Software Review: Cram (versus Anki)

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next


Last year, when our students were 4th graders, we had them start every math period studying and memorizing basic math facts. We used 2 programs to to do this: Reflex Math and Anki . Reflex Math (simple games that got kids practicing their times tables) was awesome - I rated it a 9 out of 10.  Anki (a digital flashcard program) was so-so for us, and I gave it a 7 out of 10.

We’re doing the same thing with our 5th graders this year. They spend the first 4 minutes of every afternoon math class studying a set of basic facts, then 1 minute taking a mini quiz (called a Mad Minute) to test how well they know those facts. We think there are big advantages to being able to recall facts automatically. The less they need to think about a basic math problem (like what 7x8 equals), the more they can focus on the harder aspects of tough math questions. Here’s a Dan Willingham blog I posted about this last year.

We had a problem at the beginning of this year, though: the software from last year weren’t that helpful for us. Most of our students have outgrown Reflex Math, which only covers 0-12 multiplication/division and basic addition facts. They needed a program as awesome as Reflex, but with harder math facts (like 15x10, or ½ x 80). Still haven’t found one yet. 

Anki wasn’t that good for us to begin with. Cumbersome interface and lots of active maintenance required. It’s better suited for med students studying anatomy than 5th graders memorizing basic math facts.

So, we needed to choose: Keep having kids studying flashcards on Anki, or something else. We found another flashcard software called “Cram.” 


So what is “Cram” and how do we rate it?

It’s an online flashcard program. Users create their own flashcard decks or find a set created and shared by someone else. Then they study the cards like any normal flashcard deck, without having to worry about storing/organizing actual decks of flashcards.   

I’d rate it a 8 out of 10. Our students have been using it just about every day since September, for 4 minutes a day at the start of every afternoon math class. On its own it’s not bad, but not perfect. Compared to Anki, though, it’s definitely an upgrade.  


First, Anki vs. Cram 

In a ‘head-to-head’ competition, Cram solves all the main issues we had with Anki. Here’s what those are:

 

Here’s the link to my last blog on how we used Anki last year, and why we found it tough to use.
 

How ‘Cram’ works

It’s a really easy program to use. 

1. Create a deck of flashcards and load it on the Cram website. 
2. Study the cards. 


Step 1: Creating a Deck

This is really simple. You can either create cards individually directly on the Cram website, or create a large set using a spreadsheet. We use the spreadsheet option - it’s way faster. 

You need to make a ‘front’ side and a ‘back’ side. In one column you’ll add the ‘front’ of all the cards, and add the ‘back’ of the cards in the adjacent cell. Here’s an example of a spreadsheet we used to make a set of our math facts:

 


Once you’ve got your cards ready, just upload them onto the Cram website. You copy/paste your table (like the one shown above) directly onto the website. Here’s what that section looks like: 

 


Once you’ve created the set, you can study it 


Step 2: Studying the Cards: 

a. From your dashboard, select the deck you’d like to study

 

b. Once you’re in the deck, select the specific settings you’d like to use to study your deck. Here’s a picture of the study ‘mode’ we use, plus the settings we set:

 


Here’re the settings we use:
a. ‘Memorize’: this is the study mode that allows our students to type their answers when they study a card
b. ‘Shuffle’: we want the cards to appear in random order
c. ‘Cram mode’: Cram mode is the closest thing the program has to a ‘spaced repetition’ algorithm. If a student answers a card correctly, they will not see that card again until they correctly answer the rest of the flashcards. 
d. ‘Text input’: unlike Anki, which only requires users to judge how well they think they know a flashcard, you can study cards in ‘Cram’ by manually typing in responses to questions you are studying. 


There are other ways users can study the flashcards they make, but we tried our best to keep it simple. It’s a little annoying that every time a student signs into Cram, they need to adjust those settings, but it only takes less than 10 seconds. 

Once the settings are good to go, kids study the decks. The front of the card appears, and the student types her answer into the available space. Here’s that looks like. 

 


So how do we organize the decks for the students and where is it all stored?

This is the part that was much easier for us than Anki was. In Anki, we had to upload every deck to every student’s individual account. This was a huge headache. 

In Cram, we would’ve liked a classroom dashboard directly on the program, but it doesn’t exist. Instead, we saved the website link for each deck and put them directly into a Google Spreadsheet, which is basically our ‘library’ of math flashcards. Students have this spreadsheet saved and can easily access it when they open their laptop, select the deck they need, then study it. Here’s what the flashcard library that we created looks like: 


Students know which deck they need to study. Each ‘level’ has a Mad Minute associated with it, and whenever a student gets 100% on a particular level’s Mad Minute, they ‘graduate’ to the next level. For example, if a student gets 100% on the AS Level 1 deck, she’ll move onto the AS Level 2 deck, and so on. 


The good

It’s really easy for us to manage. Like I said earlier, we only spend like 5-10 minutes a week (at most) maintaining the decks. We also love that students can type their answers to math fact questions, rather than ‘judge’ how well they think they know a math fact. This is a huge improvement over Anki. Also important for us, it’s easy for students to access with little adult assistance, and they know how to troubleshoot a lot of the problems without needing our help. Lastly, kids never run out of cards. They can always just refresh the deck, whereas in Anki, an adult needed to ‘reload’ the deck for a student. 


The bad

We’ve still had to find some good ‘hacks’ to make the program work. For example, we had to get creative to organize the decks by creating our fact card ‘library’ via Google Spreadsheets. Also, every single time a student selects a deck, she needs to change the settings to make sure the study mode is correct (e.g. typing in answers, shuffling the cards, etc.). Not a huge deal, but it get’s annoying. 

One tool I’d really like to have is the ability to see student’s progress via some sort of classroom dashboard. Right now we only have the Mad Minutes (which are still helpful), but I’d also like to get a better sense of the quality of the students’ practice time from the first 4 minutes when they’re actually using Cram.


Overall, Cram has been really solid for us. Like I said earlier in the blog though, we’d like to find  a program that’s more like Reflex Math, but with harder math facts. We love the way Reflex is gamified, and that it is able to tell us tons of information about a student’s progress towards learning a set of math facts. 


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if you'd like to talk shop: andrew.jeong@matcheducation.org