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:
- 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.
- 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.