October 15, 2014

Hungry Fish Math App

What makes a good app? This is a question that is often asked, by educators and parents. There are numerous rubrics for reviewing and lists by subject and age. We have found that we focus our use at Rowe School on a few apps that have a range of skills that fit our standards, utilize the touch screen and movement features of the iPad, adjust with the student as s/he learns and supports individual progress through the learning for the many students who share iPads.

This fall we are teaching first grade students to use Hungry Fish independently for building number sense and an understanding of the process of addition. As concrete learners they are building on many experiences of seeing quantities combined and put together to make smaller amounts into larger amounts. The process of memorizing addition facts and moving beyond counting single items is a cognitive development that is a fascinating process and one that takes each child on their own path of accomplishment.

How does Hungry Fish fit into this learning process? A student sees a fish with a total on it and bubbles come onto the screen with numbers on each one. In the screen shown above, the student would use a finger to move the 1 bubble to the 2 bubble (or vice versa) and they blend into one bubble showing the value of 3. The fish pursues bubbles that match the amount shown on the fish or students move the bubble toward the mouth of the fish. The fish responds to being "fed" bubbles by getting larger, if no bubbles are available with the correct amount then the fish gets smaller and smaller until a message comes up asking the student to try again.

There are many aspects of this "app" that make good use of the features of the iPad. The colors are vibrant and appealing, the students are drawn to the friendly looking fish and they like taking care of it by feeding it. There is pleasant music in the background, or in a busy classroom the sound can be off and it doesn't affect the use of the app. The student is making something happen on the screen by combining numbers and visualizing amounts that could be put together. There isn't any timer operating, bubbles appear and fade in a random fashion that keeps students interested. At times I have found that I want to prompt the students to always combine two bubbles to make the "correct" answer. The more I have watched them play I have realized that there is value in combining and seeing the results of the combinations, whether they match the fish or not. The motivation of feeding the fish and moving on to a new fish seems to have an effect all by itself of moving students to match the amount on the fish whenever they can.

One of the goals of our use of iPads is developing independent learners who can use an app and adjust it to an appropriate level for their own learning. Each time a student completes a fish the app moves up in difficulty level. Students learn what the best level is for them to work effectively on the math learning and how to reset it when it moves ahead too quickly. This video clip shows a few seconds of student interaction with the app.

On a random basis the students are given the option to change the colors on the fish when they finish some of the screens. While this may seem like a waste of time during math lesson it is very motivating for students and it encourages them to think about color, design and creative choices. 

The app includes a version of addition that has a fish that is an adversary to the hungry fish. This fish eats any combination that is not a match for the hungry fish and if it gets large enough it eats the hungry fish. This game doesn't appeal to all, but for some it is a choice that adds a challenge of accuracy that they are ready for an keeps them engaged. As they are ready students can move to the other operations: Subtraction, Multiplication and Division.

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