Great for practicing math skills, wide range of skills, some privacy concerns, not a replacement for instruction

Submitted 5 years ago
My Rating

My Take

Age Group: Grades K-5
Content Area: Mathematics
Specific Skills: place value, number sense, addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division, geometry, decimals, measurements, data, time, money, counting, compare numbers, math facts, graphs, mixed operations, algebra, decimal arithmetic
Classroom Basic - Free
Classroom Premium - $240/yr for 30 students, 2500+ skills plus more reports
School Premium - Contact for pricing, adds administrator dashboard and professional development among other things
Website includes information about services offered at each level, as well as information about funding and grants
There is also a home edition available

Claims & Evidence:
Stated Goal:
“Get Personalized Learning Path Fit for Catching Up, Enrichment, or Regular Practice”
“Personalized learning path intelligently adapts to the way each child learns”
“Comprehensive curriculum: achieve mastery in 350+ math skills”
“Interactive games and rewards motivate children to learn and improve their scores”
“Get real-time progress dashboard that pinpoints trouble spots”

Evidence Regarding Product Claims:
As is clear from the extensive list of specific skills above, this product provides students to practice applying many different mathematical concepts. The app breaks out activities first by grade-level (K-5), and then by topic (data, time, money, algebra, addition, fractions, etc). Within a specific activity, there are several types of problems for students to solve. There are Yes/No (analogous to True/False), multiple choice, and matching questions. The app is not designed to accept and evaluate original user input, so all of the questions have the student selecting between a number of provided options.
Overall, I do not believe that use of the app alone is sufficient for students to “achieve mastery,” one of the stated product goals on the website. While the app provides students the opportunity to practice many different concepts and problem types, they are fundamentally reactionary in nature, requiring students to select the correct response rather than thoughtfully generate a response based on their knowledge and understanding of the concept.
Students earn “coins” for correct answers. These “coins” can be used to unlock various games within the app, but the games are very simplistic, have little if anything to do with math, and are frankly much less exciting than other games students can access through the bevy of free non-educational apps available. I’m not convinced that the games provide sufficient motivation for children to use this app without the prompting of an adult.
The user interface is attractive, with an ocean scene and music playing along with encouraging statements after correct answers. Some questions use visual aids (numberlines, diagrams, etc) to support learning. When a question is answered incorrectly, a dialog pops up giving the correct answer, and sometimes an explanation. This immediate feedback supports student learning as they do not have to wait for a teacher to grade a worksheet or quiz (Zhang et al, 2015). Additionally, the app is self-paced - there is no timer pushing students to answer questions at a predetermined rate, which can benefit students by relieving some of the pressure in the learning environment.

Zhang, Trussell, Gallegos, and Asam from the University of Texas at El Paso conducted a study on touchscreen math apps and student learning in a fourth-grade classroom with 10 out of the 18 students identified either as at-risk or with a disability (Zhang et al, 2015). Students used Splash Math along with two other math apps over four sessions in a one-month period to practice concepts around decimals and multiplication, which had already been introduced in class. They had students take a pre- and post-assessment each session before and after using the math apps, to assess their growth. In Assessment 1, students showed an increase from 12.4 of 20 pre-test score to 16.9 of 20 post-test score (4.5 point improvement) after spending 40 minutes working in the Splash Math app (Zhang et al, 2015). During their work time, students were instructed to work through four problem sets, repeating as necessary until they achieved a score of 20 of 24 (Zhang et al, 2015). Interestingly, the mean gain for struggling students was above the average, showing a 5.1 point improvement, narrowing the achievement gap (Zhang et al, 2015). Notably, this study had a very small sample size, but the results do indicate that students in general and struggling students in particular benefitted from practicing their math skills in the app. It would be interesting to see a further study comparing student gains using this system with an equivalent amount of time spent on traditional paper-and-pencil worksheets.

Zhang, M., Trussell, R.P., Gallegos, B. et al. (2015). Using Math Apps for Improving Student Learning: An Exploratory Study in an Inclusive Fourth Grade Classroom. TECH TRENDS, 59: 32.

During the sign-up process, the app has a screen which says “Parents Only: To access, enter the following number.” It then has four numbers spelled out in English, and a numerical keypad (ex. one two three four). This is clearly intended to prevent young children from signing up on their own, as they would have to be capable of reading the numbers. Furthermore, the screen explicitly states that the application expects only parents to complete this.
The privacy policy clearly states that minors are not allowed to disclose personal information. Parents or guardians may submit their child’s personal information. They specifically state a desire to be notified of violations of this policy: “If you believe that a student may have provided us Children’s Personal Information without parental involvement, please contact us at…” The company uses account information to provide parents with progress reports about their child’s performance. They do not provide forums where children can communicate with other users. In terms of personal information, they collect parent’s full name, email, ZIP, payment information, child’s name and gender, IP address, username, password, and browser and location information from the user (parent) and use cookies to automatically collect traffic data. This is a huge amount of information, and specifically, I would be concerned that they collect both names and location information. They use the information for communicating with users and improving products and services. They state that cookie data is used only in aggregate form. They also share aggregate statistical data with partners. The privacy policy states that “we do not combine general information collected through cookies with other personal information… to tell us who you are.”
However, the company does work with other companies to provide services, and in order to do so they may share personal information of parents or children (in non-aggregate form) to get this done. These partners do not have right to use this information “beyond what is necessary to execute tasks at hand.” Now, I am not a lawyer by any means, but the vagueness of that phrase combined with the fact that adult or child identifying information can be shared with business partners who may have different privacy policies raises a bit of concern for me. The privacy states that “you can always opt not to disclose information, even though it may be needed to take advantage of certain features of the Website and services.” So, the privacy-conscious teacher should discuss this privacy policy with a school district’s legal team before using the software since there are some concerning elements. In particular, I would encourage a further investigation of just how little personal information one can provide and still access the services to a usable extent.

How I Use It

Idea for Formal Education Implementation:
In a formal education setting, I recommend that the teacher uses this in place of worksheets some, but not all, of the time. This could be a component of a rotation activity. Split the class into 3 groups. Have one group practice an activity with targeted goals through the app, similar to the Zhang study. One group can work on paper-pencil activities, and the final group can work in small-group intervention with the teacher, doing targeted exercises and instruction. This reduces the number of devices needed for one classroom, and limits screen time. Including paper-pencil activities makes sure that students can arrive at correct solutions through their own thinking (or thinking with a partner), rather than just picking the correct answer from those already presented.

Idea for Informal Education Implementation:
In an informal setting, this activity could be used to spark critical thinking in students. Provide this app and maybe one or two other math education apps. Students should spend 15 minutes or so in groups (maybe 4 students/group) playing with each app. In between apps, students should write in a pro/con chart things about the app they liked and didn’t like. Then, the groups must create a five minute “sales-pitch” presentation about their favorite of the choices. Their goal is to convince the rest of the group to use their favorite app. This engages math skills, language and communication skills, evaluative critical thinking skills, and interpersonal skills while still providing enough transitions to keep it engaging.

Teacher Guidance to Enhance Learning:
This tool is excellent for giving students self-guided practice. However, as education researchers understand, there is a strong social and community aspect to meaningful, effective, and long-lasting learning. Therefore, it is my recommendation that this be used to supplement, not replace classroom instruction and activities. The discussion above (Idea for Formal/Informal Education Implementation) provide a starting point. Overall, though, teachers can enhance learning by using this in combination with pair-learning, group-learning, and other types of activities where students engage with one another and with the teacher.