Powerful Whole Brain Learning
February 8, 2013 By Mary
Takes a difficult subject and by representing it with physical objects makes it much easier to grasp. Gets children actually wanting to do Algebra.
An indicator as to whether they have set up the equation properly
If you have a student who is struggling with Algebra, or a younger student (3rd grade up) who is interested in learning some more advanced mathematics, I would definitely recommend downloading this app. It does a good job of taking a complex subject and making it accessible to students by turning abstract concepts into physical objects.
The Fun Way to Learn Algebra: Hands-On Equations 1 Lite by Dr Henry Borenson is an iPad only app designed to teach the basics of Algebra to children as young as eight. This is iPad version of the Hands-On Equations program, which uses physical game pieces to teach the same material and has been used by over a million students. Pawns are used to represent the variable (“x”) and numbered cubes are used to represent the constants. Each lesson presents a new concept, and by completing the 3 lessons children learn to solve algebraic equations such as 4x + 3 = 3x + 9. Additional lessons, covering more concepts, are available as in-app purchases. The app contains no adverts or social media links.
The app opens with a short video featuring Dr Borenson explaining the basics of the program. Each of the three lessons has it’s own video explaining the concept being taught, followed by 2 practice sessions and 10 exercises. I tested this app with my nine-year-old son, he is good at maths but had never been exposed to Algebra before.
Lesson 1: In this lesson students are introduced to the concept of the equation as a balance scale – that the sides must be equal. It also teaches them to check their answer adding up the sums on each side of the equation do make sure they do balance with the value they have assigned to x. In this lesson the pawns cannot be moved, and the student is encouraged to use trial and error trying different values for x until they find the right answer. There is an auto check feature where the student can check their maths as the app will add up each side of the equation for them. My very logical nine-year-old found the idea of”guessing” to solve a maths question a tough idea – he felt he should know the right answer, but after I explained to him that how to solve it would be taught in later lessons he solved all the questions.
Lesson 2: In this lesson the student can move the pawns on and off the scale, and are taught how to physically represent the equation using the pawns and number blocks. They start with an empty scale and set up the equation, then test out different values to represent x as they did in the first lesson. Once they have chosen a value for x, and checked their work, they can use the auto check to make sure they have added it up correctly.
Lesson 3: This is in my opinion the exciting level ! Here the child starts to really learn how to solve the equations by teaching them the first step in simplifying the equation. They learn that they can simplify the equation by removing the same number of pawns (x’s) from each side. When my son got to this level his face literally lit up he was so excited to be really solving the equations. I even had a hard time persuading him to stop solving equations to go to bed !
If your child is inspired by what they have learned in this app they can purchase further lessons as in-app purchases or stand alone apps. Hands on Equations 1 is $4.99 and Hands on Equations 2 and 3 are $3.99 each. The paid apps have multiple user profiles, and contain more lessons to build on the principles taught in the lite version and to introduce more complex equations.
Now this is not an app with a lot of “bells and whistles”, it doesn’t have any built-in reward systems or fancy graphics, and sometimes the video quality is a little fuzzy. However, what is does is take a a branch of mathematics that many people find intimidating and turn it into a physical concept that is much easier to grasp. I would recommend that it is done with parental input, at least at first, as they may need help with the idea of using trial and error in the first two lessons. My nine-year-old found the first 2 lessons a little slow going, but was truly excited by the third lesson when he actually learnt how to solve equations such as 4x +3 = 3x +9, and is now enthusiastic about learning Algebra and can’t wait to start the next app. One improvement I would like to see is from lesson 2 onwards, when the students set up their own equations, some form of indicator that they have set it up correctly.
Overall, if you have a student who is struggling with Algebra, or a younger student (3rd grade up) who is interested in learning some more advanced mathematics, I would definitely recommend downloading this app. It does a good job of taking a complex subject and making it accessible to students by turning abstract concepts into physical objects. My nine-year-old (with no previous knowledge of algebra) is now solving algebraic equations thanks to this app, and what is more important, he is having fun doing so and wants to learn more.