Mathletics as a PLE

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This page originally authored by Jesse Costello and Alex Lemon (2014).

Screen Shot of Mathletics.com

Introduction

Mathleticsis a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) application used by millions of students world wide. Mathletics is a web based application that is designed to support and augment the curriculum in a fun student led environment. Currently, Mathletics provides Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum aligned content for 23 countries around the world. Students have the choice of competing head to head with other students from around the word with Live Mathletics, accessing the Full Curriculum section, and as needed using the Help Centre to receive animated lessons for each area of the curriculum. Mathletics awards points which can be used to customize the students’ avatars as well as medals for completing challenges. Users pay a subscription to access the Mathletics site, commonly through a school or individual classroom.

Background

3P Learning launched Mathletics in 2005 and now claim to have more than 3.5 million students and more than 10000 schools worldwide.[1] Mathletics was designed to support both learning and competitive mathematical games for school aged children. Originally developed in Australia, Mathletics is now also available in North America, Asia, and Europe.[2] Subscriptions can be purchased by individuals, families, classrooms, or schools. Along with Mathletics, 3P Learning as also has three other applications. Spelladrome, Reading Eggs, and IntoScience.

Design and Engagement

Face Maker Screenshot

Mathletics designed an attractive easy to use interface for its users. It has been designed to be easily accessible for a wide range of students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Each user creates an avatar for their online persona, which is called a ‘Mathlete’. The avatar can be changed and upgraded through the Face Maker feature by buying upgrades with credits. Users earn credits for getting correct answers and high scores. More credits are available in the courses than in Live Mathletics. The site is colourful and bright and uses cartoon imagery for the characters and the avatars. It is likely an appealing site for school aged children to use.

Live Mathletics Screenshot

Once the Mathlete has created their avatar they have the choice of either working through curriculum aligned courses or participating in Live Mathletics. The curriculum section also has links to short animated videos for help if the section is too difficult. The Mathlete is also able to increase or decrease the difficulty of the problems as needed. Users receive feedback from each question they answer. As well, as students’ complete sections, the progress bar on their activity page will change from blue to gold once a percentage of eighty-five percent is reached for each assignment, if the Mathlete scores below fifty-percent, the bar will turn red. This can visually help students choose an appropriate level of difficulty. Teachers and parents also have the ability to see results and adjust difficulty. Teachers can also assign sections that aligns with what the class is learning in the classroom. The students can then complete reinforcing questions that they can do without the restrictions that are in a classroom. If a concept is unclear they can watch sample problems that teach the concepts again, likely in a different way than the classroom teacher taught. The feedback and available help can be a big advantage over traditional pen and paper homework.

As well, Mathletes can choose Live Mathletics, which is a live networked one minute challenge to answer as many questions correct before getting 3 wrong. The Mathletes can choose to compete against users from around the world or if they prefer locally. Mathletics will help to sort Mathletes to compete against other users of similar abilities. Live Mathletics also has 10 levels of difficulty which the Mathlete is able to choose which they would like to use. This option offers quick basic math skills practice in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. By level 10, the problems are quite difficult, while level 1 questions are very basic. Mathletics affords Mathletes to personalize the difficulty and the pace they would like.

Activity Page Screenshot

Mathletics has also designed a Teacher Centre which allows the educator to individualize the content for each student and to generate reports on students use and accuracy. Teachers are able to see how long students were active on Mathletics. As well, teachers can see how many mistakes the students had in each area. The program will also create reports that detail the strengths and weaknesses of the users. Teachers also have access to lesson plans, videos, printable booklets, and tests. Many teachers will assign a section in the curriculum portion that matches with the classroom work. This will force the students to complete the section, with a score of 85% or higher which will unlock all of the Mathletics choices.

