I don’t often recommend paid apps on this blog. One reason is that they are difficult for many educators to obtain for their classroom, as I outlined in yesterday’s post. Another reason is that I feel that many of the paid apps have features that can be found in other free apps. However, every once in awhile, I run across a paid app that I think is unique and worth sharing.

I was recently given a promotional code for DragonBox Elements, and decided to test it out. Previously, I had reviewed another app by the same company, DragonBox Algebra 5+, for AppoLearning. (DragonBox 12+ is also available for older students, but I have not tried that one.) I was very impressed by the app, and have recommended it to parents who have young students with a high interest in math.

DragonBox Elements, like the Algebra apps, is designed to teach math “secretly.” The Elements version teaches Geometry (I think they should change the name, as “Elements” made me think that it was a science app), and is aimed at students from 9-11.

The app accommodates up to 4 different players (individually, not at the same time), and has three levels of difficulty. As advertised, it slowly guides you through basic geometric concepts by playing a game. After learning to identify different types of triangles and quadrilaterals, the player begins to “prove” geometric characters into existence. For example, if one is given a triangle that shows two congruent angles, then there must be two congruent sides – making it an isosceles triangle.

None of the concepts are explicitly taught. My daughter, who is 11, had the main complaint that she didn’t feel that she was learning anything. However, when I asked her to explain her actions on a level, she basically gave me the steps of a geometric proof.

Like DragonBox Algebra, DragonBox Elements is a good app to recommend to parents who want to give their children an entertaining, educational app. I think it definitely helps if there is an adult who can ask some guiding questions to aid the child in verbalizing what he or she has learned.

The summer before I started high school, our family moved to Louisiana from Kentucky. My first year of high school was miserable. Not only was I a shy girl who didn’t know a soul, but the Louisiana humidity and classrooms without air-conditioning just about did me in. My Biology teacher spent the majority of each class preaching against pre-marital sex, and the three years I had just spent in Kentucky trying to learn how to dribble and throw a basketball did not impress my new P.E. teacher.

My one saving grace was my Algebra I class. For years, I had struggled in math; I remember many nights in 1st-8th grades arguing with my mother about the right way to do a problem and producing homework papers full of tear stains and erasure holes to my teacher each morning. But, unbeknownst to my new school, I had already had two years of Algebra in 7th and 8th grade. My transcript only showed it as a math class, and so, I was put in Algebra for the 3rd year in a row when I started high school.

By then, I knew all about this x and y stuff. Algebra was, by far, my easiest class that year, and the tears I cried in 9th grade were never over math.

At the end of the year, however, I realized I had made a huge mistake.

My Algebra teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, called me into her office. “I’m recommending you for Honors Geometry next year,” she told me. I was blind-sided. Honors Geometry was for gifted math students. I was not a gifted math student. Had never been, would never be. Where in the world did she get such a crazy idea? Then, I realized the problem.

“Oh, you think I’m good at math because I got good grades this year,” I said. I knew I had to confess. “I only did well because I’ve had Algebra before. I’m not good at math. Really. Especially anything to do with shapes. I would not do well in Honors Geometry, trust me.”

I felt a panic rising in me at this realization that this year of pretending to be what I was not was going to completely backfire on me.

Mrs. O’Brien looked at me. “You are good in math. And you will do well in Honors Geometry. Trust me.” And that was that. With a flick of her wrist, she signed off on the form that would doom me to a Sophomore year littered with math anxiety.

I spent the entire summer before 10th grade consumed in regret at my short-sightedness. I should have done worse in Algebra, pretended I was floundering, gone in for tutoring, kept myself from raising my hand so darn often. Now I would be in for it. But even then, even as I obsessed about this horrible year ahead, I felt a bit proud – it was nice to know that Mrs. O’Brien believed that I could be good in math.

Honors Geometry was taught by Ms. Michele. Ms. Michele was beautiful. Ms. Michele was smart. And Ms. Michele was no-nonsense. She was everything in a teacher that intimidated me.

Except she didn’t intimidate me. When she taught, she used a method that I had never seen before in math. Instead of just telling us what to do, she told us why to do it. For everything there was a logical reason, and when I didn’t understand the reason and timidly raised my hand, she patiently explained it.

In fact, it got to the point where I didn’t have to raise my hand anymore. Ms. Michele would scan the classroom, and pause on my face. “Theresa, I can tell you have a question,” she would say. (I was “Theresa” back then, not “Terri.”) And, instead of despairing at my consistent puzzlement, she would patiently back up and explain the concept a different way.

At the end of the year, I won the award for Honors Geometry. I went on to Honors Algebra II, and then Calculus. I will never pretend that I understood one thing I learned in Calculus, but I did fine, even so. For a girl who “just wasn’t any good at math,” I didn’t do too badly.

