1, 2, 3...BLAST OFF to the Math Planet App by Playpower

I have recently shared the following app as math (Number Sense and Numeration) curriculum resource for grades 1-8 in the Cube for Teachers database. 

Playpower is an organization that creates many high quality math education apps for grades 1-8. Playpower has really jumped on the trend of gamification in learning to make math more meaningful and fun for students. Students today learn and are motivated differently than previous generations. This could be because students today have been using technology since birth! It only makes sense that students therefore respond and interact with technology in a more natural way. So how can their tech savvy skills be transferred into their learning environment? Math Planet is one of the many education apps created by PlayPower. Math Planet was developed by experts at Carnegie Mellon University and has been tested across hundreds of classrooms to improve and enhance the richness of learning. It has also won many awards!!

I began teaching with Playpower on a regular basis with students I work one-on-one with. Here are the top reasons for why you should incorporate Math Planet into your next math lesson:
  • Design. The environment students are working in takes place in space! The images and videos within the app are very high quality. The general design of the app is based on students taking on an alien character that then moves through planets in space. Each planet is a different level! Students have to get enough questions right in the first planet before moving on to the next planet. 
  • Curriculum Alignment. For grades 1-2, Math Planet aligns with Addition and Subtraction, Geometry and Measurement, Multiplication and Division, and Number Sense. Grades 3-8 align with these concepts as well as Fractions and Decimals. All of these concepts are geared towards whatever grade level that student is working on. The Fractions and Decimals lessons become separate lessons and more challenging in grades 5-8. 
  • Variety. Math Planet has 9 games with over 100+ levels! My favourite feature about Math Planet is how it has students working individually on multiple math concepts within one planet. Instead of each planet representing a different strand in math, students complete 6 lessons (each lesson focusing on a specific math concept) that take about 10 minutes in order to fully complete a planet. Within the planet, students are working on a variety of math skills from Geometry to Fractions to Addition. I find that for my students I tutor, this provides an easy way to fit a lot of math concepts meaningfully into one hour teaching blocks. For educators, I can see this being very beneficial if they believe their students need general practice on a wide variety of math skills. Math Planet seems very Number Sense and Numeration heavy, which is great because this strand is the math roots and ground work for other strands. Math Planet would make for a great refresher once a week to practice these important math concepts. It could be a great addition to your next math centre rotation!
  • Differentiated Instruction. Math Planet does an excellent job discretely differentiating instruction. As a student works through the lessons, Math Planet can recognize if a student is struggling too much on a particular lesson within a planet. The app will then automatically change that specific lesson within a planet to a lower level that still focuses on the same concept. I like how this is done automatically so that the student does not need the teacher to change the level for them in front of other students. 
  • Scaffolding. Math Planet scaffolds students throughout the app by controlling what planet and lessons students can work on. Students start with the first unlocked planet. When they click into it, only one lesson is unlocked. Once the student completes that lesson, the next lesson will open up. After all the lessons have been completed, the next planet will unlock for the student to begin working on. The importance of this feature is to have students progressively working on lessons that get more and more challenging and that scaffold students throughout the different math concepts. The locking of planets and lessons further prevents students from jumping all over the place within the app and working on lessons that may be too challenging for them. 
  • Assessment. Data driven assessment is growing more and more now that technology is getting smarter with more advanced features. Math Planet resembles this high technology as it provides teachers with tracking records of student progress. Teachers can access this information within a student's profile, which would make for a great image to show during parent-teacher interviews! What is important about data tracking is that it is not just one score. Instead, teachers are able to track students progress and focus on how well students have improved over a long period of time. This then would support formative assessment measures by assessing students's progress throughout lessons instead of just at the end of a lesson. 
  • Rewards. Math Planet has a super cool reward system. Since their graphics are high quality and 3-D looking, it makes for cooler characters on the app screen! As students earn coins throughout each level, they can then use these coins to buy a new character on the app. Students can either save up to earn a more expensive character or they can just buy whatever one fits within their savings. I have found that the students I work with always keep a close eye on their savings to see if they have enough for a new character!

Although this app is extremely engaging and provides a wide variety of curriculum aligned lessons, I believe more could be included in the app to support scaffolding. When I watch my students on the app, I start to notice their motivation and confidence dwindling every time they get an answer wrong. The app does not provide many hints or features to support self-corrections, which results in students recognizing their failure and not their progress. I would also suggest getting rid of the timing feature. Although being timed to try and answer as many questions as possible can be fun and encouraging for some students, it is difficult for many students already struggling in math to succeed fast enough and earn enough coins in the game. This just enhances their already low self-esteem. I think it would be really helpful for students to receive some sort of tutorial or lesson before each level within each planet. Students then are not jumping right into a concept they may not know much about. If a teacher were to incorporate Math Planet into their lessons, I strongly recommend using this app to reinforce a skill that has already been taught. 

Overall, I think Math Planet provides a unique gamified learning environment for students to reinforce a wide variety of math concepts and for teachers to gain meaningful insight into their students' progress. Click the image below to check out the Playpower website!

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