Feb 25, 2011

MathRider--The Quest for Math Fact Mastery

When we recently had the opportunity to review MathRider I was intrigued and really looked forward to seeing how the software would work for our family. As an inveterate finger counter myself I have noticed that my children fall into one of two camps--those who like their mother acquire a deer-in-the-headlights look of panic and whip out those fingers when pressed to add and those who recite math facts practically in their sleep. I believe to the core of my being that the challenges that cause those of us who stumble is simply a matter of confidence, specifically the confidence that comes from practice. When I was in school I spent countless hours with math tutors and flashcards but they never worked well enough to keep the finger counting habit at bay even while the answers were correct because flashcards reward mastery but not speed and I believe that speed enhances mastery. Give those of us who tend towards math anxiety enough time and we will be second-guessing ourselves and reverting to counting.

The creators of MathRider desired to solve this challenge for their own children and I feel that they have done a very good job. The game draws students in via a story line based on simple quests; either to find the flower that contains medicinal qualities for a sick family member or to rescue a princess. In order to complete the quests the student must ride their horse through countryside and find the flower, return the gem, etc. The speed with which the student moved towards their goal is based not only on correctly answering the math problem but also on how quickly they answer. This compensates for the drawbacks to other drills based on on correct answers alone.

The student moves through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in four levels--easy, medium, advanced and mastery. As the student rides their horse across the countryside they encounter "jumps". These jumps are higher or lower based on the challenge that the problem is expected to pose to the rider based on their previous answers. The horse runs faster or slower based on the speed with which the student is answering questions correctly. As each jump is successfully completed (by the student answering correctly in a timely fashion) points are accrued with a bonus after 10 or 20 correct answers. At the end of each quest ride the student can accumulate additional points based on speed which move them faster towards the end of the quest.

The student tracks their progress through their quests on a map at the end of each ride. IN this way they can directly see how their level of mastery of the facts is moving them closer to their goal.

The best part of this game, from a parent's perspective is the ability that the parent has to see how they are working through their quest to see their children competent and confident in these skills. The statistics page allows the parent (or student) to see the progress that they are making on specific math facts. A table shows the problems that the student has been tested on. The problems are shown in green if the student has mastered them, with gradual shading to yellow if they struggled with the problems and red if they had serious challenges. A left click on the mouse will display the problem both in sentence form (2+3=5) as well as visually in the form of two red balls added to three yellow balls. A right click shows the specific stats for that player for that problem; the number of times they attempted to answer the problem, the number of times they cleared the jump, the number of times they failed and the average time it took for the student to complete the jump. A side bar shows the specific math facts that the student is finding challenging as well as a bar that shows the progress the student is making towards mastery of that specific skill (addition, multiplication, etc).

I enjoyed the graphics of this game. When the quest is being described the graphics are reminiscent of a child's drawings, quaint and charming but as they move through their quest the background is distinctly different, very ethereal and fantastical like a Tolkein book come to life.

In the end we only have a few negatives to say about MathRider. My horse minded children who have multiple horses to chose from in their own pasture wanted to know why they couldn't chose which horse to ride and name it themselves (Picky, picky!). I noticed it did not stop any of them from asking to play. They did ask to play this game--repeatedly. Some families may take exception to the fact that magic is referenced, complete with a wizard, as a component of some of the quests. My biggest complaint would have to be simply that I quickly grew tired of the horse whiny that accompanies every successfully completed jump. I should look on it as the sound of success but am afraid that I simply found it grating after hours on end of hearing it. The sound can be muted bu I chose to not require that because they found the sound rewarding so I simply chose to ignore it.

The game is available as a download. The website states that retail price for the game is $49.95 but is available now for $37. The game is for an apparently unlimited number of players because we were able to enter each member of our family as a player with no problems what-so-ever and that is a fair number!

When I reviewed this product it was provided free in exchange for this review as a member of the This Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. To be honest--the download was only provided for the period of time necessary to complete the review. It was not difficult at all to decide to purchase the software so that my children (and their finger counting mother) could continue their quest for math mastery.

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