The Best Learning Games, Part 2: Math

There are probably two categories that are over-represented in learning games: basic math and elementary reading. Of course, this should come as no surprise as these are the two most important skills and learning metaskills we have.

While many math games are simply variations of drilling math with a cute animal on top, there are some very innovative math games out there. I have also included some of the more traditional drilling-type games on the list, because some of the games even in this category have been well enough executed to be a good addition to a any fully rounded set of math learning games.

You can use this list to pick up individual games that perform better than about 95% of what you can find in the App Stores. You can use the games yourself, with your kids or in a classroom. Alternatively, you can build a home-made curriculum out of them, starting from basic understanding of mathematical concepts and advancing all the way to complex algebra and analytic geometry

One great idea (and one that we have employed with our own kids with great results) is to build your kids a self-organizing learning environment by installing some of the best learning games on an iPad and handing it over to the kids. If you install only learning games on the kids’ iPad, you’ll see some amazing learning results really quickly. (And if you install casual games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush, be forewarned that your kids will spend most of their times self-organizing around them.)

1. Dragonbox: Algebra, Elements & Numbers

As you could probably tell from my previous post, I’m a big fan of Dragonbox. But it’s not just that I love these games or that I’ve witnessed crazy things with people playing them (such as my 3-year-old son learning to crack equations with four or more parameters in them). Dragonbox has also been able to demonstrate very robustly that it generates real learning: whopping 93% of 40 000 kids who played Dragonbox for an hour and a half learned to solve equations! How’s that for performance, schools!

The game studio We Want to Know currently has three Dragonbox games out. Dragonbox Algebra is about solving equations. Dragonbox Elements is about analytic geometry. And Dragonbox Numbers – which I just heard made it to #1 in Norway’s App Store – is about basic arithmetics. The last one is only out in Norway, Ireland and New Zealand. If you happen to live in one of these countries, get yours now. If not, keep your eyes peeled. All three are really amazing games and great benchmarks for the rest of us learning game developers/geeks of what is really possible when you hit the right balance of substance and engagement.

2. Slice Fractions

Slice Fractions is a great game by a small Canadian studio Ululab. It features a mammoth who needs to avoid obstacles that gradually start to teach you how fractions work. Gradually the game will introduce more complicated concepts and mathematical notation, not unlike Dragonbox.

It’s another exemplar of a very innovative way of creating a great game with solid pedagogic value in it. The game does not query you about how much is, say, half of three, but rather you need to understand how fractions work to save your mammoth from being crushed by, for example, a block of ice.

3. Divide by Sheep

Divide by Sheep is a bit similar in spirit to Slice Fractions. In it, you have a group of sheep you need to move from one island to another. The islands require you to divide the sheep into smaller groups and thus begin to understand division.

The game mechanic is very innovative and the production values high enough to keep the game interesting. This is, in fact, one of those next generation learning games that you can almost play without even thinking about it as a learning game.

4. Quickmath Jr

This is the third game in a similar category as Slice Fractions or Divide by Sheep. Quickmath Jr is geared towards learning various mathematical abstractions without a schoolbook feel to it. In a sense, Quickmath Jr even resembles Dragonbox Numbers in places. (Or is it the other way round, since Numbers is so recent?

This is a wonderful game especially for understanding entry-level mathematical concepts like counting. I could easily envision a learning iPad where a very young kid would start with Quickmath, Dragonbox Numbers and Divide by Sheep, then proceed gradually through Dragonbox Algebra and The Land of Venn to finally master King of Math and Algebra Touch. Having a variety of games of a variety of challenges would easily enable children (and adults) to really hone in on their math skillset.

5. King of Math and King of Math Jr

I’m normally very critical of the kinds of learning games that take schoolbook drilling and gamify it. However, even in this genre, there are the few exceptions that break the rule. King of Math is one of them. Although overall I think gamification sucks (you should just create great games, period), if you want to go that way, King of Math is about as good as it gets.