Affordances and Limitations

Along with the physical affordances largely described in the previous section, Mathletics also affords users motivation to play, teachers’ needs for educational resources and results, and parents’ ambitions for their child’s internet use and academic success. Students like the playful portions of Mathletics, especially Live Mathletics, earning credits, and spending credits in order to modify their profiles. By creating an environment that is game like and interactive, the Mathletes will also learn skills needed to use and participate in Web 2.0 technologies. Nansen et al. found that. “[Mathletics] engenders multiple forms and modes of learning to occur, including digital culture and Web 2.0 skills, which exceed the direct application task or more authorized uses” [3]

Another affordance of Mathletics is the ability of the users to adjust and personalize their learning. Within one cohort of students it is possible for one advanced learning to have progressed through to higher grade content, while another user could move to a grade lower in order to learn basic skills before moving back to harder content. Users can adjust the curriculum based courses as well as the difficulty of the Live Mathletics questions.

A limitation of Mathletics is that while there are aspects of Web. 2.0 in the application, the program is largely locked down, and only a few interactive options are available to the Mathletes. While 3P Learning continuously updates Mathletics with new questions and content in the Face Maker section, users are unable to make changes or suggest new problems or questions. Perhaps another section could be developed that focuses on student created problems and solutions. This hypothetical section would be closer aligned to constructivist theory and would make Mathletics much more interactive and potentially more motivating as others work on puzzles the students themselves developed.

A major drawback to the program from a constructivist lens is that the users cannot contact each other through the program. Interaction with others is restricted to competing online with Live Mathletics and viewing other users’ profiles. There would likely be a benefit to learning if users could comment on sections, asking questions or giving tips to others, this could allow the students to learn together, increasing the total amount of information on the application. As an educator of young children I can see why users are unable to contact each other. There is a safety risk involved with open and unmonitored communication with children.

Stop Motion Animation

Connections to Literature

Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vytgosky defined the concept of the 'Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) as an “‘actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving’ and the higher level of ‘potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.’" [4] Mathletics includes customization features that allow educators to target their students’ ZPD. Shell et al. and Tomlinson also suggest that finding the correct level of difficulty for content is a critical factor in how efficiently new concepts are learned. Students need to feel challenged, that effort is necessary and that it will likely lead to success. [5][6] This level is achieved when students require “support structures” in order to move towards an independent level of understanding. [7] Mathletics provides this support through access to short animated support videos as well as detailed interactive lessons. Individually prescribed lessons can be selected for students within a single class through the “Teacher Center” feature. [8] Nansen et al. indicates that Mathletics was specifically designed to teach math and allow learners to move at their own level and pace. [9] Educators can take advantage of students’ prior knowledge determined in part by Mathletics assessments to ensure that Mathletics activities are appropriately challenging.

Motivation

Motivation is directly tied to the amount of effort individuals put into the learning process. [10] Students using Mathletics have been motivated to continue using the application outside of school for homework and for fun. [11] This is a positive development for Mathletics as there is evidence that motivation improves the ability to transfer information from working memory to long-term memory. [12] In order to be effective, Small claims that learning tasks need to be “engaging” and “meaningful” for students, to give them the best opportunity for learning to take place. [13] Mathletics provides a student-friendly animated interface that promotes engagement and motivation to take part in the activities. Customizable avatars also help to boost motivation for students, as they use the application in order to collect points that can used to buy avatar upgrades. Obtaining these upgrades and completing various skill levels act as goals for many users of Mathletics. Goals are an important aspect of motivation as they encourage individuals to put forward effort to attain their goals. [14]

Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction

Personalized learning and differentiated instruction involve educators that can adapt or customize learning opportunities to more closely connect to students individual needs in areas such as: “interest,” “readiness” and “learning profile." [15] Foremost, these types of learning environments must be student centered. [16] Aspects of Mathletics are closely tied to these aspects of personalized learning and differentiated instruction. Mathletics allows for classes to be set up that can still be adjusted to reflect the specific needs of individuals within that class. This is consistent with the direction that many different educational reform movements are heading in attempting to provide students with an education that addresses their specific “abilities, interests and communities. [17]

