March 3, 2009 -- When shopping online at places like Amazon and Netflix, you may have noticed that the sites have an uncanny ability to make relevant recommendations for you based on what you've purchased before.
By using a similar recommendation engine, "DreamBox Learning K-2 Math," an online math game for kids ages 5-7, can watch how a child plays math games and provide new content according to what's observed.
"We've taken a recommendation engine and put it on steroids," said Sarah Daniels, vice president of marketing for DreamBox Learning.
The recommendation engine, patented as GuideRight technology, watches every motion the child makes while playing the game, and then adjusts on the fly to present kids with a math curriculum that is most appropriate for them. With more than 350 math activities to choose from, the game can present more than a million different paths.
Parents set up an account for their child by going to www.dreambox.com. The game can be tried for free for two weeks, and thereafter it costs $12.95 per month. If you buy a six-month subscription, the rate drops to $8.33 per month. A subscription is for one child, but sibling discounts are offered.
This game can be played online with no download, so that it can work on any computer with high-speed Internet access.
Kids Choose Their Adventures
To start, the kids choose an avatar from 36 possibilities and then select one of four adventure themes that include dinosaurs, pirates, pets and pixies. An avatar is a cartoon that represents the children's virtual identity. Kids enter this cartoon world by moving along a path that resembles a game board, with each space representing a math activity.
At any time, kids have a choice of several different activities to explore, with all directions spoken out loud. As they play, the game constantly assesses their math knowledge, gaming ability, need for hints, and pace, and then presents a sequence of activities that is appropriate.
Not only does "Dreambox Learning" individualize a child's learning, but the math engages the child in building the correct solution, usually by using virtual math manipulatives. This game play is not about clicking on the right answer, but rather about making the right answer. For example, in one activity, kids will be asked to help build math flashcards.
'Dashboard' Lets Parents Review Their Childs' Progress
The game offers math counters (groups of little moveable dots), which kids drag over to a grid called a Tenframe. The GuideRight engine watches carefully to see how the child constructs these flashcards, and uses that information to present the next set of lessons.
If a child makes the number "5" by dragging one group of five connected counters instead of dragging one counter at a time five times, that child is further along in the math curriculum and the game adjusts accordingly.
Kids are motivated to play the math activities because in doing so, they move the story along. They also earn certificates of achievement and coins that can be used to play carnival games.
For parents, the game provides a substantial "Dashboard" where they can review their child's progress. The Dashboard explains the goal of each curriculum module and shows how well the child is doing, as well as which curriculum topics the child was able to skip, if relevant. The game will also e-mail parents with tips about how to reinforce math in everyday life.
"DreamBox Learning K-2 Math" creates a powerful learning experience because it is so personalized. The game's ability to adjust on the fly to add more help, or skip over areas already mastered, is extraordinary. It's like having your own personal math tutor inside a game.
Because of this adaptive presentation, it is good for all kids in the targeted age range. If a child is very good at math, he or she will revel in the challenges presented. Likewise, if a child is struggling, this game knows to offer the math concept in different ways, or, if necessary, to back off from a too-difficult concept and explore it again later.
"Dreambox Learning K-2 Math" is great for any family who likes to use the computer for learning. It would also work well in after-school programs or even in schools.
RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)Best for ages 5-7From DreamBox Learning, www.dreambox.com, $12.95/month, Win/Mac with Broadband Internet connection.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for USA Today.com and Gannett News Service, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids (www.ComputingWithKids.com ).