Back before there was such a buzz phrase as “Growth Mindset,” I had teachers who believed in me when I did not. They helped me work through mistakes and figure out how to correct them. I had similar experiences in Chemistry and Choir. Even in English, which had always been my strength, I had many moments of doubt and self-hatred. But kind teachers were always there to help me through.

So, during this week of Teacher Appreciation, I would like to thank those women and men at Archbishop Blenk High School who helped me to believe in myself. Ms. Michele and Mrs. O’Brien are two of them. Ms. Collins, Dr. Antoine, and Mrs. McGee also made a difference, along with many others who, I’m sorry to say, I cannot remember all of these years later. Thank you to all of you who devoted your time and effort to the education of the girls at Archbishop Blenk High School. I’m sure I expressed my gratitude when I graduated, but I want you to know that, even now, I am so thankful for the part you played in my life.

Don’t be mislead by the title of this site. You are not required to download any software, and the math resources here are fun and free. Although primarily designed for middle and high school students, there seem to be a lot of activities that could be used in upper elementary – and it would be a great site to refer to for extension activities.

The first thing I discovered when exploring the site was the “Starter of the Day” link, which gives a mathematical brain teaser for each day of the month. Below is the example for today:

Shine + Write has many activities that would be great to use with an interactive white board. This “True or False” game, for example, takes some thought. Fun Maths has a page of games and math tricks that will be sure to entertain. Investigations offers challenges that might be good for gifted math students to work on independently.

There are many other links on Transum Software that you may find useful. If you are looking for a way to make math class more exciting, I highly recommend checking out this site.

GoldieBlox, the company devoted to encourage more females to develop interest in STEM, has had its controversies. But I think they’ve done an excellent job with their latest PSA, a video that parodies the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign. The ad creatively shows the use of its toys to highlight the entertainment value of engineering and design. However, it also sprinkles in some sobering facts about the relatively low participation of our gender in engineering careers. I like that GoldieBlox offers explanations, resources, and links about each of these facts on its site.

For more information on STEM resources for girls, you might want to visit my recent post on Women Role Models, or this one that gives several links to books, games, and sites.

In the fortuitous way that things seem to often happen in my life, I spent a fabulous Saturday morning with my daughter at a free event designed to spark girls’ interest in all things STEM related, then 24 hours later stumbled across a “Women Role Models” video on We the Geeks that reinforced all of my strong feelings about this topic.

We the Geeks is a series of Google Hangouts sponsored by the White House. The purpose is “to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation here in the United States. “

In the latest episode, “Women Role Models,” several female guests are interviewed (you can see the guest list below), and give their insight on how to encourage more girls to pursue scientific careers. Many of the guests mention how influential their teachers and teachers were in stimulating their interest in science. What I heard repeated several times, though, was how important the excitement of the adult mentors can be. One guest said, “If you have an excited teacher, you’re going to be excited about it.” Another guest advised that parents should “learn with the kids… stay excited with them.” The latter point is key because, as she pointed out, if parents show that they are intimidated by science and math, that “trickles down” to the children.

Some of the other past episodes of We the Geeks have included: “Celebrating Black History Month,” “Student Startups,” and “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something.” I haven’t watched any of the other videos, yet, but they all look pretty intriguing.

Mathigon is a website that explores and displays the true beauty of mathematics. The site is relatively new, and still has some parts that are under construction. However, there are plenty of features that are ready to use right now.

Mathigon includes an e-book called World of Mathematics that can also be downloaded as a Chrome app. It is full of wonderful information, activities, and animations.

Along with its e-book, Mathigon currently provides 6 other slideshows and activities, with 3 more that are “under development.” My favorite two of the completed projects are, “Alice in FractalLand” and “Maths Treasure Hunt.” The second one offers resources for teachers and wonderful graphic printables to engage upper elementary and/or secondary students.

“Alice in FractalLand” is a delightful slide show that uses footage from the Disney film and integrates some of what I term “Masterpieces of Mathematics.” The Fibonacci sequence, Pascal’s triangle, and fractals are all included in this digital adventure. (If you would like some other resources for these topics, here are some links to posts I have done in the past: Fibonacci, Mensa for Kids, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Nature By Numbers. You also might be interested in this Rainbow Loom Fibonacci link that I recently got from the fabulous TechChef4U.)

Got a student fascinated with origami? Try Mathigon’s “Mathematical Origami” link. (You can click on the “i” underneath each picture for folding instructions.)

Or perhaps you want to show the applications of mathematics in various careers, including sports? Try Mathigon’s“Panorama” tool.

For anyone who has a passion for math – or even shows potential for a passion for math – Mathigon is a site that will be welcomed and enjoyed.