Astro Algebra by Andrew Lockett makes one heck of a great game to help get students ready to learn algebra in an outer space themed environment. Learning to think algebraically is a complex process and this app can fill the gap guiding the child from concrete concepts to the abstract. The developer has purposely geared the app for an initiation into algebra for students at an earlier age than the norm. Astro Algebra does this slowly with a learn, practice, challenge and at first, I wondered at first if it would be too slow for students. Wrong – it gets faster quickly and the advance to the next problem button became a blessing for both myself and students. It gives kids the time to process what they have just accomplished, and that pause can enhance cognition. The advance button needs to be tapped by the student giving them the control of when the next problem will be displayed.
To build up confidence the first level is Missing Numbers is not difficult for most students that have a grasp on mental math. The levels advance quickly and this app does a brilliant job of getting kids to practice their mental math as well as to utilize critical thinking skills. The next two levels take on a whole new dimension as Picture Problems utilizes more than one picture for a number symbol and students must determine the value of the pictures. Letter Problems involves the introduction to the core of algebra with the addition of letters taking on a number value, the directions simply say, “Treat letter problems as missing number problems”.
Wow, that makes sense and I don’t know any math teachers approaching algebra with this type of simple introduction. Think of it this way and it becomes much more relevant than just diving into formulas. The next two levels involve Using Formulas and Writing Formulas and this is where the real thinking sets in. What I like about this is ample time is given to mentally solve the equations while a slow-moving spacecraft crosses the screen. It doesn’t have that high-end pressure cooker feel to it and allows for several attempts. The rewards are subtle and based on timing as well as the messages encouraging students to try again. It simply states “You ran out of time answering this question. Try answering quicker.” The only drawback I see is that if a student does not get a problem right or in the allotted time there is no constructive feedback explaining the “how to solve” that particular type of equation. What I did notice that after running out of time or getting one wrong it appears that scaffolding is in place as the questions revert back to a simpler format.
Sequences follow this level and the student needs to spot the pattern to solve and in Sequences Formula the concept of “n” is introduced in the lesson and it is explained that the difference between the numbers is multiplied by “n”. Pairs of numbers is next and the focus here is on one number (a) which makes the statements correct. The ante is upped in Possible Numbers as now the greater and less than sign has been added to the problem and you need to solve for two letters in a specific sequence. The last level is Simplifying Expressions, here you are instructed to group all the letters (that are the same) together. The helpful tip of going through in alphabetical order helps set students up for success.
Overall, Astro Algebra came as a pleasant surprise, personally, I am one of those that felt I was not wired for math. I failed the first Algebra Regents and was told not to take it when it was offered again, mid-year. I had a wonderful teacher who taught in this sequential and procedural way and I passed! This app is a great introduction for children of any age that have mastered their math facts and are ready to expand their mental math as well as be introduced to the concept of algebraic thinking. This is also an app that many parents may want to take a look at in order to help their own children.