Even though I would absolutely recommend DragonBox, it still frustrates me.
The main reason is that, in order to teach algebra, they’ve had to strip out all of the “why”. The game abstracts algebra (which is already an abstraction of the real world) to the point that it’s unlikely that someone will walk away from it with any understanding of why it works the way it does. They would only understand that the two cards that are the same and are on top of each other cancel out, but not why that’s the case, simply that that’s how it works.
I’m not sure traditional education does a much better job of explaining the “why” so I would still recommend DragonBox.
In the end DragonBox is fun and engaging and does teach the rules of algebra effectively. It also teaches the strategies of how to use the rules, treating algebra like the fun and engaging puzzle it is. It teaches students to look at an equation as a puzzle that needs to be solved instead of just arcane scribbling.
Learning the rules of how to solve an equation is a useful skill, but I would much rather have students figure out the rules through the game rather than be presented with the rules. If they’re given the chance to figure out the rules then they’re more likely to understand why the rules work. With DragonBox it’s less likely that that will happen.
Ideally the learning would more closely correlate to the real world as well. Most traditional education doesn’t do a very good job with this as well, so I can’t fault DragonBox too much in this area, but I would much rather see a game that leaves students with an understanding of how to do something in the real world, not just memorization of what must seem like arbitrary rules to a student, but which are actually rules derived from useful mathematical applications.
In the end both knowing the rules and understanding the strategies that help you solve equations is a good thing. The fact that they’ve created an engaging puzzle that helps you accomplish this makes it easy to recommend even if it could be better.
More on DragonBox here: