Marble Math: A math app you can count on
My 9-year-old didn't hesitate when I asked her to help me try out Marble Math. She grabbed my smartphone and went right to work gleefully creating an avatar decked out in top hat and mustache. But she'd gotten no further than the first problem before she felt the need to protest. "What?" she groaned. "Fractions?!"
With a little nudging, however, I soon had her working her way through the "easy" level, rolling a marble through a maze to solve problems that involved addition, subtraction and, yes, fractions.
Launched in 2012, Marble Math is based on Common Core standards and aims to make math practice fun for kids age 9 and older. Get a problem right and you receive points toward a new marble to save or use, which, simple as it is, proved enticing enough to garner a satisfied "yesss" when my kids earned one. Hit an obstacle and you lose points. Get a problem wrong and you lose a marble, though you'll have a chance to retry it or see the solution.
Parents can set up accounts for multiple players; each player can select the level of play and options such as marble patterns, sound effects, obstacles and bonuses. But the best feature is the ability to customize the problems for each player to tightly target certain skills.
My 9-year-old stuck with Level 1 and found it challenging but doable. Her 10-year-old sister was quicker at answering Level 1 problems but noted, "I had to think!" Levels 2 (medium) and 3 (hard) present increasingly challenging problems using multiplication, division, factors, sequencing decimals, working with negative integers and other tasks.
The app is one of dozens that try to lure elementary school students with intriguing names -- Ice Math Ninja, anyone? -- and games. The math teacher I asked to weigh in on Marble Math thought it would be useful for practicing basic skills as a supplement to classroom instruction, while my kids' math tutor suggested that any app that engages kids in practicing has value.
Engaging is the challenge, of course. No matter how entertaining you make it, it's still math. While some kids might power through problems for the satisfaction that comes with mastering skills -- and collecting marbles -- mine will probably always reach first for Clash of Clans or Beard Salon (seriously). But that's okay. Marble Math doesn't have to compete with the most alluring apps on your smartphone or tablet. It just has to be a handy tool for squeezing a little math practice into a child's day, even if it's your idea rather than hers.
Operating system: iOS, Android
User ratings: Apple 4 out of 5 stars (76 ratings); not enough Android ratings
Bottom line: Challenging, customizable and fairly fun. Marble Math Junior is an option for younger kids.