App review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2015
Incredible Numbers By Professor Ian Stewart
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Incredible Numbers by Professor Ian Stewart

Beautiful exploration of fascinating math beyond classroom topics

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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Math, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Fantastic visualizations and interactive explorations, deeply informative text, and easy-to-navigate interface all make pure math come alive.

Cons: Long sections of dense academic text with tricky vocabulary and sometimes-serpentine hyperlink trails will undoubtably alienate some users.

Bottom Line: For students who get bored by the usual curriculum, this tool will open their eyes to math's deepest problems and most curious corners.

Incredible Numbers will work great for students who blaze through assignments and get bored quickly or for those who generally have academic curiosity but just don't get hooked by math. It can potentially open the door to deeper inquiry or demonstrate why math is fascinating in and of itself. For the perennial question "When am I ever gonna use this?", Incredible Numbers can be part of a compelling answer: "Who knows, but here are a few pretty cool reasons why it's worth exploring." The app is unlikely to hook students who are already struggling in class because of content difficulties or those who have trouble with academic reading.

This app could be used as part of a full class lesson, but it'll require a good deal of support to make it reach every kid. Because of the lexical sophistication, it's not recommended for younger kids without a patient and mathematically skilled supervisor.

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Incredible Numbers is a beautiful, interactive reference app that dives into areas of math not covered in the typical school curriculum. Users click through a variety of topics including primes, cryptography, infinity, factorials, music, and more, and they'll discover well-written (if fairly dense) passages explaining the history and nature of the chosen content. Each section also includes an interactive visualization, bringing the concepts to life in a way that even the best text simply can't touch. Plus, users can tap hyperlinks to bios of historical figures who add the often-missing human element to mathematical study. It's all very much like a pop-math book with number theory's greatest hits made interactive.

A few math puzzles (some with touch interfaces, some to be done on paper or in one's head) and a floating field of special numbers with unique properties round out the experience.

The math topics included in Incredible Numbers are unquestionably fascinating: They're the same bizarre, mind-boggling facts that mathematicians like to spring on friends and colleagues to show why they love their discipline. Written versions of this content are necessarily academic and tricky to access, riddled with tough vocabulary and copious necessary background knowledge, and the information is presented here in that same manner. However, the interactive visualizations that are Incredible Numbers' hallmark give those abstruse passages some much-needed clarity. In that sense, it may be the best way out there to illuminate these ideas for younger learners.

Even with the beautiful explorations, though, this is mostly a read-to-learn experience, didactic and probably only fully accessible by those already quite curious about math or those willing to do some outside reading to supplement. 

Overall Rating

Engagement

Unquestionably fascinating math is beautiful, interactive, and viscerally real. The exploration tools will hook curious learners, but walls of dense math text deter others.

Pedagogy

Reading and understanding academic writing is an important skill to practice; here, hyperlinks and baked-in interactive investigations help clarify complex concepts, which may be inaccessible from text alone.

Support

Given the strong academic style, learners with reading difficulties may struggle, and advanced mathematical vocabulary can confuse many. A few pop-up definitions help with these challenges, but it's not quite enough.


Common Sense reviewer
Galen McQuillen Researcher

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