Learning math facts: Reflex Math app review

Reflex MathLast month, I got really into wanting to find out how children learn/remember.  The impetus was wondering if Anki would help Thumper learn her addition facts.   Anki is a program that many people use to learn a second language.  It’s basically a flashcard system.  But it shows you the flashcard based on spaced repetition.  Cards you deem as easy to recall won’t be shown to you as often as cards whose content you haven’t mastered.  That got me to wondering about spaced learning so I borrowed a huge stack of books.  I managed to read about 2 books out of the 10 I borrowed.  One was How We Learn.  Another was on children and memory.  I shall put in a review about what I learned later.

In researching Anki, I came across a website which reviewed the use of Anki specifically for 4th graders and up in learning their math facts.  The author found some issues with the app.  One reason I remember was because children can’t quite tell you whether or not they know or not know a concept.  Another was that it was hard to scale/implement for a classroom of children.  They recommended Reflex Math instead.  Since the app has a 14 day trial period, I decided to check it out.

The short verdict is:  I LOVE IT.  

Relay Math is an iPad game where children answer math facts until their answer time is fast enough to be considered a “reflex”.  There are 2 modes in the app, addition/subtraction and multiplication/division.  In each mode, the child starts with two games and can unlock additional games after a certain number of days has passed.  One game has the child answer math fact questions so that the ninja can hop on successively higher wooden branches, dodging birds and what not.  The game starts with some assessment of your knowledge and reflex time.  The problems progress with higher and higher numbers.  So for example, maybe for multiplication it tests you on adding 1 to a number or adding 10 to a number first.  After awhile, it also teaches you about the fact families (5+2=7, 7-2=5, 7-5=2).   You’re shown facts to solve based on what you know or don’t know.

There is a teacher mode so you can see which math facts your child is working on, which one is unassessed, which one they’ve mastered.  You can see the progress they make day to day in graphs and charts.  It has a classroom mode so you can add multiple students.  I created two accounts for Thumper, one for addition/subtraction, one multiplication/division.  There is a timer on the app.  After 45 minutes or an hour it will disallow the child from playing more.  Because the thinking is that more frequent practice is better than playing a long time each day.

Thumper loves the app because it’s a game.  I put in a limit of 20-30 minutes max each time she uses it, in addition to the daily limit imposed by the program.  She likes the fact that there are new games to unlock (she gets bored and likes trying new things) and loves earning tokens to accessorize her avatar.  We don’t allow her to use other games on the iPad, which I think is important as it would otherwise distract her from wanting to use the app.

At $35 per year per child I think it’s a worthwhile and cheap investment.  Given her rate of progression I think we only need it for one year. Continue reading


Work Plan 2014/2015

In October and November, I struggled mightily with work plans; partly because I had so many ones I knew about.   First there are the work plans I read in the Lillard books, which is basically children having meeting with teacher and then coming up with list of things they want to do and then documenting it down on a workbook.  Then there is what I saw during my observation of classrooms, which have grids of Monday-Friday across, and general subjects (Reading, Math, Culture) going down.  Teachers check off each subject as children complete them.

First Try

First I tried to do something similar by writing them on the whiteboards.  I listed the items and had how many times Thumper had to do them each week, which were more granular than subjects.  The first week I had Reading, Being Read to, Math, Meditation, zhuyin, etc with 3 squares for each week.  By the third week, the list grew to about 7-10 items, with some items having 4-9 squares and others 3.

At this time, I got push back.  “If I read one paragraph, does that equal to one check mark?”  “If I do 3 math problems, am I done for the day?”  I would always tell her, “No, just do as many as you want and then stop.”  But at the same time I wasn’t okay with the choice of just 1 problem, so I was technically lying to her.  In addition, because she dillydallied, sometimes it would be Thursday and she would have a mad rush of finishing all the check marks.  Because of this, at that third week, I also had her “plan” by writing when she was going to do them on top of the squares.  But there really wasn’t any consequences like in a real school where they have to finish work during lunch and can’t play.   Because other things in life gets in the way, like Mommie being too tired at the end of the day, having to make it to swimming, Mommie being hungry herself and needing to leave the classroom to feed Astroboy.

White board work plan

White board work plan

I had thought myself a genius in using the white board because I can arbitrarily add new squares.  And I knew I was “assigning” the amount of work because it’s a transition.  But I found that this didn’t work for two reasons:

  1. Within each subject, there are multiple threads.  Saying I want her to do math does not specify WHAT math.  It also gets confusing because I don’t know off the top of my head what materials goes with which strands of math and therefore which ones I need to hit or do follow up work with.
  2. She got into the “How do I check off the squares” mentality.  Totally not what I want.  One reason I love Montessori philosophy is the child choosing their work, within limits.  And having the ability to do a lot more of one work if they’re interested.  Checking off squares does not help with that ultimate goal.

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Making Fraction Charts (or, I don’t get fractions)

Update: I figured out how to make the fraction charts 6 months later.  Here’s my post and pics of the final charts.

After about two weeks desponding over my incomprehension of using work plans, kids speeding through materials in 15 minutes, and a month of not really making new materials, I jumped back into fraction work.  Anything to keep my mind of my hated 3 hour work period (I semi-jest). Early November, Thumper was introduced to the fraction insets.  She got the concept of naming fractions in both Chinese and English in about 10 minutes.  I somehow convinced her to do a fractions match-up activity borrowed from What Did We Do All Day for about 10 minutes.  She dragged her feet.  Then the last 3 weeks we’ve been doing fraction equivalence; 1 page a week. I feel like I’m pulling teeth.  But I will leave my moping for another day. This week, I thought I would mix things up by introducing fraction addition.  But first I have to make those Fraction Charts.  According to my album, there are 21 charts.  They are not impressionistic as they’re more for reference, and therefore do not need to be big.  I cross referenced with What Did We Do Today and Montessori School At Home, and my own album.  I still don’t get what some of the charts should be.  My album says one thing, the charts online say another.  I’m going to wait till my class this Spring to ask the prof.

  • Chart 1 & 2 –  Fraction circles
  • Chart 3, 4, 5 – Equivalence for 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5
  • Chart 6 – Addition with same denominator, ending with whole number
  • Chart 7 – Addition with same denominator, ending with fractions
  • Chart 8 – 12 – Not sure
  • Chart 13 – Subtracting with different denominators
  • Chart 14 – Multiplication with whole number
  • Chart 15 – Multiplication with whole number, with rule
  • Chart 16 – Multiplication of whole number with fraction and fraction with fraction
  • Chart 17 – Multiplication of fraction with fraction, with rule
  • Chart 18 – Division with whole number
  • Chart 19 – Division with whole number, with rule
  • Chart 20 – Group Division
  • Chart 21 – Division of fraction with fraction

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