App review by Carrie Garges, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2021
ProblemScape
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ProblemScape

Adventure game where algebra expertise saves the day

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Learning rating
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Based on 1 review
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Grades
6–9
Subjects & Skills
Math

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Pros: Narrative is fun and unique, and conceptual explanations and practice focus on strategies.

Cons: Text-based, English-only instructions don't support ELLs and struggling readers.

Bottom Line: This story-based math practice goes beyond drills with a unique approach, but it needs more supports.

The lessons, challenges, and searching pathways to complete adventure tasks in ProblemScape create a saga of a game not intended to be completed in one sitting. Luckily, chapters break pre-algebraic skills into manageable pieces. Teachers can direct students to the Xpert Notebook as a pre-teaching lesson or as an independent learning activity in a flipped classroom. The notebook offers a chance to learn from a video, observe using click-through activities, and practice with self-checking problems. Creating teams and encouraging students to problem-solve together could help during the adventure tasks, as some text instructions can't always be revisited, and the player perspective doesn't always match the map's orientation. Make sure to check out the teacher resources, like the rationale, instructions, and pacing guide.

Questions in each chapter and Xpert Notebook page are the same for every player, creating an opportunity for group work as well as whole-class discussion. Teachers should be aware that students can't revisit these questions once  they're complete. Once players are signed up, administrators have access to chapter progression only, so using this app for assessment or scoring purposes isn't recommended. Traveling the pathways of Arithma searching for the next location can also take some time, so teachers should monitor play and help refocus students when necessary.

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ProblemScape is an immersive experience that includes learning and practice activities designed to stretch a player's pre-algebraic skills. Players must be signed up through an adult's administrator account but then have access to the adventures with simple usernames and passwords. 

Arithma is a world where all math experts have mysteriously disappeared.  A Quest Log, star-marked map, and friendly characters all offer directions and guidance as kids explore Arithma. At the time of review, only four of the eight chapters are accessible. Each chapter includes a series of adventure tasks as well as a set of practice opportunities for two foundational skills that correspond with Common Core State Standards 6th grade Expressions and Equations strand. Given an Xpert Notebook, and occasionally crossing the path of a Ypert Diaries page, players are given the opportunity to learn, review, or practice, and then must use their own math expertise to find the missing math experts. 

ProblemScape is a solid example of how math can integrate into a narrative and be part of an overall experience with context. In terms of instruction, the teaching videos offer more than steps of an algorithm. Instead, lessons use in-depth, but very clear, demonstrations of each mathematical concept. Although the chapter lessons are self-contained, the videos and practice from previous chapters remain part of the Xpert Notebook for students to reference at any time. 

To access deeper learning, players are often asked to explain or rethink strategies, and multistep problems are broken down into bite-size pieces, encouraging students to think them through. Specific feedback on errors is offered, and correct answers are revealed after second attempts, along with a redirection to use the video or guided practice. Steep reading levels, heavily text-based instruction, and a totally self-guided adventure seem more appropriate for older, more independent learners. And, unfortunately, it makes it a tough fit for kids who might struggle with all of that text. More supports would improve the experience and make it accessible to more students.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Adventure, game-based learning, and solid 3D graphics all add up to an engaging experience. Improving math skills is only half the challenge. Searching for characters, solving riddles, and collecting gems keeps players invested.

Pedagogy

Deep, conceptual explanations, guided practice, and challenge questions are the trinity for solid math instruction.  However, these moments are sometimes buried behind collecting gems and long walks through the woods.

Support

Feedback and access to review material provide support for students to learn and grow. There's not quite enough support on the game end. Instructions are text-only and aren't always repeatable.


Common Sense reviewer
Carrie Garges Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
KAYLA H. ,
Good visuals, good teachings
This tool is okay. I like how you can learn and how fun at the same time but it could be more interactive or interesting.
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