With nearly a third of children learning to use a phone or tablet before they can talk, it's no surprise that the majority of my students are extremely computer literate. Not only that, but incorporating the computer into the lessons markedly increases concentration and enjoyment. I'm not the only one who has caught onto this, and there is now a veritable wealth of flash games available to help kids learn. As a parent or a tutor, what do you need to know about these games?
1. Increased motivation as the activity is perceived as a game rather than work.
2. Can be set as a homework task for the student to complete on their own.
3. Easily completed in 5-10 minutes, making the game ideal to fit into a busy schedule.
Most free to play games understandably have been slapped together quite quickly without too much regard for actually testing understanding. Children often simply guess answers because they want to get to the next stage of the game and are not that interested in getting the right answers. The games usually make it far too easy to do this. Additionally, some concepts are very tricky to communicate in game form. As a rule, maths is easier to 'gameify' than English.
The games are definitely no replacement for actual classroom learning, tuition, or parental guidance. However, I've found quite a few games are great tools to use as part of a wider tuition program.
Note that my suggested age ranges are intended to be a very rough guide only.
Ages 7 - 9 (Good for 7+ and 8+)
Math Trainer - an outstanding tool for memorising tables times. It lets you pick the 'thinking time' you're allowed, and you can even switch to doing division. There are options for adding and subtracting as well. It remembers your progress too. Use it every day for 10 minutes or so and you'll soon have all the tables memorised.
Hit The Button - a simple but useful tool. Questions flash up on the screen and you have to hit the button with the right answer on it. There are options to be asked about square numbers, division facts, times tables, halves, doubles, and number bonds.
Place Value Walk The Plank - very simple, actually suitable for age 6 - 8. Add up numbers such as 7000 + 500 + 30 + 5 (always broken down like that). If you get enough correct, the teacher will be forced to walk the plank.
Maths Lines Multiplication - select a target number e.g. 18, and fire factors of 18 at the correct other factor to make 18. For example, fire 3 at 6 to make 18. It's easier to play than it is to explain in words, so take a look. A nice way to get kids thinking quickly about multiplication and factors.
Grand Prix Multiplication - answer simple multiplication questions correctly to get ahead in the race! It's possible to play against other online players in this game, for added competition.
Demolition Division - fire at incoming enemy spaceships that have a division question that matches up to the answer on your cannon - e.g. if your cannon has a 5, then you should fire at a cannon which says 15 ÷ 3. Quick, easy to use and fun.
Numbo Jumbo: Android / Apple - an outstanding free app suitable for all ages 7 and above. It uses an intuitive layout to get you adding numbers quickly. "Infinite mode" is my favourite, with numbers falling from the sky like in Tetris, while you frantically add the numbers to clear them. However, more relaxed modes are also available. It's fun for everyone, but genuinely quite useful to get young children to speed up their addition.
Ages 9 - 12 (Good for 11+)
1. Fruit-splatter - converting fractions to decimals. The fraction is on your curser and you click the appropriate decimal fruit to 'splat' it with a very satisfying sound. Fun to play, with 5 different levels. My only complaint is that is misses out many common fractions: thirds, sixths, sevenths, ninths. Most relevant for 11+, but also handy for 13+.
2. Balloon pop - comparing fractions, decimals and percentages. Balloons float onto your screen and you pop them in order of lowest value. Again quite satisfying and the timed nature of it makes it very relevant for 11+ entrance exams. Again, most relevant for 11+ (years 5,6,7), some application to 13+.
3. Make 24 - a truly fiendish game that requires you to figure out how to use exactly 4 given cards to make 24, using any operations you want. For example, 4 x (7+J - Q) = 24 (Queens = 12, Jacks = 11). Very challenging to complete in the 60 second time limit, especially as the interface is slightly clunky so it will take a good 15 seconds to input your answer. However, I've had great success writing the problem down and giving students slightly longer, say 3-5 minutes, to complete the question.
4. Function Machine - a pretty awesome tool that lets you design your own number machine (i.e. a function) with two operations. You can then specify the input the machine will (after a small explosion) deliver the output. Includes an option to 'loop' your previous output so that it becomes the input for the next iteration. Not really a game as such, but a great tool for teaching about number machines and you can easily design your own questions to go with it. Appropriate for years 4, 5, 6, 7 and beyond, as functions are always useful!
