I remember receiving a promo code and downloading this little game a few people had been talking about called Motion Math. I quickly mastered the game play through a short, instructional animation that required no audio or written instruction, just visual prompts as I tilted my iPhone backwards and forwards to land a bouncing ball on the correct spot.
When I looked up, about half an hour later, I realized I’d become hooked on a math game that teaches fractions and decimals in the same way that Tetris could hook me (even still).
Motion Math the app turned into Motion Math Games, and educational app development company that is synonymous with quality, with innovation and deserves to be supported by parents and students and the education sector because these are the kinds of edtech companies we want to see succeed.
The thing I like about Motion Math Games is that they were playing in the mobile app space before there were iPads and other offerings. They had grabbed onto what mobile devices could do, and begun to see that math could be further transformed to engage learners. They designed for the playfulness, they were fascinated by what could be achieved through technological design, and driven by how to best align this to support learning. They didn’t come to edtech when it was sign posted with dollar signs. And what they produce continues to prove that.
When I had the chance to ask one of Motion Math Games’ co-founders, Jacob Klein, some questions, he pointed to the company mission first up:
Our company mission is to help kids find delight in intellectual challenge; because so many students find math challenging, even frustrating, an empowering game experience can have a big impact. And though we agree that math can be tough, we love Mathematics for many reasons: it’s powerful, useful in everyday life and science and engineering, important in learning to think abstractly, and its richly patterned structure is beautiful and can inspire great games.
This holds true with their latest app, Questimate!, which is a beautifully-designed tool that encourages learning of the basic mathematical and scientific principles of predict and prove. It asks you to design and answer questions that involve comparisons and help children to understand and consider how their world is quantified. They do this with aesthetically-pleasing design and approaches that have kept them ahead of most other developers in this space. And this requires a certain perspective that Jacob describes as being able to understand not just the math, but the curious nature of the technology and the subject matter they deal with at Motion Math games:
Games are great for structuring challenges, but mainly it’s the playful, curious, fun quality of mind of a very immersed game player that makes games a great medium for learning. It’s a special form of concentration, different from say, test-taking. The stakes are lower in a game than in a high pressure school exam, so players are often able to push their limits further. There’s certainly roles for many diverse media, interaction styles, and emotional tones in education; not everything should be playful. But if it’s going to be a game, for gosh sakes, let’s make it genuinely fun!
So, with that in mind, I asked Jacob what that all means in an educational app market that is crowded and what he thinks makes the best quality educational apps?
Games should leverage technology to make learning more conceptual and more engaging. Most of the educational apps out there are really multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank flashcards with a bit of graphics and sound effects thrown on top. We’ve always aimed past that to create games that we would have loved as kids and still really enjoy as adults. We look to the games category and other edtech media (not just apps) for inspiration. The most important element I would say is passion, really love, for the subject matter. All the best teachers I had growing up had were bursting with passion for their subject, and that infused every lecture, discussion, and assignment. The same is true with apps; who loves what they’re teaching and really goes the extra mile to make the actual content, the learning, shine? Now, bells and whistles are great, we enjoy polish and great graphics and sound effects in our apps. (Too many edtech products are quite ugly!) But ultimately it’s about love for the material. Do you really, really want kids to learn this stuff, not because “they have to know it for school” but because it’s fascinating and powerful? The number line is an endless decimal fractal – how amazing is that? A blue whale’s tongue weighs 2700 kilograms! These are amazing ideas and facts that everyone should know.
And these are the approaches and excitement that informs an app like Questimate!. But it was driven from a number of spaces and places which shows how well Motion Math is connected with those involved with children’s learning.
They were inspired by parents and teachers who repeatedly told them that their kids struggle with estimation, measurement, and real world math. As Jacob noted, “There’s often a disconnect between abstract math over here on the chalkboard, and all the real-world math that kids do (even if they don’t know they’re doing it) over there. So we wanted a game to build estimation skills.”
Simultaneously, The Maker movement has captured Motion Math Games attention.
EdSurge invited us last year to the first EdTech tent at Maker Faire and the kids’ enthusiasm we saw blew us away — they’re so inspired and energized when put in control. So what would it mean for kids to be in control of a learning game? That question lead us to the central game mechanic of Questimate!: making your own questions.
Other sources for inspiration included the wild comparisons and facts from Wikipedia and the web and Guinness Book of World Records that people share in person, on Reddit’s “Today I Learned” alongside Dan Meyer’s work on Perplexity and research findings such as the recent one that hands-on interactive activities work best at the beginning of a lesson.
As Jacob explains:
Most math textbooks “pre-chew” away the mystery from real world math problems by presenting total, perfect information. We wanted a game that confronts the player with rough, challenging, visceral questions. If there’s continuing interest, players can dig into the web source for the information and the precise math behind the answer. But don’t start with information; start with an interesting question; in the case of Questimate!, a question the player creates.
It is exciting too that Questimate! is social, that children can design questions for each other and engage with the app through a pass and play mode, or remotely via the Game Center. It shows that in the edtech or game-based learning space that Motion Math has a sophisticated and nuanced view which has them ticking right boxes. So, if that is the case: what can we expect from Motion Math into the future, Jacob?
More challenge! More delight! In addition to bringing some of our apps to Android and Windows, we have a couple more game concepts in development to add to our Number Sense suite, and after that the plan is to move on to geometry, stats, and probability. We’re also quite keen to add more estimation quests to Questimate! Estimation is a useful skill in so many (maybe all?) areas of knowledge – biology, geography, economics, sports, space – the possibilities for this game are endless. So we’re excited to add more content from us, from expert partners, and from our users.