Monday 14 May 2012

10 Practical Ways To Use Apps in Primary Mathematics Teaching

My name is Chris Williams, Mathematics Co-ordinator at Spring Cottage Primary School, alongside Andrew Yeomans.  I work with David Andrews in Year 6 and have been a participant in the introduction of iPads at the school. I am currently working with David on pupil blogging projects and the development of digital pupil portfolios.
With a keen interest in ICT and maths, I have been exploring the ways in which iPad apps (other than the “I can do maths….2+2 etc”  type) can enhance pupil progress and motivation. I believe that, when done the right way, gaming can play a huge role in learning.
If you are going to try any of these ideas in class its best to be quite familiar with the apps and how they work.

 Here are 10 things I have tried: 

1) Angry Birds

Angry Birds
Birds are catapulted at targets to score points
Learning Objective: Order and partition large numbers

Like any scoring game, the opportunities for maths are endless. I have been asking TAs to work with small groups of children with the objective of reading 4 and 5 digit numbers and partitioning the values. This week Sasha, Oliver and Stacey played the game taking turns to complete levels. Each player had to read the score and state the value of each digit. They also recorded and ordered the scores they achieved. At the end we played the game on the IWB and all three children were able to read  5 digit numbers without a second’s thought ( never consistently achieved before).  Adding scores, rounding scores, finding the difference etc, the maths just seems to flow perfectly from a game the children know and like.

2) International Snooker HD

Simulation of real snooker, potting balls to score points
International Snooker HD
Learning objective: Solve problems

This could be a tenuous link with suggestions of how angles can be calculated when plotting the escape from a tricky snooker behind the brown ( still worth trying)  but I have used this game for investigations and problem solving. Once the simple scoring system is understood any numbers of problems can be set. Examples we have used: How many ways can a player score 20? Ronnie scored a 24 with 6 balls, what could they be? Etc. Linking successful answers to letting children take shots in the game can allow the available balls and scores to change. This leads to further problem solving potential e.g.: What is the maximum available break? What is the lowest available break?  How many points do you need  to score before it becomes impossible for your opponent to win?

3) Temple Run

Temple Run
Controlling a fast running character through a maze of 
obstaclesLearning objective: Convert units of measure

The children love this game and if they take turns to play it on the ipad when projected on to the IWB the rounds are short and exciting to watch. The maths I have used with this relates to the distance element of the score ( given  in metres) . We have been converting the scores into km, cm, mm etc with rapid progress in understanding. In addition the children have developed paired questioning habits to keep mental skills strong,  such as if the distance score was 181m then questions such as how many more metres to 200, 500, 1000 etc promote calculations they immediately want to do.

4) Red Bull Kart Fighter

Racing cars around a track
Red Bull Kart Fighter
Learning objective : Calculate averages

A brilliant game for use in the classroom.  The beauty of it is games are so engaging but extremely short. It’s a racing car game with no steering necessary. Cars follow the track and the player controls the speed ( faster times are achieved through skilful cornering and collecting boosters along the route). The challenge mode of the game allows up to 6 players to complete a lap in turn. Times are recorded up to 2 decimal places.  In this game 6 completely absorbed players can produce 6 lap times, normally between 10 and 20 seconds. Two things we have tried in class have been ordering decimal numbers ( it becomes so easy when the children are establishing the race order), and calculating the mean time ( using a calculator to add all times and divide by the number of players). Working out the mean allows children to play against each other in teams of different sizes.

5) Garage Band
Garage Band

8 track recording and composition
Learning Objective: To learn multiplication facts

This easy to use composing app could be used to support any subject or topic. My maths group struggle with quick recall of tables facts  and were given the ipad in groups to produce songs/jingles etc to help them learn them. The outcomes were impressive ( not always musically) and this process does seem to help fact retention. It has always interested me to see children who can recite every word of any chart song yet struggle to remember number facts. Music could be the key and the self-composition element garage band provides makes it so much more relevant and personal.

6) Star Walk

Virtual exploration of the universe
Star Walk
Learning Objective: To identify and describe properties of 2D shapes

This app is completely mesmerising in its ability to demonstrate the vastness of the universe.  The simple way this has been used in my maths lessons has been with the constellations element  where the groups of stars forming constellations are highlighted using joined lines. The lines often form regular and irregular 2D shapes which children can use to identify  2D shapes and describe properties ( in terms of sides, types of angles etc). Having the facility to display the ipad on the IWB is essential for whole class involvement, and it works perfectly with this app.

