Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drill and Thrill- Rocket Math Free

These days, educational practice is taking a swing away from what is considered traditional education. Proponents of education are speaking about engagement, authentic activities, real-world experience, and other wonderful terms.  It is actually a pretty cool time to be a teacher and/or a student. 

That said, I am a fairly traditional guy.  Now, you may be thinking, This guy blogs on the web about using cutting edge technology in the classroom. How is that traditional? 

Well, being a math teacher, I firmly base my instruction on the premise that students not only need to know how to use the skills taught, but they also need to be fluent in using those skills.  To clarify, I will use an analogy using foreign language.  If you only taught a student the mechanics of correct sentence structure in Spanish, they would know how to structure sentences and create language in Spanish, but if they don't actually practice speaking, they will never become fluent at speaking and understanding Spanish.  They need to practice. 

I am of the mindset that this applies to most subject areas, especially Mathematics. That said, I don't think that we should only use "drill and kill" activities.  Those don't capture the minds of our students.  They don't teach the value of the skills being taught.  However, there comes a time when a student is well versed in a concept and they need to become fluent in their computation.  For instance, as a 4th grade Math teacher, I come across students who simply can't multiply basic facts without using fingers, singing a song, or drawing a picture.  While all of these methods will get you an answer, and in many cases a correct answer, they won't do it in any kind of efficient manner.  Thus, drill and practice activities are of key importance in growing strong practical knowledge of a concept.

To this end, I am going to put together a series of articles called Drill and Thrill.  The idea is to provide activities that are fun for students to do and have built-in elements of engagement, but that drill concepts that students need to build fluency in. 

In this first article, I want to talk about Rocket Math Free.  This is yet another iPod app that allows students to explore various math concepts in a timed manner using a custom designed rocket ship!  The student creates their account and builds their rocket ship.  Once completed, the ship is taken to various missions where it is launched into space.  When it launches the student is given a task to complete before the rocket stalls out and falls back to earth.  For instance, one task I was given when touring the app was to select all of the clocks that showed a time of 4:15.  So, in the time that my rocket made it to outerspace and began to fall, I had to select as many clocks that showed 4;15 as I could.  I was positively going crazy trying to select my way around a cloud of clocks, try to pick the correct clocks while avoiding others that might get in the way. 

Once the student is done, the rocket falls back to earth and, based on it position while falling, does some excellent flips! 

This particular app tests a variety of math related topics from telling time to basic multiplication.  Students are able to go back and try select missions multiple times if they need additional practice in a specific concept. As the student gains more points, he or she can also further modify their rocket. 

I recommend this particular app for students in grades 3 and 4.  The variety of concepts can be a bit tough for younger students while the simplicity of each task can be a bit easy for older students.  All-in-all I would give this app a solid B+.  All for the bargain price of FREE!  Check Rocket Math Free by downloading it from your App Store. 


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