotic math apps and had a great time watching my son do math for fun.