Review: Kids Learn Math A+ Edition (Nintendo DS)
by ML Kennedy on January 22, 2013

Kids Learn Math: A+ Edition
Publisher: Talking Stick Games
Developer: Talking Stick Games
Genre: Educational
Release Date: 10/4/2011

I hold a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago, and was certified to teach middle grades math at the age of 21. During my brief teaching career, I worked with students from third grade to eighth grade, both as a professional public school teacher and a private tutor.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this job was that I could give the same problems to a third grader that I could I could give to an eighth grader. The problem and the solution remained the same, but the sophistication of the tools is what varied. A third grader might make a table or draw a picture to arrive at a solution, whereas an eighth grader might use formal algebra.

But the focus was always on problem solving. That’s the important part of math. What are we doing, why are we doing it, and what does it mean? The schools I saw that were succeeding were the ones approaching the material this way. The schools that were failing were focusing on calculations and repetition.

A school with horrible test scores often had students that could do a full sheet of complicated multiplication without calculators faster than kids at rich suburban schools. But if you asked them how many legs thirteen sheep had, they couldn’t tell you. They wouldn’t recognize it as a multiplication problem because for them multiplication problems only existed in rows and columns on white sheets of paper.

So let’s find out how this works for Kids Learn Math. Is it actually teaching anything, or is it just drilling?

math 5Let’s Review

Right off the bat, there is something wrong with the game. It asks you to write your name and birthday in order to create a profile. In lieu of pushing number and letter keys, it tries to recognize your handwriting. It took my several tries to get it to recognize any letter I wrote, and repeatedly failed to see that I was writing the number 8. That should be an easy number to get, one would think.

Thankfully for the actual games, there are onscreen buttons to tap.

The menu navigation is pretty awful as well. When finishing a mini-game, it asks you want to play it again. You think, yes, but I want to try it on medium difficulty. So you say no and you are taken back to the main menu. Then you have to click games from a spinning wheel to open that sub menu. Then you have to click of a tent in the games menu to open that sub menu. Then you have to click on the game to open that sub menu.

I’m just saying, maybe don’t send us all the way back to the beginning.

I have a daughter in fourth grade at a math and science academy. The box says that this game is for grades one through four. Hey, she is still in that range! I gave her the game to try out. I checked on her 15 minutes later and she was playing Mario Kart. “What happened with the math game?” I asked.

“It was fun, I guess. Mostly little kid stuff.”

“How come you’re done so soon?”

“It wouldn’t let me play more.”

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?”

So here are two more problems. The game starts out locked. Most of the mini games are locked, and the ones that aren’t are only open to EASY difficulty. A fourth grader who wants to start with an appropriate challenge, cannot.

I don’t know why this is. You have to put your name and birthday in there when you make a profile. That game should be able to use MATH to figure out how old you are and what problems are appropriate. I didn’t trick it. I told the game I was born when Carter was president, but it started me off at the lowest level.

So, big deal. You play through some baby games and unlock stuff that is actually working those math muscles. One problem with that: the main game for KLM is the “career mode”. It is how you unlock all the mini-games. The game only allows you to play it ONCE per day per profile. That is about five to ten minutes of gameplay allowed per day, give or take.

You can play the minigames that you’ve unlocked, but each of those lasts maybe two minutes. If you want to play a bunch in a row, well, you get taken back to the MAIN MENU each time and have to click your way back through all the sub-screens again.

math 1The only way to play the game for a decent amount of time and at an appropriate challenge level is to do a multiplayer mode. There are a few ways to do this: multi-card, single card, and hot seat where you just pass the DS. With the multiplayer, you can actually play several games in a row, and all the difficulties are unlocked from the start. The games are still underwhelming, but so it goes.

You can also do what amounts to practice problems. These are all unlocked from the get-go, with all their difficulties unlocked.

So, for fun, you can have your Nintendo DS ask you to solve 1056 x 89. I find multi-digit multiplication and division much harder to do on a screen than on paper. In fact, why would I be solving these problems at all? The DS is a computer! If I can use a DS I should be able to use a calculator. Calculators are much faster than trying to push tiny touch screen buttons on a handheld device.

Being adept at such calculations is a questionably useful skill. You should have an idea of the scale of these numbers and their product. You should probably know how to do them by hand, but practicing to the point of mastery is a waste of time. We have computers. If I go to any building in America, chances are I can find three devices I can use to solve any multiplication problem.

That the problem here. KLM isn’t really teaching kids things and isn’t really encouraging learning. What it does is it practices skills and enforces things they have already learned. It isn’t going to teach your kids how to multiply, but might make them better at doing it. Most of the mini-games are these weird tangents that you’d get from a substitute teacher’s worksheet package.

The games with potential are pretty underwhelming. There are a few geometry games with things like tangrams style puzzles that are almost engaging. Most of these are the proverbial “swing and a miss”. In particular, a pattern recognition game wherein you are expected to put fruit on a stick. It places three sticks next to each other, each with a few pieces of fruit on them. Each stick usually has a different pattern, and sometimes have as few as two pieces of fruit on them. Two data points is not enough to recognize a pattern, especially when juxtaposed with two contradictory patterns.

Most of the mini-games aren’t even this engaging, however. One of these mini-games might want you to circle the fish that has a multiple of 4 on it, or throw a dart at a balloon with a number on it and then subtract that number from 100.

Why?

There is no context. There is no practical application. There is nothing to grab onto and see how everything around us is math.

It’s just numbers on the side of fish.

Short Attention Span Summary
This game will not teach your kids math. It is a practice of math skills. It’s the electronic version of those awful mimeographed math worksheets with addition problems written inside balloons. Beginning levels are too easy for a fourth grader, but too difficult for a first grader without strong reading and math skills. Basically, it would be useful for a mom to give her homeschooled kid as a math supplement on days where she is busy with her Etsy business or whatever it is those homeschool people do.



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ML Kennedy

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