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DragonBox: Gaming children into learning algebra (rudebaguette.com)
164 points by RudeBaguette on July 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

My 6 year old finished the first version, so we went and bought dragonbox+. a bit disappointed to find the same set of problems, with some additional bonus stuff. Was expecting an an entirely new set, could have saved myself a few bucks and just got db+.

that being said, an amazingly effective game. after she finishes the bonus problems, i'll be showing her how to work them on paper.

When I bought the game, the descriptions of the two version were pretty clear that db+ was the same levels as db but with more bonus levels. Maybe they've updated that since you bought.

I got db+ and was happy to see that the bonus levels progressed from symbols to letters/numbers so the last levels looked exactly like the algebra my kids will see in school. I think the game did an excellent job transitioning from the early levels that looked like many other kinds of puzzle/pattern games but evolved the symbols into more typical algebra equations in a way the kids barely notice but suddenly they're doing equations just like their math class. Very well designed IMO.

I've had my 7yr old working them on the white board. He had a blast with it. Has all 600 stars now and would probably play more.

We need more imaginative games like this!

Thanks for this report. My kid loves math, and so I bet he'll love this (he's six as well).

Someone please conduct of study (double blind, sample size 4, whatever) of kids that practiced algebra with dragonbox vs those that didn't, on their performance of an algebra test.

Would be interesting to see if they perform better, and the impact of gamifying education.

Possibly "Unethical", and thus generations of children are condemned to learn with us not knowing if they're using optimal techniques or not.

EDIT: For the silent downvoters - (http://www.badscience.net/2011/03/when-ethics-committees-kil...)

> At present there is a bizarre paradox in medicine. When there is no evidence on which treatment is best, out of two available options, then you can choose one randomly at will, on a whim, in clinic, and be subject to no special safeguards. If, however, you decide to formally randomise in the same situation, and so generate new knowledge to improve treatments now and in the future, then suddenly a world of administrative obstruction opens up before you.

Here's an overview of some studies in edutainment I found: http://www.itu.dk/~sen/papers/game-overview.pdf There are a few more hits via Scholar. As one might expect, results are mixed, the experimental design is usually shoddy, and there are lots of variables unaccounted for.

Anecdotally, I liked playing Number Munchers in my elementary school and I was in a high percentile of my class and district on all the standardized tests. My peers played it too, but they still struggled, especially later on in junior high and high school.

Dragon Box is fairly different than any other math edutainment I've seen. Most of them are thinly disguised exercises in calculation. Dragon Box focuses on learning the abstract relationships first. Actually, I think it would be an interesting game to introduce in a college level abstract algebra class.

Thanks for posting the overview paper. I wish there were more meta papers summarizing research on subjects like these. I am a big fan of annotated bibliographies but it is often quite tricky to collect them as most journals are at best just publishing literature reviews.

> Would be interesting to see if they perform better, and the impact of gamifying education.

Education was gamified decades ago. You get points for attendance, points for participation, points for correct answers, penalties for getting questions wrong, grades for overall evaluation, etc., etc.

It starts in kindergarden, with gold stars for doing classroom chores. You can pretty much read anything by Alfie Kohn to get a laundry list of gamification techniques, whether or not you agree with him.

If anything, I'd say the education system is over "gamified" in the way that farmville is gamified. Everyone is trying to game the system, teach to the test, optimize for exit exams, etc. Dragon Box brings the important concept of the game actually being fun back.

>the impact of gamifying education //

I've read elsewhere that gamification tends to increase the desire to get "points" but reduces the desire to learn for it's own sake. The education is no longer considered it's own reward instead education is only worth while to score points.

I guessed that was why they changed KhanAcademy to remove some of the points elements??

I leave it to someone else to give citations as it's my tea-time.

That was a great article by Wired! We decided to write about them because they are a partly French-based company, and our news site covers French startups, tech and innovation.

Thanks for the link! -Liam @ The Rude Baguette

Yes, wasn't trying to denigrate your work - just pointing to previous discussion people might find useful.

Oh definitely. Don't worry, no offense taken - just wanted to take the opportunity to promote us a bit ;-)

My daughter is 5 years old, she finished the full game in roughly 2 x 1 hour.

Of course she does not understand fully what's behind (I would say almost "fortunately" ;-) ), especially on divisions or multiplications, so it cannot replace the future explanations about what it means.

That said, it shows the kind of game maths are about, and it dedramatize maths completely, and maybe that's the more important aspect of this game after all : maths are just a game, a complex one, but you have to enjoy them if you want to be good at them in the end.

In the end, the game is very progressive, fun, she loves seeing the little monsters growing and it entices her to go on. The UI is not perfect, but it's already very good. For example, giving some time in the end to cleanup extra members would be cool instead of relying on the order you remove members.

I can't help but think that playing complex games like this is one of the best training for yound minds !

My 4-year-old loves it. What can I say? She barely knows the alphabet yet she's learning algebra for fun!

Hey, I'd love to hear more about it, and I'm sure the founders of DragonBox makers We Want To Know would too, since they had kids twice this age in mind when they designed the game... reach me on sversille@flirtatiouslabs.com and I'll be more than happy to pass on your feedback directly to the founders.

Pretty simple case. I walked her thru the first 2-3 levels, and she just kinda quietly disappeared into it. I then had to explain the "times one" and "x/x" rules, which only took a few seconds. Next thing I notice is she has completed at least 15 levels (if not two whole "worlds"; app may have been deleted & restored at some point). At last interaction she was puzzled that you couldn't make the swirling vortex (to wit: 0) disappear leaving an empty tray ("that's just how it is, you can't have an empty tray" "ok").

I'll keep feeding it to her and keep you appraised.

Since by 4 most kids know the alphabet I wonder what the long term implications are of learning algebra first. Maybe letters won't feel like parts of words, but instead she'll look at them as problems to solve.

I wonder what the big rush is with children, symbolic manipulation in a 4 year old's world has very little implication. Manipulating her environment through motor skils, developing ever more sophisticated interactions with other children, play etc, all seem to be much more useful. But anything that's fun is very likely good. I wonder how much of the fun is her reading back to you your enjoyment at seeing your offspring participate in algebra. The first rule of being a 4 year old is to please the parents. They, after all, provide everything.

I realize that this is purely anecdotal, but may answer your question.

My father got me playing around with programming when I was very young -- I think six or eight years old. Some of my first memories involve our VIC-20 computer.

While a lot of what I did was just typing in simple programs from a book, I did some experimentation on my own, and it became pretty obvious how variables, loops, and the rest worked.

When I hit school I was mathematically so far ahead of everybody else, not because I'm some kind of genius, but because I had already spent a lot of time unknowingly learning algebra.

This was a disadvantage, because the school system wasn't built to cope with a kid that understood algebra before he had memorized the multiplication table.

As an adult, however, I've enjoyed a pretty serious advantage when it comes to understanding abstract concepts, especially anything involving symbolic manipulation, and I think I can thank that VIC-20 BASIC manual from many years ago for it.

I wouldn't be too worried about starting a kid out 'too soon', provided that other areas of the child's mental development aren't neglected in favor of developing mathematical skills.

I had a similar experience. My father and grandfather introduced me to computers and programming at a very young age, and I ultimately taught myself algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry by age 10.

From fifth grade, I was bored out of my mind during math class. In sixth grade, my math teacher recognized my boredom to be a lack of challenge and decided she should do something about it. I was pulled into the vice principal's office at one point and asked to slow down my at-home learning because the teachers did not know what to do with me during class.

Eventually, we settled on a solution: I became the equivalent of a teacher's aid for my middle school class and tutored other kids who were having difficulty. This instilled a love for teaching that I carry with me to this day.

I don't think we should discourage children from learning at a fast pace as long as they appear to retain the information and it doesn't compromise other aspects of development. On the contrary, we need to find a way to help our education system cope with children learning things outside the classroom.

Symbolic manipulation is a fundamental concept few kids are exposed to early. Providing exposure thereto, thru whatever means, gives her a cognitive tool for applying motor skills, social interactions, problem solving, etc. before any other kids can; this is an advantage.

Indeed, the sheer brilliance of this game is the separation of the concrete blandness of raw numbers and plain symbolic letters (which she's already having enough meaning imputed upon while learning to read) from the pure symbology and entertaining rules applied thereto. That's why I'm a programmer: the joy of symbolic manipulation; this game starts her down the same track.

I gave some positive feedback, yes, but the bulk of that was just acknowledging her excitement in creating a new "monster" and next to nothing about the algebraic content. She took her own interest in the game far beyond any parent-pleasing feedback she got.

Most people develop motor skills just fine, but are not that great with symbolic manipulation. It's not easy to predict the kinds of effects early exposure to this kind of stuff can have on a human being in the long term, but it may be significantly positive (and maybe even negative).

I think an important idea to keep in mind is opportunity cost. Don't approach this as: they want to remove other things from the core curriculum to make room for this symbolic manipulation game.

We're talking a couple hours of fun, and the chance that math won't seem so scary in high school.

I had just written about this yesterday when my 6 year old and 8 year old finished it: http://www.educationreimagined.org/2012/06/dragon-box/. I had a couple of questions from the 6 year old, but my 8 year old son only asked for clarification once.

When he finished the game, I asked if he realized he had been doing math and he said: "I didn't use any math to solve them". I think he meant calculation. This will lead to some interesting discussions...

I would love to see games like this for more subjects.

Reminds me of the "head fake" from Randy Pausch's Last Lecture video, http://www.cmu.edu/randyslecture/

What I like particularly here is how every feedback and game design element contribute to the fused goal of learning-playing. Textbook game design elegance!

As an adult, I enjoyed this game. I had fun seeing how someone translated algebra into a game for children, and I also liked working simple algebra with pictures. I don't know if i recommend spending the 3 bucks on it unless you're looking for inspiration for your game.

Since when is $3 for a couple of hours of entertainment (each if you have a family) a bad deal? I have a hard time understanding how our standards for how much things should cost has fallen so low.

The intense look of concentration on my 7 and 5 year old's faces as the play this is priceless.

More of this.

I bought this a couple weeks ago, and I was quite impressed. I don't have a young one to give it to, but I really liked how the rules were introduced. By the end, you really do have a pretty good grasp of algebra to get through it.

My son will be 2 this month and he loves this game. He can only make it to about the 13th level before Daddy has to help, but wow, this is an amazing app.

His favorite thing to do is "pop" the zeros (ie spirals)

I've played this - its wonderful. Soothing, quiet, a little quirky. The + expansion pack is a total disappointment but the game itself is well done, cleverly designed, and genuine fun.

We whipped through it with minimal assistance given to my 6 and 8 year old boys. It's good. Need's to go deeper and a bit longer in my opinion.

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