Software Review: Fraction Planet

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next

Ever play Angry Birds? I used to back in the day. Big mistake. The game was ridiculously addicting, and it absolutely destroyed my productivity.

A while back, I found a math program called ‘Fraction Planet’ that does a similarly freakish job of hooking users. Its own developers even call it “Angry Birds for fractions.”

What is it?

It’s a program that introduces students to math topics or has them practice applying math topics through games. Each game is designed around a particular Common Core math standard. Kids need to apply an underlying conceptual root of a math topic to beat each level. It actually reminds me a lot of ST Math (the last software I reviewed), except that Fraction Planet is the JV version.

Overall, I’d give Fraction Planet a 7 out of 10. It’s pretty good, and definitely an engaging way to keep kids productive with computer games. But I think it’d work best solely as a supplement and/or side activity, not a direct piece to a math curriculum.

How it works:

Imagine you’re a student and that you see this on the very first level, 1.1.1 (Stage 1. Level 1. Part 1) What do you do?

 

Stuck? So were a bunch of our kids. There were no instructions, so kids just had to ‘figure it out.’ To beat the level, kids need to click on the part of the number line indicated at the bottom of the page. Overall, pretty straight forward. When they click the number line on the right spot, in this case ‘2,’ a bomb falls from the sky and hits a submarine. Here’s what this looks like:

 

If students didn’t know what to do, though, each incorrect click will result in a hint appearing. If the kid gets it wrong enough times, the program will just tell him what to do. Here’s the hint-progression for the same problem as above.

Hint 1:

 

Hint 2:

 

Hint 3:


 

Hint 4: On this hint, the program just tells student where to click

 

Here’s the thing with the activity above: our kids had already learned about number lines. Generally, the confusion didn’t stem from not knowing the material - some of our kids just needed to know what to do on this level. Once they figured out the task, the level was a cinch.

There were other levels our kids played that contained whole concepts that our kids had never seen before, like negative numbers. But our students were able to tinker a bit and figure out what to do. Here’s a picture of level 3.4.1., which introduces Common Core standard 6.NS.6.a (understanding negative numbers on a number line).

 

Basically the same as the first one I showed you, just with negative numbers. Same hint progression, too.

What if ‘tinkering’ didn’t help at all?

This didn’t happen often, but sometimes kids couldn’t figure out at all what to do, no matter how many hints they got. In those cases I shifted from my normal feigned ignorance/’figure it out’ to stepping in. Otherwise they just waste time and get unproductively frustrated. Here’s an example of a task in level 5.1.1, which dealt with decimals and place value.

 

A bunch of kids bombed this one because they had no idea how to convert the improper fraction into a decimal. And there’s no way to intuit that given the problem above, so it just devolved into annoyed guessing.

This frames up the main reason why Fraction Planet is a 7 out of 10. It’s unpredictable whether a kid needs to have background in a particular aim (like the decimal example) or whether they’ll be able to figure out how to solve the problem intuitively (like with the negative numbers example).

The good:

1. The games themselves are legit. Kids actually need to utilize math concepts to beat levels and progress through the game. I’ve seen a bunch of math programs that really don’t require actually ‘math.’ This isn’t one of them.
2. It’s super engaging, and many of our kids are hooked. I always see a bunch of kids using the program on their own during our morning breaks.
3. Good data. The teacher dashboard gives you some pretty good information, like what percentage of questions each student got right/wrong, total time spent playing the game, and the number of questions a kid has answered. This is all info that I could live without, but it sheds a little light on things that students are good at, and things they might have trouble with in classroom.  Here’s an example of what the teacher dashboard for one particular student might look like:


 

The bad:

1. We need more control over the order of the levels. We can’t sync the progression of the game with the units we were teaching, so it’s pretty much impossible for us to use it in a helpful way during class. Because of this, it has really just turned into a game kids play when they have a few free minutes (not saying that this is totally invaluable. After all, a ‘math based’ game is better than, say, a game where you make stick figures fight ‘to the death’).
2. The website is a nightmare to navigate. This is probably because the program is still in its beta version, but it was still a huge headache. Some of the buttons simply don’t work, so it was super confusing for me to figure out how to set up the class (it actually took me multiple attempts over several months - who expects non-working buttons on websites…?).

Next time:
Been talking a lot with other tech people at blended learning schools. I'll describe what I learned about one of the schools from my call, including the software and hardware they use, and how they use 'em.

--
if you’d like to get in touch to talk shop, here’s my email: andrew.jeong@matcheducation.org