DragonBox for the Older Student

Icon for DragonBox algebra 12+

Math isn’t always an easy subject for all kids to learn. Which is what makes apps that ease the process of learning invaluable. DragonBox by WeWantToKnow has been doing just that, paving the way to so we can enjoy Numbers, Algebra and Geometry. How far have they succeeded?

I’ll be answering this question for two of DragonBox’s games aimed for older students -Elements and Algebra 12+. TWA has already finished a review for Algebra 5+

Disclaimer: I am 17 years old, and might I say (pretty) good with math, so it’s possible that these games may incite different reactions from your students. My opinion is not just of a student, but also as someone who would want to make educational games in the future. Nonetheless, I will try to reflect the teaching capability of the app as much as possible.

First of, DragonBox: Algebra 12+

What it did well

Actually, quite a bit. DragonBox was quite successful in introducing abstract concepts like parentheses and simplification before giving ample practice to the students.

It had (what seemed like) endless levels for a person who was trying to finish playing it in 4 days (duh!) along with god knows how many in the extra practice section. According to their description on the Apple Store, they have 357 puzzles, which is probably 300 more than the textbook, so you are covered for practice.

I also like the quirky, children’s drawing type graphics as they were different, memorable, and to some extent nostalgic.

What they could have done better

It was tedious. Maybe because it is mentally taxing but at one point play time felt forced as I had known so much of the concept before. Even if the players are not 17-year-olds, fast learners on DragonBox may feel the monotony of individually dragging 9 to divide to both sides and then sit and simplify until over, mainly because there are too many steps and mechanics to get to the same answer. Of course, as it progresses, the obsolete mechanics are replaced with faster tips and tricks, the progression can seem too slow for a few.

Plus, the overarching concept of DragonBox is that you feed the DRAGON in the BOX to make it GROW. This was not what it felt like. It could be due to the lack of animation or because I couldn’t see

The need for me feeding them if all I have to do is cross the levels lacked purpose.

Now I am not trying to nitpick, and it may seem that the experience surrounding the “game’ part isn’t as important as the “teaching’ part, which it seems to do quite well. However, there is no use making it a game if we can’t make the most of it. The little nuances make a difference, and DragonBox noticed it too because many of these critiques were solved in DragonBox: Elements.

What's Improved:

The character design and worlds are beautiful, with the boss battles acting as a barrier to the betterment of the level. It gave you a sense of purpose and control which makes the game more engrossing. Second, you don’t just have to stop there. Even with minimum shape requirement of 3 or 4, I found myself trying to pursue 12 or more shapes according to the level. It was mentally taxing, but I was too engrossed to realize. Why even my mom and dad started playing the game and were interested enough to complete the first world. For me, another big advantage was the different levels of difficulty one can play on, so I never felt unchallenged. I had the opportunity to challenge myself thanks to the level design. Additionally, they have a framework that could be expanded to more advanced geometry and trigonometry (which I hope they do).

What it could have improved on:

While DragonBox was trying to make the game more game-like, they made some decisions that were rather useless. They gave each shape power which players can’t use to their advantage because 1) you will find it by accident (It is too far into the peripheral vision to seem important), 2) the mechanics of the boss battle don’t seem like they need it. You are just swiping shapes,  there is a bottle of reducing green, and once it finishes you get to go to the next level. The boss battle needs heavy UI work and mechanic revamp actually to be as intense as a... boss battle.

However, if nothing else, have a specific number of enemies. When a whole team of them suddenly go, poof, because a random liquid finished (and there is no storyline to explain why) it doesn’t feel like my attempts at a boss battle did anything. One more complaint I have is if I get to enveloped in the game and draw too many shapes, I cannot remove any and there is a whole mess on the iPad that forces me to restart the game to complet the objective, and that is downright infuriating. The second time, you will try to practice less, which is a dangerous habit to be propagated by a teaching game.

Nonetheless, even with their flaws, DragonBox is a great additive to normal classroom teaching. Its beautiful graphics and abstraction help cement the topics learnt, and have I mentioned practice? Not just plentiful, the engrossing and multi-difficulty self-motivated practice gives you every reason to recommend this game for your students and children.

Me playing DragonBox Elements

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