5. Mathletics - this requires you to sign up for a non-trivial fee, and I'm not too enthused by the majority of their product. However, they include a very fun and useful quickfire mental arithmetic section. Students play against other students online at the time and it can get pretty competitive!
6. Combining integers - fun to play. You have integers ranging from -6 to 6 on to choose from and you have to fire another integer at the correct one to sum to make a target number. e.g. you have might the number 4 on your curser, and you fire it at -5 to reach your target of -1. Suitable for ages 7-12 because of customisability.
7. Snow Sprint - very fun. You're a snowmobile in a race against other computer players. Answer fraction multiplication questions correctly to get ahead in the race. Speedway is almost the exact same game, but you add fractions (of the same denominator, making it quite easy) and they are cars, not snowmobiles. Both are quite easy, but the quickfire nature means it can still be appropriate to 11+.
8. Tug Team - you compare fractions to win the tug of war. Quite fast paced and of a good difficulty for 11+.
9. Prime Splat - same format as "fruit splatter", but this time you have to splat the prime numbers and leave the composites alone.
10. Sumaze! - an outstanding free phone / tablet app which improves number and logic skills through a series of clever and increasingly difficult puzzles. The interface is very intuitive and it's addictive in the best possible way. Apple store link; Google Play Store Link.
11. Professor X and the Factorbots - this excellent online flash game is laid out like a board-game. You spin a spinner to determine how many spaces you move, and then answer a variety of maths puzzles along the way. You can choose from easy, medium and hard puzzles, and are rewarded accordingly. The maths puzzles often involve questions about factors, as the name might suggest.
12. Prime factor trees - a handy little tool which prompts you to split numbers into their prime factors. Not particularly ground-breaking and unfortunately lacking a 'game' element. However, it does let you check your answers. Handy if you're working on some of the ideas I mention in my blog about prime numbers. For some ways to put prime factors into use, I've also blogged about the uses of prime factors for 11+ maths.
Ages 11 - 14 (Good for 13+)
1. Manic Miner - a retro gaming experience which requires you to quickly simplify algebraic expressions while dodging various obstacles, trying to find the key, and diving down a toilet to arrive at the next level. Good fun, and does develop quick simplification skills, but its main drawback is that the questions are multiple choice, encouraging students to only roughly guess the answer.
2. Dragonbox - actually a non-free app which claims to subtly teach algebra in the guise of an entertaining game. Players manipulate blocks to beat each level, learning concepts like 'blocks are cancelled by their opposites' along the way. As you progress through the levels, problems resemble algebraic equations more and more closely. I've installed it on my phone and it's actually very pleasing - the colours and music is soothing and there is a gradual, very logical progression from not-doing-algebra to doing-algebra. Definitely recommend.
3. Sumaze! - see review above.
As mentioned, English is much harder to fit into a flash game. Most of the games focus on lower level English appropriate for children under 8, or foreign language speakers.
1. Furious Frogs - great set-up. You are a frog and you need to select the fly which is tagged with the word which is the antonym of the word in the centre. Other frogs will be eating flies at the same time, so it's very fast paced. Suitable for ages 5-8.
2. Comma Chameleon - nicely put together. This game gives you a sentence with the punctuation missing and the chameleon picks up the right punctuation to add with its tongue at your bidding. Suitable for ages 6-9.
3. Grammar Ninja - a fun game with a pleasing interface. You have to identify the noun, verb or adjective by attacking it with a throwing star. Wrong answers explode. Suitable for ages 6 - 11, depending on the difficulty setting.
5. Giraffe Go-Karts - say whether the word is plural "have" or singular "has". Good fun.
6. Vocabulary Bubbles - a great game where you have to catch fish and state the meanings of words which flash up on the screen. The vocabulary is fairly advanced, and the game is suitable for ages 10 - 18. The students at the younger end of that spectrum will need to look up many of the words, but it is still a great way for them to improve their vocabulary, especially when combined with this exercise.