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- author Jackie French

Sunday 14 November 2010

Guest Post - Motion Math

Kids Book Review warmly welcomes this guest post from Gabriel Adauto from Motion Math - an educational app that makes learning maths super cool. While this is not a book, we at Kids Book Review love to report on any educational component that may aid a child's capacity for learning and we do hope parents and educators find this behind-the-scenes post interesting.

As with many topics in the subject of math, students struggle with fractions. Difficulty with early math concepts can inhibit progression to pre-algebra and other advanced topics, and even students who show proficiency with fractions lack a deeper sense of how multiple representations of fractions (pie charts, percents, number lines, etc) relate to one another.

The sensor technologies embedded in iPhones and other mobile devices afford new experiences at the nexus of games and curriculum that can improve students’ 'gut sense' of fractions and other topics. In creating Motion Math, we focused on three elements - intuitive, fun, and physical.

An intuitive educational game moves into difficult material with an easy interaction. Although a challenge to create, game designers benefit from the fact that kids grasp technology, deftly picking up new controls. To take one striking example, many young kids now expect all screens to be touchscreens; we’ve heard from many parents that their young children now pinch and tap the TV!

After many attempts and revisions, we settled on the current version of our interface: we introduce tilting by putting the player on an empty screen with nothing but a bouncing star and targets to land on. Some adults get confused, but almost all kids immediately explore the device and figure it out.

We find some validation for this approach from education pioneer Maria Montessori, whose 'auto-educating apparatuses' were designed to allow children to individually explore concepts deeply by leveraging their senses. Users are able to understand the application controls without verbal clarifications.

In general, we remain skeptical about our customers’ reactions to the game despite their praise and enthusiasm. More telling are the subtle indications of their liking, such as picking to play our game again rather than other iPhone games on the same screen.

When a kid presses 'Play Again' without asking for permission, they are showing real engagement. They have found the game easy enough to begin, but they also believe that they could improve over their last performance, and when they play again over and over they are in a state of flow: continuous engagement. This is an ideal state for maximal learning and enjoyment.

Motion Math players regularly do over 12 problems a minute, much more than worksheets, and the entire game is 'on-task' learning. Although this challenging pace might seem excessive, learners benefit most when they are pushed right to the edge of their competence... and they even enjoy it!

One second grader struggled to make it past the first level of Motion Math, and we expected her to stop playing. Instead, she bragged to her friend: “I got 6 stars!” and immediately played again.

Minor bits of motivation can maintain engagement, so we kept adding different forms of feedback: progress stars for each correctly solved problem, a cumulative score, new level indicators, bonus effects, and an indication of overall progress when the game ends – presented as a fraction, naturally.


Albert Einstein once remarked to French mathematician Jacques Hadamard, “The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought...are, in my case, of visual and some of a muscular type.”

By imagining himself as a photon moving at light speed, Einstein placed his body inside the problem space and made a breakthrough discovery—relativity. What innovative discoveries await students who––from an early age––acquire not just a symbolic or visual, but an intuitive, muscular understanding of mathematics?

Our aim is to address the potential of embodied, or movement-based, experience to deepen content mastery. Embodied cognition theory states that even abstract concepts are based in our perceptual systems and the interaction of our bodies with the environment.

Briefly: math can be more like sports, where thinking and action are one. In terms of Motion Math, this implies that the abstraction of math can be understood more deeply if it is tied to the physical interaction of the player.

If future learning experiences can be intuitive, fun, and physical, we think learners will pick up concepts quickly, enjoy the process of learning, and actively engage with concepts in the world.

Motion Math will be releasing a suite of games along these design lines, but we also encourage other developers to make full use of the movement potential of smartphones to give kids an intuitive sense of intellectual concepts. One of our primary missions is to build an ecology of great educational offerings on mobile platforms, so we hope our experiences can help you get into the space.

Motion Math was founded by two educator/developers at the Stanford School of Education. The mission: to make math education a moving encounter with beautiful information. It recently won an Editor's Choice Award from Children's Technology Review - and was recently featured on the Wall Street Journal Tech Blog.

Would you like to see more non-literary educational posts on Kids Book Review? Let us know your thoughts - leave a comment below.