Both the advanced and the Junior version employ the same mechanism: a multiple choice math quiz set up against a role-playing backdrop. It is the combination of the quiz and the role-playing elements that makes the game so compelling. The quizzing is actually pretty decent casual fun, and unlike in so many other titles out there, the metagame elements are properly balanced to drive you to want to get the three stars on each quiz. Also, the character development and experience point collection is well enough designed to keep you on your toes as to when you’ll graduate to the next level.

(A small spoiler coming up.) Sometime around two thirds through the advanced version, I realized the ultimate character class in the game would – of course – be the King of Math. This kept me going, and I must admit I was pretty happy camper when I finally nailed the final quiz. Good stuff, altogether.

6. Algebratouch

It’s debatable whether Algebratouch is a game. It’s rather a pretty interesting and innovative way to manipulate equations. I’m including it on the list, though, because it makes a great complement to any set of math-related learning games.

Especially the combination of Dragonbox Algebra and Algebratouch will give you a true powerhouse of learning algebra. You can basically just give a kid an iPad with these two apps and watch them take it from there. Also, I’ve heard of kids struggling with math in school, who got over their troubles by playing with these apps.

7. Grow Your Garden

This is a logic game that’s a fantastic first step to the wonderful world of math. The logic puzzles start out very easy, but as they proceed, even an adult will need to spend a minute or two trying to figure them out.

The puzzles themselves are varieties of the classical water bucket problem: you have a variety of water cans and buckets and you need to be able to figure the right sequences of filling them up so that you’ll get a full bucket with no spillage. While the game’s production values and its initial tasks have it pinned for preschoolers, it’s actually decent fun to play even for a grown-up.

8. 10Monkeys Multiplication

This is another variation of math drilling with cartoon elements, but like King of Math, 10Monkeys Multiplication has been well enough executed as to set it apart from the competition.

In the game, you have a number of monkeys that have been captured in boxes. You need to be able to consistently cover multiplication tables to be able to free the monkeys. While the game is a typical example of gamified schoolwork, in this case the multiplication table, it’s well enough executed and high enough in production values to raise it to the top of the gamified-style game learning heap. A good addition to any kid’s learning iPad.

9. Counting Kingdom

Counting Kingdom is a fun math game styled after tower defense games like Plants vs. Zombies. In the game, you play a wizard who’s defending agaist the onslaught of invading monsters. To defeat the monsters, the wizard must cast spells to match the numbers on the backs of the monsters – which amounts to addition etc.

Counting Kingdom is a great entry-level math game that helps understand the basics of addition and provides a lot of fun ways to explore the world of math.

10. The Land of Venn

The Land of Venn is a geometry game geared towards introducing basic concepts of geometry. The game is aligned with the common core curriculum, therefore making it a great go to game not only for self-organized learning but also in the classroom.

The game has a very peculiar and adorable aesthetic, with wacky voice actors and atypical graphics. The gameplay is a variation of tower defense, where the player must defeat invading monsters by creating geometric shapes, not unlike Counting Kingdom. Although where Counting Kingdom resembles games like Plants vs. Zombies, The Land of Venn is more similar to tower defence classics like Kingdom Rush or Fieldrunners.

A well-rounded learning environment consists of a variety of avenues of inquiry the learner can choose from. In addition to the above, the following games may also worth taking a look at: Endless NumbersSmartkid MathsLola’s Math TrainMotionMath and Parkmath

More to follow.

5 thoughts on “The Best Learning Games, Part 2: Math

  1. Pingback: The Best Learning Games, Part 3: Reading, Languages and Coding | Lightneer: Blog

  2. Pingback: The Best Learning Games, Part 4: Preschoolers | Lightneer: Blog

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  4. Pingback: The Best Learning Games, Part 5: Other Games | Lightneer: Blog

  5. Pingback: The Best Learning Games: Roundup | Lightneer: Blog

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