After testing 10 different apps in the classroom for several weeks, I can confidently endorse Operation Math, Free Graphing Calculator, and DragonBox Algebra 5+ as the best math fluency apps for iOS and Android. These apps were more useful, more engaging, and more educational than their competitors. Read on to learn how each of the three apps uniquely facilitates or improves students’ math abilities.
On user-friendliness, Operation Math earns 5/5 for its easy-to-understand prompts that explain the mission requirements. On teaching, this app earns a 3/5 because, while it provides kids with ample practice, it does not give much feedback on wrong answers to enhance learning. Finally, the app receives a 5/5 for support; in-app support is readily available, and Spinlight, the app’s creator, also provides help on its site.
Finding your way around the Free Graphing Calculator app is quite intuitive, earning it a 5/5 on user-friendliness. Because this app is more of a mathematical tool than a teaching device, it receives a 3/5 on teaching. On support, the app receives 4/5 because, while the in-app help screens address most problems, the creator has no functional website for additional support.
With its intuitive interface and skill-appropriate difficulty levels, DragonBox receives a 5/5 on user-friendliness. Pedagogically, kids learn algebra as they learn to play, and WeWantToKnow, the app’s creator, offers tips and worksheets on its blog to help teachers translate gaming skills into math skills. For this reason, DragonBox earns a 5/5 on teaching. Lastly, DragonBox earns a 4/5 on support because it does not offer hints, which frustrated some of my students.
First, I consulted lists of the top math fluency apps and downloaded 10 of the most highly recommended. The only app here that isn’t available for both iOS and Android devices is Free Graphing Calculator, which is iOS only. I downloaded the apps on the iPads in my 7th-grade classroom and recruited my students’ help in testing them. We evaluated them for two weeks
Each of the top three apps has a different purpose, although the common denominator (pun intended) is math learning. Operation Math, for ages 9-11, is a spy-themed math game with 105 timed missions that help kids practice addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. Priced at $2.99, Operation Math is an engaging alternative to flash cards. Each successfully completed mission puts players one step closer to defeating the nefarious Dr. Odd.
Free Graphing Calculator has no vexatious villains to speak of, unless you count calculus. This app is a free scientific and graphing calculator, unit converter, statistics tool, and reference; you can access formulas, constants, and other information within the app. In this way, the app actually does more than physical calculators, such as the $150 TI-89.
Finally, DragonBox Algebra 5+ is a puzzle game that “secretly” teaches algebra. This version of the game is for children ages 5-8, but there is also a more difficult “12+” version for ages 12-17. As players manipulate colorful cards to isolate the DragonBox, they learn how to get “X” alone on one side of an equation.
Operation Math opens with an intro explaining the game’s objective of stopping Dr. Odd’s machinations. Kids then can start a training session or go directly to a mission. The training sessions offer three levels of difficulty. Each mission begins with a choice of operation (e.g., multiplication) and verbal prompt describing the task. Kids solve equations to unlock new levels.
Although Free Graphing Calculator is not for graphing neophytes, it is fairly simple to use. Upon opening the app, you’ll see a basic calculator whose more complex functions are revealed by hitting “function” or entering in equations to graph. The reference section is invaluable for scientific constants and important formulas. The help section is easily accessible through the “more” option. My only complaint is that this is not available on Android, and the free version includes distracting ads.
With DragonBox Algebra, kids are introduced to algebraic concepts in a non-intimidating way. The elegant screens and cartoon characters that represent equation components do their job of “tricking” children into learning algebra. As kids advance through the 10 chapters, the colorful cards are replaced with numbers and variables, subtly revealing the math skills they have been learning the entire time. Players unlock the next level when they solve an equation.
These apps are the most useful for educators and students that I’ve tested. With Operation Math, kids get lost in the missions and soon forget that they’re doing math drills. I liked that I could differentiate my instruction by assigning each student an operation, such as division, at a customized difficulty level.
The Free Graphing Calculator speaks for itself. What student or teacher wouldn’t welcome a free, arguably superior, alternative to a $150 calculator? This app was ideal for my students who don’t have a graphing calculator at home or who are too cool to be seen with geek paraphernalia. I do recommend, however, that students get experience on an actual graphing calculator before attempting to work with this sophisticated app.
DragonBox Algebra is a wonderfully subtle way to teach kids algebra. Most learning apps simply try to pour chocolate on broccoli to get kids to buy in, but dessert that does not make. DragonBox is different because it is fun in its own right; my students played it because they didn’t want to stop. As they learned the game, they learned the rules of equation-balancing, whether they realized it or not.
I’m in good company with my glowing reviews of these three apps. Operation Math made Edutopia’s top-ten list while Graphite praised it as a “fun twist to arithmetic drills.” Free Graphing Calculator has over three million downloads in the iTunes App Store, where it also has an average user rating of 4.5/5 stars. Finally, DragonBox Algebra is the most acclaimed of all three apps, earning several “Best Serious Game” and “App of the Year” awards. Further, Graphite called DragonBox an “innovative game-changer” that not only teaches algebra, but also changes how students feel about it.
These three math apps are by far the most student-friendly, innovative, and helpful that I’ve tested. You can’t argue with the no-cost, utilitarian appeal of Free Graphing Calculator, and I defy you to consistently remember you’re studying and practicing math while playing Operation Math and DragonBox Algebra. Whether you’re a math teacher or a student, these apps are an excellent supplement to the curriculum.