Gamifying Your Math Facts: ‘Reflex Math’ Software Review

Guest Post by Andrew from Match Next

In my first blog post back in November, I wrote about getting our kids to memorize their multiplication facts. We tried all sorts of things. Paper flashcards; around-the-world games; writing facts 10 times in a row; singing. It was slow going. I was surprised at how hard it was to get our kids to retain facts day over day.

We thought a flashcard software called Anki could really help. In reality though, it was... meh. So-so. It’s really more for med students memorizing names of obscure drugs. Not super kid-friendly. We still use it with some of our kids who are practicing higher-level mental math (quick, what’s 80+70), but I don’t love it.

Enter: Reflex Math. This blows everything thing else we’ve tried out of the water. If you have a kid who needs to memorize their times tables, look no further. We love it. More importantly, kids love it. I’m giving it my highest score ever: 9 out of 10. If it were free, it might be a 10. Maybe. But I hate giving 10s.


So what is Reflex Math?

It’s an adaptive, gamified program that helps students learn and practice basic math multiplication and division facts. Reflex tracks which facts a kid knows and doesn’t know and caters its fact practice to each individual. It even takes into account how fast the student types, so Johnny Fumblefingers won’t be dinged for taking too long to find the right numbers on the keyboard.

Kids learn and memorize their facts via games. They’re actually kinda fun. I feel like I’m watching kids playing iPhone games.

Below is a screenshot of one of the games, called “Ninja to the Stars.” Answering a fact correctly makes the ninja jump onto the next platform. Getting questions wrong or not answering fast enough makes the ninja fall.

 

Why do we love it?

1. Kids seem to learn facts faster.

How do we measure how well kids know their facts? Currently we use daily, timed mini-quizzes. (If you’ve ever heard of “Mad Minutes,” same idea). A kid has 1 minute to answer a set of 48 multiplication facts. Each set, aka “level,” asks harder sets of facts, so the first couple are multiples of 1s and 2s (1x8, 2x4). Later sets ask the 7s and 8s. A student has to get all 48 correct in a minute to pass to the next level. We use 48 because we’ve found it’s just the right number of problems such that, in order to finish all 48, a kid can’t stop to think about any of the facts, they have to be able to recall them instantly.

Once we put kids on Reflex, they really seemed to move up the levels faster. Between September and October, the time when our kids weren’t using the program, the Mad Minute scores improved an average of 6.5%. Between October and November, the first month of our kids using Reflex, the Mad Minute scores improved an average of 11.5%. 

*The numbers here are pretty loose. Our methodology would make economists cringe. We couldn’t publish these figures in “The Economist,” but they do help us see that the program seems to work.

2. It’s way more fun.

Kids love it. They often willingly play it during lunch, snack breaks, and free time. When we first got it, we only bought it for the most fact-needy 25 of our 49 4th graders. Then word spread. The other students started begging, pleading for their own account. They said they’d do anything, use it every night at home for the next hundred years, get straight As from now through college, anything. So we caved and got 8 more. Persuasive little guys (when they want to be).

3. It’s ridiculously easy to access and use.

We’ve had very few login problems. 99% of the time, our 4th graders have no problem getting to the site and logging into their accounts on their own.

4. Great data.

The back-end data Reflex spits out is great. You can see how often and for how long a kid plays, and which facts they know vs don’t know. Here's an example of one of our student's multiplication facts knowledge, according to Reflex.

 

 

How it works:

1. Student signs in. 20 seconds.

2. Quick typing-speed test. 1 minute.

Kid plays a short game that has them punch in 10 random numbers. Reflex measures how fast they do it. Then, Reflex will use that speed as the benchmark to determine whether a kid has truly memorized a math fact. If they’re a fast typer, they have a little less time in the games to punch in the right answer. Slower typers get a little more time. It’s a pretty small margin, we’re talking about differences of a half second or so.

3. Learn a fact family. 2 minutes.

Reflex organizes facts into ‘fact families.’ Students practice 0s and 1s, then 5s and 10s, then 2s, etc. Before they get to the games, it’ll show a fact family, then have them type it over a few times. Eg, 4x5=20, 5x4=20, 20/4=5, 20/5=4.

3. Play the games. recommended: ~15 minutes per day.

There are 9 games, like Ninja to the Stars. They’re all variations on the same theme - make kids solve fact problems under pressure. Sometimes you’re solving math facts to prevent a bird from hitting your hot air balloon. Sometimes you’re in a jungle trying to avoid a hunter. As the students progress and get better and better, they can ‘unlock’ more games. They get pretty amped whenever a new one opens up. 

4. When they correctly answer about 100 facts, they’ve finished a ‘session.’ When this happens, a little green light pops up at the top right of the screen. Completing a session gives the kid access to the store, where they can ‘buy’ cool stuff with or change the appearance of their avatar.


Here’s the hard part:

Got time? A full session (around 100 correctly answered facts) takes 15-25 minutes, depending on the kid. ExploreLearning, the company that makes Reflex, recommends kids use the program 3-4 times a week. That’s a lot of time to devote solely to math fact practice given all the other math aims kids need to learn. We’ve tried squeezing this in in various places throughout our day. I’ve even stood by the dismissal line with a stopwatch to see if I could steal five minutes for ‘Reflex time.’ Doesn’t work.

We’re trying to motivate kids to use it at home. We don’t require it. For one, some kids don’t have access to computers at home (8 out of our 49 students don’t have internet access at home). Also, they already get a full slate of other homework. We don’t want to overload them.

We’ve done something similar to what we do in our independent reading program and made a competition out of it. If they play for the allotted time (15-25 min), they earn points that go towards the school store. We track it on a chart, and we announce every day who’s done it.

Bottom line:
1. Reflex teaches math facts and has fun, gamified practice.
2. Kids love it. Some are begging us to get them accounts.
3. It can be a big time investment.

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