Math is often one of the most difficult subjects for students. Math is often one of the most difficult subjects for students. Math is often one of the most difficult subjects for students. (Photo: Rawpixel / Shutterstock)

New math tool encourages kids to discover their own solutions

Self-discovery is the guiding principle of Matific, an app that helps kids learn math themselves.

For many kids and teachers, the process of learning and teaching math is daunting. But what if instead of having to “learn” math, which often involves a lot of memorizing, kids could “discover” math themselves, as if for the first time?

Matific is a new app from Israeli startup SlateScience to be used in the classroom and at home not to teach math, but to give children the opportunity to discover mathematic solutions on their own.

The company was founded by a diverse group of specialists in education, mathematics, gaming and software development. The group includes computer science professor Simon Schocken, the founding dean of the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, and mathematician Raz Kupferman, the former head of the Einstein Institute of Math at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They're guided by the principles put forth by Jean Piaget, the acclaimed Swiss psychologist who was also an expert in early math education.

“Piaget taught us, among other things, that whenever we teach children something new, we deny them the opportunity and the pleasure of discovering this thing on their own,” said Schocken.

While there is no shortage of math apps on the market these days, it’s the concept of self-discovery that sets Matific apart. The app contains hundreds of real-world problems suited to kids in grades K-6 presented in a blended learning approach.

Matific episodes blend a variety of skills, including counting, addition and subtraction, critical thinking and patterns.Matific episodes blend a variety of skills, including counting, addition and subtraction, critical thinking and patterns.

Kids don’t just learn addition or subtraction in an isolated problem. Matific calls these problems “episodes,” and each one blends a variety of skills – addition and subtraction, problem solving, patterns and creative thinking to name just a few.

In one episode, kids are asked to put seven beads on a necklace, and to do so, they’re given two (virtual) bowls of beads, one orange and one green. There’s no one right answer. In fact, there are 128 different solutions to allow different kids to come up their own solutions, all of which are correct.

“We believe that our role as teachers is to empower children to use mathematics using their own devices. And when we say devices, we mean not only their laptops and tablets, but their cognitive devices,” said Schocken.

There are two versions of Matific – one is available in the app store for home use, and another is available for teachers to use in the classroom. The classroom platform is available in 20 languages, and the company says some 2.5 million episodes are played each month.

“Matific proposes a large variety of problems, many of which haven’t been taught to the students yet. Therefore, they look at math in a different way, taking on different strategies to solve it," said Claudia Mileo, coordinator at a school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "This new way of relating to math, taking the answers out of the teacher's hands, means you believe kids can solve the problems and value that what they don't know is something that they can achieve on their own."

Matific is free for teachers to use in schools, and there is a premium version for use at home. The company is also vying for the XPRIZE, a global learning competition funded in part by Elon Musk, which is aiming to advance early education in third world countries. If selected, Matific would be one of five app-based education solutions to be translated to Swahili and deployed in some 30 villages in East Africa.

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