Learning Through Play

Karl Groos was the first person, in 1896, to suggest that play was really a means of learning and practicing a range of skills that we would need later in life. [18] Students involved with Mathletics describe playful elements of the application such as Live Mathletics competitions, earning credits, and customizing profiles as some of key factors in the enjoyment of the program. [19] Mathletics is designed to allow interaction between users as well as to provide opportunities for users to express their individuality. Nansen et al. described these forms of play as “intuitive” and “pleasurable.” [20] The possibility of having fun while learning is a highly motivating way of engaging young people as active participants in the learning process. Vygotsky has suggested that play also helps young people to learn how to navigate social situations and reach their potential. [21] Students that are motivated by positive emotions and have previously felt successful, achieved goals and obtained rewards are more likely to put effort into the learning process. [22]

Web 2.0

Ian Watson describes the concept of Web 2.0, a term first used by Nancy DiNucci in 1999, as a system that is based on the principles of “participation, user-generated content, sharing, collaboration, and linking virtual communities. [23] Mathletics is web-based and is designed to allow users to customize their profiles, complete guided math activities, receive feedback and interact in real-time with other users from around the world. Students using Mathletics work on math skills tied to curriculum but also work on skills necessary for navigating an evolving digital culture. These include basic skills such as typing, using applications and becoming more proficient with computers in general. It also includes skills such as multitasking, problem solving and collaborating with others online. [24] The ability to participate and interact with the application in these ways supports the notion that Mathletics is a Web 2.0 platform. By incorporating the appearance, language and functionality of a Web 2.0 platform into the design of the application, Mathletics has gained greater buy-in from parents, teachers and students. [25]

Notes

Citations

  1. (3P Learning. (n.d.)In Mathletics. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from mathletics.com)
  2. (3P Learning. (n.d.)In Mathletics. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from mathletics.com)
  3. (Nansen et al., 2012, p. 1221)
  4. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86)
  5. (Shell et al., 2010)
  6. (Tomlinson, 1999)
  7. (More, 2004, p. 43)
  8. (Nansen et al., 2012, p. 1220)
  9. (2012)
  10. (Shell, et al., 2010)
  11. (Nansen, et. al., 2012)
  12. (Shell, et al., 2010)
  13. (Small, 2000, p. 29)
  14. (Shell, et al., 2010)
  15. (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 11)
  16. (Tomlinson, 1999; Ferguson, 2001; Bush, 2006)
  17. (Ferguson, 2001, p. 7)
  18. (Cohen, 2006)
  19. (Nansen et al., 2012)
  20. (Nansen, 2012, p. 1231)
  21. (Singer, 2006)
  22. (Shell, et al., 2010)
  23. (Watson, 2012, p. 256)
  24. (Nansen et al., 2012)
  25. (Nasen et al., 2012)

References

  • 3P Learning. (n.d.)In Mathletics. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from mathletics.com.
  • Bush, G. (2006). Differentiated Instruction. School Library Monthly, 23(3), 43-45.
  • Cohen, David. (2006). The Development Of Play. Routledge. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from <http://www.myilibrary.com?ID=72102>
  • Ferguson, D. L. (2001). Designing personalized learning for every student. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Moore, S. A. (2004). Theoretical and practical perspectives on vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development. (Order No. 3128283, Illinois State University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
  • Nansen, B., Chakraborty, K., Gibbs, L., Vetere, F., & MacDougall, C. (2012). ‘You do the math’: Mathletics and the play of online learning. New Media & Society, 14(7), 1216-1235.
  • Shell, D., Brooks, D., Trainin, G., Wilson, K., Kauffman, D., & Herr, L. (2010). The Unified Learning Model. In (pp. 1-4). Springer Netherlands. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-3215-7_1
  • Singer, Dorothy G.;Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick. (2006). Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children's Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from <http://www.myilibrary.com?ID=84641>
  • Small, R. (2000). Motivation in instructional design. Teacher Librarian, 27(5), 29-31.
  • Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Watson, I. (2012). The Universal Machine: From the Dawn of Computing to Digital Consciousness. Copernicus Books. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from http://books.google.ca/books?id=jlmVKZ1psCkC

External Links

mathletics.ca
3plearning.com