Review by Pamela Brittain, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2018


Super-cute gamified calculator may confuse more than calculate

Subjects & skills
  • Math

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The diverse set of calculations that Poly can do are impressive and may be a fun challenge for some.

Cons: The adorable Poly can't make up for a confusing (and way too fast) calculator.

Bottom Line: Possibly a great tool for advanced students, but can be very confusing for teaching new concepts.

With over a dozen teacher presentations and a few videos demonstrating how Polyup can be used for a number of concepts, you would think Polyup is the calculator of the future, but sadly it may lead to more frustration than calculation for students. Calculators are designed to "crunch numbers" and help students quickly come up with answers to various operations, and Polyup does that very well. But by limiting which numbers and operations can be substituted or reordered to "fix" the modules Polyup provides, students have very little freedom to explore alternative answers in the preset activities; they have to follow the exact instructions that Poly wants. This could be good if you're teaching students programming concepts and they have to follow very exact rules and roles, but for exploring and teaching math, it could lead to significant frustrations. The RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) method could also lead to confusion transferring information from Polyup to regular classroom instruction. However, for students that really "get it," many machines are available to challenge and inspire them to learn new ideas, as well as a sandbox mode where all numbers and operations are available for experimentation. 

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Polyup is a web-based platform (and iOS and Android app) that provides students with gamified math challenges. Using a cute guide (Poly) and calculation challenges called Poly Machines, students can explore anything from simple operations (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) to more complex sequences and series (like the Fibonacci sequence and solving the Birthday Problem). Polyup walks students through problems that get progressively harder and, on the higher level machines, students are provided with a wide range of operations and functions to choose from.

Polyup also has a freeform sandbox mode and a place for users to submit their own Poly Machines, as well as over a dozen presentations available for teachers that outline how to use Polyup to teach a wide variety of concepts. Students have the choice to create an account that tracks their progress or use a guest account that seems to keep track of progress if they're using the same computer/web browser. 

Polyup uses a top-down model, or Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), to do calculations -- which could be very confusing for students. While it works very well for Polyup, this method is counterintuitive for students who have been taught PEMDAS or BEDMAS. Students could easily get confused about which operation is being performed on which set of numbers and how these calculations are being put together to come up with the answer.

The calculations also run extremely fast (unless students can quickly navigate to the "slow down" button, which then runs very slowly), and once an answer has been reached, there are no indications of what went wrong -- simply a statement from Poly of "That is not what I am looking for." This could quickly frustrate students who may not be able to determine where they went wrong. The app addresses some of these issues by providing a variable speed bar and hints when students get stuck, but this feature doesn't seem to be available on the web browser version. For students who are struggling or just being introduced to these concepts, Polyup may be more frustrating than insightful. For students who have a strong grasp of the concepts or want a challenge, then Polyup may be just the game for them.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

A cute program with a lot of potential for exploring many concepts, but with an interface that can be confusing and counter to what students learn in class. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

A quirky little character gets students to "fix" broken modules covering a wide variety of calculations for many different math concepts. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Lots of teacher resources but very little in the way of in-game support for students beyond Poly saying "That is not what I am looking for."

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Marc P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Willard Intermediate
Santa Ana, United States
Students have fun learning with game-like tool
My take is that this is a powerful teaching tool that enables me to coach students as they problem solve and correct errors in process logic. My kids enjoy this because of its game-like structure. They also enjoy finding errors and making corrections, which is the best way for them to learn math. I have found that students who would take 40 minutes to do a 20 problem worksheet will accomplish the same set of problems in 15 minutes with a far greater retention rate.
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