Monday, August 16, 2010

dreambox_logo

While I was complaining about certain features of Time4Learning, a commenter recommended another online program for learning math – Dreambox. As our Time4Learning trial time was approaching the end, I was curious to see how Anna will react to this very different approach, so I signed up for 14 day free trial of DreamBox. First of all, I was very impressed with how easy and painless the trial sign up was – no strings attached and available to everyone. From my professional experience I can attest that it’s not as easy as it sounds. We have played Dreambox for 3 days now, and here are our initial impressions:

Pros:

  • 1. This program is really set up as a game, in some way similar to JumpStart 3D, but with easier navigation and more limited choices (in my mind limited choices are better for a younger set, even though as an adult I certainly like to explore virtual worlds at will). My daughter who is 3 years 9 months now had never really played “walking games” on the computer, but it only took her about 10 minutes to figure out how to navigate in this world.
  • 2. Game graphics is great, instructions are clear, and the pace is good. I loved the virtual manipulatives, it’s almost like actually using a math rack (which we don’t have at home) and a ten-frame for real.
  • 3. Both Anna and I enjoyed Carnival section of the game, especially The Maze. Usually I dislike “distractions” in learning games, but this one is well integrated into the rest of curriculum and does encourage problem solving and decision making.
  • 4. I liked that the game has “Parent mode”. Parents can try the game on their own, get some explanations behind each option, and the scores and activities of children will not be affected by this preview. Very cleverly done!
  • 5. I like the idea of adaptive approach even though we didn’t play long enough yet to see it in action. Unfortunately, my daughter still finds it funny to make intentional mistakes to see what happens, so I don’t think that she will benefit from placement tasks.
  • 6. I also liked Parent Dashboard and all the additional resources. I hope that Dreambox team will keep up good work and expand this section in the future.

Cons:

  • 1. Not a replacement for math curriculum! To Dreambox credit they never claim to teach anything even though they certainly do. As their own site explains, “our balanced approach will enrich and deepen what is being learned in school, no matter what curriculum is being taught.”
  • 2. The game only covers “Number and operations”, which is an important part of math curriculum, but only a part of it. As far as I can tell looking at a curriculum overview, there are no activities involving money, measurements, geometry or probability. So even if a child completes the game entirely, it doesn’t mean that he/she really mastered math program of the first three grades.
  • 3. Some games are a bit too long, at least for my not-quite-4-year-old. I’d say that her attention span is pretty good for an average preschooler, but by the end of each task she starts fidgeting and says that the game is boring, because the questions seem repetitive to her. I am not sure if the game adapts the number of questions by counting the number of questions answered correctly – I didn’t notice any correlation between her performance and the number of questions asked during each game task.
  • 4. Even though the program is rather engaging and daughter loves it at the moment, I perceive it to be expensive for what it has to offer. If I compare it to Time4Learning, Dreambox is definitely a lot more visually appealing, but it doesn’t offer the same depth or coverage while the monthly price is pretty close.
  • 5. Rewards could be more meaningful or could be eliminated by configuration change. From time to time the game offers rewards for completing games. They can be game tokens or “adventure friends”. Considering that most Carnival games are free, I don’t see a lot of point in game tokens, and “adventure friends” are actually just game cards that are not appealing to my daughter. We can argue whether rewards are even necessary, but if the game offers rewards, I rather like JumpStart 3D idea of enhancing the character (allowing to “buy” clothes or other things for the character).

I am curious to see how the rest of our trial unfolds. I do expect Anna to “hit the wall” eventually, since, again, this is a “reinforcing” program, not a “teaching” program. I wonder how she is going to react then – will she be motivated to learn more about the topic or just refuse it once the going gets tough? Since I only allow her to play 2-3 game tasks a day, we might not hit the wall in the next 10 days. Then I will have to see how much Anna begs to play it – I just might to buy a month to see how far she can go.

I am linking this review to Math Links at Joyful Learner.

11 comments:

TheRockerMom said...

I'm glad to hear that Robbie isn't the only one who loves to choose the wrong answer just to see what happens. I am annoyed with programs/sites that seem to make the corrective reaction more interesting that the affirmative one. Thanks for sharing! I had never heard of Dreambox. We will be starting our free trial at Time4Learning very soon.

