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:

DragonBox – Puzzle School Review

@puzzleschool

The Puzzle School

*App Reviews, Education, Puzzles, The Puzzle School*

jean-baptiste

June 13, 2012

Hi Jared, I am sorry the game frustrates you : ) I suspect this question about the whys will be recurrent, and that s my guess that it will be difficult to say who s right or wrong. There is not One mathematics. There is no truth. Each of us has a subjective view of what mathematics is and how to use it, or how to enjoy it. I presented mathematics as I see math. Abstract. Rules, objects, relations. There are no whys, it is a pure game and I accept the rules. The beauty of math is that it is a consistent set of rules, actually the basics for a good game. We could change the rules, but it could be difficult to find a set of coherent rules. Many professional mathematicians I discussed with tell me the game reflects the way they see maths. It doesnt mean it is the right way to look at it. But it is one way, as defendable as yours : ) Your frustration points to an important fact that teachers will teach maths as they see it. Different schools, different ways of looking at the world or imagining the world… no truth, just different expectations, and different questions. Dont know if what i write makes sense ?

irrationaljared

June 13, 2012

Jean-Baptiste,

You may be missing my point a bit. I’m not trying to achieve some statement of truth.

DragonBox does a good job of making math feel like it should feel, as a puzzle that requires creativity to solve and is fun. As math gets more and more abstract this ends up being what most professional mathematicians do and that is fine.

I would prefer, though, that we try to create puzzles that expose the applications of the tools and not just the tools. So rather than simply knowing that certain things cancel each other out in an equation, tying that information back to the real world so it doesn’t feel so arbitrary. The way it is DragonBox just presents these rules with no context. At a higher level algebra itself is presented through the game with no context. It’s likely that a student will walk away from the game neither understanding why the rules (such as positives and negatives cancelling each other out) are the rules or what they can do with their new knowledge of algebra in the real world.

It’s not really a criticism of the game, but more feedback about how I think it could be improved.

As it is I am already recommending it to people 😉

irrationaljared

June 14, 2012

I should also note that I think it is ok for the “why” to come later. If you learn how to do something effectively enough through pattern matching then it can make it easier for a deeper understanding of what is going on to come later.

By building up your knowledge and strategies of solving these algebraic equations first it provides more context when a more complete explanation is provided.

Harald Solheim

May 23, 2013

What I find amazing is that DragonBox actually uses algebra (Rules, elements, relations) as the starting point for teaching elementary algebra instead of starting with arithmetics (1+1=2). This is what abstract algebra really is; a set of arbitrary rules, and it just so happens to be that different sets of rules are useful in different domains.

jean

April 27, 2013

dragonbox 12+ out now, much more comprehensive. Starts off the same 2 chapters and then parenthesis, signs factoring …

David Collins

January 24, 2014

I agree completely.

I’ve created my own algebra game here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/algebalance/id662409244?ls=1&mt=8

It aims to actually teach an understanding of algebra and why you’re doing it, while still remaining fun!