I played the original Math Blaster Plus! in the early 90s. It included a number of mini games, all taking place in space or on other planets. Your adventure progressed with correct math answers, which is of course the purpose of Math Blaster games. It reached me on an interactive level and certainly assisted with the development of my early math skills. My peers seemed to appreciate it as well, and I remember all of us playing in the computer lab at our elementary school. It was a popular game, and we learned math while having fun, a combination on which companies like Knowledge Adventure and other app developers like Motion Math are capitalizing.
Math Blaster HyperBlast 2 on the iPad reminds me of Nintendo’s F Zero X. Your blue-haired protagonist races down a futuristic speedway on a hoverbike, executing corkscrew turns and gaining power-ups. You blast away at obstacles until you reach the boss of the level, a multi-armed foe that challenges you with math questions. Score enough hits with correct answers to stagger the boss until you reach the next level.
The game heavily emphasizes fast-paced action, and completing math questions rewards the players with more action. After each math problem boss encounter, you get to fly down the speedway again, arcing your laser blasts satisfyingly down the path and obliterating obstacles. You rack up points and use them to upgrade your hoverbike with better lasers and other equipment. As a fan of RPG video games, I can say the concept of upgrading your character’s abilities is always a welcome addition in many games, and it makes perfect sense to include it in an educational title. The game is saying to the player, “You want better lasers for your hoverbike? Better get these next math questions right!” Trying to imagine myself as a kid, I realized that the game essentially tricks kids into learning math. And considering some kids’ aversion to math, this kind of gentle deception is a great move.
Knowledge Adventure is the creator of JumpStart.com and MathBlaster.com, two online resources that use games to reach kids on educational levels. Their latest app is a flashy and exciting way to learn math, a definite update to titles I played when I was young. As a kid, I certainly could have brushed up on my basic math skills, and I think the Knowledge Adventure’s model is an effective way for kids to learn math outside the traditional classroom.
I browsed some teacher’s forums online and the general consensus seems to be that games are a welcome addition to the classroom, especially in early math classes. One teacher wrote “I can’t stress how teaching using games and deluding children into thinking that all they are doing is ‘playing a game’ is vital for any teacher.” But, keep in mind that any game can be abused. In Math Blaster HyperBlast 2, I realized that I had to make a conscious choice to advance in levels. If you want to just play the game and shoot things from a hoverbike, you can just stick with basic addition and not challenge yourself with harder concepts like fractions or division. It is the responsibility of the teacher and the parent—perhaps the same parent who allowed their kid to play on their iPad in the first place—to continually challenge a child’s math learning. I remember in my computer lab classes in the 90s, the teacher would announce, “Okay everyone, let’s move up to multiples of eight” and then would walk around the room and make sure everyone was playing the game at the right level.
That being said, the game does allow for the freedom to progress at your own pace. If a child is stuck at multiples of three, he can stay on that level for a while until he feels comfortable moving up to four or five. Math games, though educational, are still fun. If the educational part becomes too frustrating, the game loses its fun and the child becomes uninterested in making progress. This is why with any educational game, parents and teachers must always be there to provide a good amount of instruction. Education can certainly exist on computer and tablet screens—or on a space hoverbike—but parents and teachers will always be the best resources for helping kids learn.