A few months ago, I reviewed a cute math app titled Sum! that uses a brilliant approach to teach addition and subtraction. It uses number monsters to reflect a number: the larger the number, the larger the monster. You can slice a larger monster to produce smaller monsters, or combine two smaller monsters to create a larger one.
Over the weekend, my sons and I have been playing with the latest app in the DragonBox series called DragonBox Numbers. It extends the approach to addition and subtraction in Sum! into full-blown puzzles and challenging levels.
If this is the first time your kids have ever played with a concept of addition and subtraction by combining or cutting number monsters — called nooms — I’d suggest you start with the Sandbox option first. It’s a playful and intuitive way to introduce these concepts.
DragonBox Numbers has two main gameplay modes: The Puzzles and The Ladder. In the Puzzles mode, you match the nooms with the numbered placeholders. Each number indicates how tall the nooms are supposed to be. Once you have completed all the numbered placeholders, the game will reveal a hidden picture and reward you with some coins.
There are 30 groups of puzzles in all, with each group consisting of nine puzzles. Each puzzle is locked initially; you unlock them with the coins you earned in-game. As the game progresses, the puzzles will be more difficult and require more coins to unlock. For example, you may start with empty placeholders, then move to placeholders with numbers and/or icons before finishing with numbers as the placeholders themselves. This is a way for you to progress from unit concept to numbers and icons.
In the early levels, you may be playing with a single pipe dispensing nooms worth one. But later in the game, you may be playing with two pipes dispensing nooms worth eight and three. When that happens, you may need to slice and combine rooms several times before you can reach the number you like.
Another example shows how a certain type of pipe may require you to tap repeatedly to make it dispense a particular noom. Tapping it thrice would yield a three-noom, for example. And finally, you may be looking at puzzles that no longer adhere to horizontal/vertical line patterns to construct the hidden picture. Instead, it will use irregular shapes as long as they are connected.
When you play the entire groups of puzzles, you will see themed pictures such as animals, vehicles, food, flags, aliens, buildings, and landscapes. You can also play a puzzle several times to unlock up to three stars. This is a good way to collect more stars and get more reward coins.
In the Ladder mode, you will be building one specific noom by combining several of them. But, you have to be careful. As you try reach a particular height — which can be as high as 100 — you need to avoid bombs that are planted on your way there.
For example, if the star is put on the number 50, and there are bombs on every numbers except for 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50; you may need to create five batches of tens. Then, you install them one by one, in order to avoid the bombs.
Other challenges may require you to grab a key first, before you can reveal where the star is. It’s like a two-step process of clearing the goals. Based on my experience, it’d be easier to start with the Puzzles first before playing with the Ladder mode.
Parents Need to Know
If you’re familiar with the other games in the DragonBox, such as DragonBox Algebra and DragonBox Elements, you’d sense the same pedagogical principles applied in this app. You will feel that the learning curve is well-designed and the math concepts are introduced in a subtle way. And as you progress through the games, all of a sudden you’d understand the math concepts without actually feeling that you’re learning.
Based on its content, I believe DragonBox Numbers can be enjoyed by kids ages 3+. It starts with the basic concept of mapping numbers to placeholders, adding them one by one, and moving onto the more strategic approach of building a particular number.
DragonBox Numbers works great without an Internet connection. It doesn’t have any in-app purchases, third-party ads, or links to social networks.
Things I Like
I have always believed that kids learn most when they’re having fun. Through the various activities and challenges, DragonBox Numbers have proven that kids can grow from not knowing the basic addition and subtraction concepts to loving the entire math subject.
Kids can even learn the concepts of number units — such as thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones — from the game menus. Because each level is locked unless you put the correct amount of coins in, kids can learn how to pay that amount. They can either put the coins one at a time or speed up the process by using the coin in the tens, hundreds, or thousands, and let the game gives back the differences.
When you’re playing with the puzzles, you may notice that some of the numbers have tiny stars surrounding them. They’re markers for bonus completions that you will get when you build those numbers. For example, if you build a number and fit it in the starry placeholders, the game will randomly find 2-6 other placeholders and complete them as a bonus.
And if you plan it correctly, you can see a nice chain reaction involving enough starry placeholders to complete the puzzle automatically. My suggestion is to work on the smaller numbers first, and let the bigger numbers be completed as a bonus from the starry placeholders. Combined with the occasional number tracing practice that will also yield auto-completion of the incomplete placeholders, you can complete a puzzle relatively quickly.
DragonBox Numbers demonstrates how learning can be made as fun as possible. Addition is as simple as one number monster eating another, whereas subtraction is the same as you’re cutting a larger number monster into two smaller ones. The puzzles and ladder challenges help kids to apply these skills to solve the problems at hand. They also help to show how flexible math is because you can use different ways to come to a solution. With hundreds of puzzles and challenges, your kids will definitely practice their skills tens, if not hundreds, of thousands times.
App was provided for our honest review.