7) Maps

Digital map, aerial map and route calculator.

Learning objective: To convert metric and imperial units  and calculate average speeds

This app is fantastic. You can get lost for hours exploring places you have always dreamed of visiting, places you’ve been on holiday or the street you used to live on. In class we have been using it to give alternative journey routes between local towns. The app will usually produce several different suggestions which include distance and journey time. The maths element comes in when we convert distances from miles to kilometres and move on to working out average speeds for each journey.  This is not an easy concept for the children I work with but the use of this app just seems to motivate and interest them enough to improve concentration when it comes to following several part calculation procedures.

8) Strip Design

Create comic strips
Learning objective: Demonstrate understanding of objectives/ self-assessment
Strip Design

This comic strip maker is great fun and easy to use. I have used it in lessons by asking groups of children to take the ipad away and create a comic strip demonstrating how to do the work we have been doing that day. I am compiling pages of these comic strips on topics such as how to multiply 2 digit numbers, calculate average and subtract by finding the difference. The standard of the work is high and the children are much better at explaining their understanding of methods in this visual and multimedia way. This app could be used in any subject for countless purposes but is definitely highly effective in demonstrating “What we have learned today."

9) iMovie

Movie making and editing app 
Learning objective: Understand calculation methods

The trailer templates of this app are absolutely brilliant. We have been using them in class to create trailers about different aspects and stages of calculation e.g.: Multiplication by grid method. The children film their approaches to calculations and add captions as the film progresses. The use of this app has been incredibly motivating and fun, but above all it has created a resource which enhances pupil understanding of methods and can be used to teach others.

10) Where’s My Water

Puzzle game based around giving a crocodile a bath
Where's My Water?
Learning objective: Calculate fractions and percentages

I love this game. My own children and the children I teach love it too. Here is how I have used it when calculating fractions and percentages. The game has many levels each containing 20 sub-levels. As part of the scoring of the game players are awarded “DUCKS” and 3 ducks are available in each sub-level, therefore 20 in each level. ( Get the app if you haven’t, then this will all make more sense although you may wave goodbye to a significant proportion of your spare time). In class children take turns to play and we attempt a sub-level a day. We are then able to review the level which will show us the fraction of available ducks we have accomplished, e.g. 34/60. This is quickly converted to a percentage and fractions are simplified.  If this sounds complex it’s not when you try it, and the way in which the game opens up children’s understanding to different and relevant aspects of maths is amazing.


  1. A small kid who started his primary education must encounter some problems in solving mathematics problem. I pad applications can help them in this context as it has introduced fun with study. I have read whole post and discovered that this will bring happiness in their life and won’t become sad too.
    MCAT Canada

    1. Thank you for your comments. It is great to know that sharing ideas in this way can lead to positive outcomes. The more I have used Apps and games in class it has struck me how much maths content there is, and how important it is within the games. The children I have seen solving maths problems in the games often struggled when the same problems were given without a meaningful context. I am looking at games which have timers and countdown clocks now because teaching time presents so many problems. Mr Williams.

  2. The Ipad is one of the most sold tablets of the world and in this year from the apple
    company the ipad3 is the most expected device.
    ipad tablet

  3. Thanks for the comment and reading the blog, Salma Afifi. Using a wide range of apps in maths has helped my teaching and I am exploring how different apps can enhance the teaching in other subjects.

  4. I would love your thoughts on Minecraft & Maths other then the obvious building and 3D? My students are addicted to it - girls and boys. They have 1:1 iPads and it is extremely challenging for their discipline and willpower. We have used Minecraft in Inquiry Learning to build an animal habitat but not yet in maths.
    Mrs Davey

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment Gill Davey. Certainly an interesting idea, that I'll explore further. Using Minecraft & Maths could well be a blog post in the future. Watch this space!

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. They are amazing especially Banana Hunt, Splash Math, International Snooker HD etc.

  6. Thanks for the Recommendation. They are amazing especially Banana Hunt, Splash Math, International Snooker HD etc.

  7. This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It is fantastic to see how you can adapt games to learning outcomes. I am a big supporter of using games and usually integrate into my literacy teaching. Maths has always been an area where I have struggled to adapt gaming to learning outcomes, so thank you.