My iPhone has become my kids’ occasional babysitter. Whenever we have to wait longer than 60 seconds, I hear the familiar refrain of “Dad, can I play a game on your phone?”
I don’t always indulge them because they also need to learn the art to waiting patiently, but when I let them play, the game they most often reached for was Race to Everest. It occurred to me that game time could be spent on something more productive than a glorified game of “I Spy”.
So I went over to the iTunes store and picked out what seem to be some of the highest user rated math applications. We played them for a week and here’s what we think about iTunes selection of basic math games:
With no difficulty settings and very easy problems, this game is the most basic of the bunch. Under the Cute Math umbrella are six mini-games. The first two were basic counting exercises with cutesy sound effects. There are also simple addition and subtraction games. Both have animation to help kids figure out the solutions, but the link and instructions for starting the animation is small and somewhat hidden.
Finally, there are a couple of games that test what the kids have learned in the other games, throwing random addition and subtraction at them. The games are OK, but seem to be targeted at the 4-6 crowd — too simple for our needs.
Wired: Certainly is cute. Kids enjoyed the bright colors and happy sounds.
Tired: Very basic – will be outgrown quickly.
Cute Math (iTunes link), $1.99
Math Magic provides another good looking interface – a simple background is the setting for a straightforward quiz of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.
Beneath each equation are four possible answers that the user must choose from. When the correct answer is selected, a young child’s voice congratulates the user with one of several exclamations. Get it wrong and the voice gives a word of encouragement and the user tries again until the correct answer is chosen. Don’t know an answer? Shake the phone to move to the next problem.
Wired: Great looking interface, easy to jump between types of problems.
Tired: Preferences are limited and a little confusing. Sound gets very annoying very quickly, but can be turned off. Multiple choice leads to guessing.
Math Magic (iTunes link), $1.99
We were pretty excited about this one because it’s from Leap Frog and their toys have been very popular in our house for a long time. This game was the only one of the bunch that presented in landscape mode, all the others were normal portrait.
The visuals and sound were great. The game resembled a slot machine – after selecting the operator (+, -, / or *), the user gives the phone a shake and the numbers spin before settling on an equation. The user then turns a third wheel to identify the correct answer.
We wanted to like this, but there were a couple of very quirky things about Number Rumble that prevented us: the interface locks you out from turning the third wheel to select the answer until the sound effect that reads the equation is done … every … single … time, making for a lot of boring delays. Secondly, despite my phone being in silent mode, Number Rumble’s sound still played at top volume. This is the only app I’ve seen that ignores the volume shutoff.
Wired: Best presentation of the bunch – looks and sounds great.
Tired: No customization. The sound effects overrode the phone’s silent mode.
Number Rumble (iTunes link), $2.99
Pop Math Lite – Kids’ Choice
In individual testing, my focus group of three seven-year-olds all picked this game as their favorite. The game features floating bubbles with a mixture of equations and answers written on them. Simply touch an equation & match it with its answer and the bubbles pop. Pop enough bubbles and the screen clears and you level up. The game allows you to select the operator or a mixture of all four basic math functions.
There are no preferences to adjust difficulty or the level where you begin. As a parent, this isn’t my favorite because I’m not a big fan of learning through multiple choice, which often quickly devolves to guessing. While this version is available for free, there is also a full version for $0.99 that includes higher numbers in the equations and more backgrounds.
Wired: Kids’ favorite, looks good.
Tired: No preferences. Multiple choice answers.
Pop Math Lite (iTunes link), free
Math Drills Lite – GeekDad’s Favorite
I have to admit that, at first, this game was pretty unappealing to me. It lacked the pretty colors and sounds that the other games had and its calculator-like input was boring compared to the other interfaces. But after spending some time with it, I’m convinced that this is the best basic math app out there. Not only does Math Drills have the deepest ability to customize, allowing specification for types of equations, variety, help, sounds, colors and much, more, but the game also does the best job of teaching math.
Math Drills Lite has both review and practice modes, with the bulk of the teaching coming in review mode. Between the equation and the input, there are a selectable variety of help assistance that help kids comprehend what the equation is asking. From number lines to blocks and facts, there are plenty of ways to visually learn how to solve the math problems … or you can turn them off . And the questions that are missed are brought back up, so kids have the chance to understand what they got wrong and get another shot at understanding.
Math Drills Lite is available at no cost, however there is also a full version for $1.99 that tracks up to 10 different users’ progress, emphasizes problems that history has shown a child struggles with and offers even more customization than the already impressive Lite version.
Wired: The best teacher, the most customization & our choice as the iPhone math app to download.
Tired: Not the prettiest rose.
Math Drills Lite (iTunes link), free