Joyful Learner said...

I have yet to jump on board with on-line math games. Maybe give or take a few more years and I'll come back to experiment. Thanks for the review. I'll keep Dreambox and Time4Learning in mind.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I hope you'll post a follow up review, after you've reached the end of the free trial. These are very helpfull - I always think all programs look great to begin with, so it's nice to get an outside opinion :)

Christy said...

I love your reviews. We are currently reviewing JumpStart 3D. Maybe we'll try this program if you like it in the end.

Ticia said...

You can add my kids to the deliberately do the wrong thing to see the funny response.

Sounds like if my kids ever get tired of jumpstart we can switch to the other. Though I have to admit they still love it, and they'd probably hate that you can't change your character, that's one of their favorite parts. But the less choices would be useful.

My Family My Forever said...

Joe just completed our trial for Dreambox last week. I agree with you on the "not a curriculum replacement", and I feel it is a good supplement. It has been fun to use in our time off from school, but not something I will be purchasing simply because of it's price. I agree with all of your pros.

We are also doing the trial for Headsprout right now. Have you tried that one?

Debbie said...

I am with you, that while Selena enjoys playing Dreambox it is not a curriculum. I doubt we will be paying for this math program. I like it over Time4Learning as it keeps Selena more engaged, well, she would sit and play for hours if I let her. She hasn't figured out the wrong answer guessing at this point.

The girl who painted trees said...

Timely review as I just signed up for the trial today. I loved the graphics and found them much more appealing then Time4Learning. I didn't get to explore much but did appreciate being able to play on my own as a parent. I wish Reading Eggs would have that feature.

Ozymandiaz said...

I'm glad you tried out Dreambox! I agree with much of your review. N finds the reward "tokens" pretty meaningless too. But they also get certificates and "adventure friends" after longer intervals and N loves those.

I also agree that Dreambox is not a math curriculum. But as a used-to-be-mathematician, I think that things like money and measurement are applied math, not "pure" math. I love how Dreambox really fosters a true understanding of "pure" math - patterns in numbers, place value, grouping etc.

Mickelle said...

As the National Board Certified Teacher that leads the Academic Team at DreamBox, I’ve enjoyed following your blog and all of the comments. I thought I’d share some insight into how DreamBox teaches “behind the scenes” -- because the program is doing a number of things that aren’t obvious as a student is playing.
• Adaptation: We adapt the number of questions within a lesson and it’s not possible for the child [or parent] to see this happening. The number of questions varies per game and is often adjusted after extensive beta testing. In fact this is just one of the ways we adapt – the lesson sequence, number and types of hints, level of difficulty, and much more are all individualized.
• DreamBox teaches “in the moment” when students need it most and when they’re ready for it. For example, we address an incorrect answer using visual and auditory cues that are appropriate for the grade-level content. (We don’t include written explanations on the screen because this is meaningless to most young users.)
• At the K-3 grade level we teach Number Sense and Operations because it’s is the foundation for early math. So the curriculum does impact money, measurement, etc. even while we don’t teach those standards directly.
• DreamBox helps kids develop both conceptual understanding, by teaching new math concepts, and procedural fluency, through lots of opportunities to practice.
• One comment regarding younger children who use the program. It’s possible that a preschooler may be slower using the drag-and-drop function that’s required for our virtual manipulatives, which would results in our giving extra problems “behind-the-scenes” because of the possible slowness of her responses.
Finally, I am a little embarrassed to share that my own 4 ½ year old has spent over 50 hours on DreamBox since April 2010! After she completed the Kindergarten curriculum, I restarted her from the beginning because I want her to get lots of experience and practice with early number concepts.

Thank you all for sharing your experiences with DreamBox. If you have any questions about the program, how your child can get the most out of it, DreamBox has a very responsive customer support group, support@dreambox.com.

Eileen said...

DreamBox offers programming at reduced prices until the end of March, which will give you just enough time for two weeks in duration, before deciding. More than one child in a family may register for a free trial..
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