Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery

Adaptive math app reinforces foundational skills

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Price: Free to try
Platforms: Android, iPad, Kindle Fire, Chrome

Pros: Teachers can set the app to English or Spanish for each individual student account.

Cons: There are no options for collaborative learning. The visuals don't have the dazzle of other apps.

Bottom Line: While it's not as polished as other apps, Math Shelf has a steady and thorough approach to exploring foundational math skills.

Students play Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery on their own in individual sessions. There's a straightforward profile creation process, although it's a little time consuming. Teachers enter each student's name or nickname and an email address. They must also take a photo of the student (or of something else unique to that student), presumably so that students can easily find their profile. Parents get notified about the app (via email). It'd be helpful at this time for teachers to send out an email explaining why they've selected the app and how it'll benefit students.

The developer suggests that students play Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery in 15-minute sessions, twice a week. Limiting play helps students stick with apps longer, and helps assess whether learning is long-term. To help keep track of play time, there's a timer in the upper right corner of the screen. The program adapts on its own according to performance, but teachers will want to keep a close eye on the progress reports to get a sense of how their students are doing. This progress data is saved in the cloud, so teachers can use multiple devices in the classroom. Teachers can enhance learning with hands-on activities that complement what students are working on.

Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery is a subscription-based, early learning math app for iOS, Android, and Kindle. The app gives students practice with foundational math skills such as numeracy, geometry, measurement, and telling time. Mini-games use a variety to techniques to approach the content. In some games, for example, students match numbers of balls to their corresponding numeral. In another, students sort coins by their monetary value and then count out the right number of candies to match. Teachers can create up to 27 student profiles in a single subscription account. When they set up a new profile, in addition to providing a name and photo, teachers also choose whether that student wants to play in English or Spanish. Students start with a placement test to determine where they'll start on the learning path. There's adaptive leveling to provide students with extra help, guidance, and practice in areas in which students struggle. Teachers can see detailed progress reports that indicate individual student's level of mastery in each content area. When teacher's sign up for a subscription, they can start with a short tutorial to learn how the app works. There's a one-month free trial available.

Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery is a solid choice for teaching and reinforcing the basic skills that are so important to later success in math. Rather than trying to be a one-stop shop for elementary school math, the app focuses on building a strong, well-balanced foundation. Its games adapt nicely to provide different students the support they need. Depending on how students do, they may breeze through the levels, or they might spend a lot of time repeating the same concepts. Independent of content repetition, there's quite a bit of repetition in activity type, but variation in visuals and a gradual build up in complexity do a good job in keeping it from feeling tedious. And Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery is meant to be used in small doses over a period of time, so that students gradually build their knowledge. It's worth mentioning that there's a clear focus in Math Shelf on integrating research-based best practices for learning. To this end, the developer has published several peer reviewed research studies which suggest that Math Shelf: Early Math Mastery is more effective than several other teaching methods, including normal classroom instruction.

While the pedagogy in Math Shelf is top notch, it does lack the polish kids, families, and teachers might be used to from other apps. The visuals are fairly simplistic and it lacks human-voiced feedback or an easy way to create student accounts. That said, once students are up and running, the learning is focused and solid and teachers get useful reports on their progress. 

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Visuals and animations are simple and unpolished, but alongside the soft classical music, they have a calming appeal. Activity types vary enough to keep students on their toes. Robotic vs. human voices.


Straightforward games cover foundational math skills through varied repetition and adaptive leveling. The developer favors short, meaningful bursts of play vs. keeping kids slogging through activities.


Each student needs to be manually added. Teachers get detailed reports. Play in English or Spanish. Feedback is fine but could be more supportive.

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