Saturday, June 22, 2013

My son learns algebra on his iPhone via DragonBox

Friggin awesome.

That's what I got from the look on #1's face when he solved an equation with x on one side, and a numeric expression on the other. He was doing algebra, he knew it, he was proud.

Damn, that was the best $6 I've ever spent.

#1 is entering 10th grade next year in the special needs modification program. He reads at about a 4th grade level (perhaps less) and struggles with basic arithmetic and time calculations. Despite years of practice he can't do long division by hand. Despite this reality, he declined the standard transition programs for a regular junior high academic schedule -- though we worked him down from three languages to one.

Algebra is one of the items on his junior high dream list. That seemed reasonable to me. We weren't getting anywhere with our old arithmetic drills - he was bored and frustrated. Further progress will require years of slow practice on real world problems, and use of his iPhone calculator. Seemed a good time to try something different. So, for his summer homework, we decided to try DragonBox, a French-Norwegian iOS/Android/Windows/OS  X math "game" we'd used with my daughter on an appnetizen's advice (Thanks Jonathon!).

He's been doing it for summer homework several days a week. Sometimes he'll randomly flail at it until the problem is solved, but watching him I could see something else developing. Something that perhaps played to his near-savant visual processing strengths. With DragonBox he was learning negation, reduction, balanced operations, add zero, divide one - basic algebra. A little bit of progress every day - on his iPhone, as a game.

Today he got to the level where the graphical icons were replaced by numbers and variables. When he solved the numeric expression he blushed with pride and joy.

That's worth $6 I'd say.

Now we'll work with transferring these skills to paper. I will do paper operations in parallel with his app operations, then see if he'll replicate on paper what he does in DragonBox (step-by-step), and so on. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't, but in our family we believe in declaring victory early and often (and so life is an unending series of wins, until we die).

I've bought the high school version of the app for #2 and #3 - and I'm following the We Want to Know team's blog.

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