Smartphones and tablets have only become ubiquitous in the last decade — but now, most of us can’t imagine life without them.
Mobile devices have changed the way we communicate, access information, and learn. The possibilities they’ve opened up have also changed the way we interact with and think about subjects many people have trouble with, like math.
Happily, there are a now multitude of mobile apps and computer programs that make numbers fun for all ages, and provide the help we need when we’re stuck.
Here are a few suggestions for young and old:
(Bellmon; iOS — $1.99)
Preschoolers and kindergarteners can practice their counting and nurture their inner entomologists with this visually interesting game, which has players figure out how many aphids (small insects) it takes to satisfy a caterpillar. As players progress through different levels, they earn butterflies they can then admire in their own galleries. Not only is it a counting game, it's a way for kids to appreciate nature.
(Artgig Studio; iOS and Android — $2.99)
Kids in kindergarten through 3rd grade can practice telling time, doing addition and subtraction, working with fractions, and naming shapes while maneuvering a marble through a maze. As the virtual version of the heavy, wooden game kids’ parents used to play, this activity ups the ante by having children answer questions as they attempt to manipulate the marble. And this game doesn’t end when the marble flies out of the maze and rolls under some furniture. (Or gets eaten by the dog).
(MadeByEducators; iOS — $2.99)
This app lets elementary school kids practice their multiplication tables with various games, and also allows users to upload photos of themselves so that their avatars look exactly like them. This level of personalization helps kids feel more connected to math, and they can upload any photo they want as an avatar. So if they want to see a dog take on the 12 times table, who's to stop them?
(LearningWorks for Kids; iOS — $0.99)
This game — best suited for kids 6 and older — has players build rocket ships, which they keep flying by doing math problems that test their ability to handle simple finances, recognize shapes, and do multiplication. And as they solve problems correctly, they earn medals and virtual cash for their efforts. Let’s face it: Going into space will never be inexpensive.
(TapToLearn; iOS — $0.99)
Only math can stop the zombie apocalypse! Children (from around 7 to 10) can eradicate the undead in three different settings, and the only way to do so is by solving problems floating above zombies’ heads. Problems require players to use their skills in addition, subtraction and multiplication, and users are ultimately rewarded for using their braaaains, particularly if they get through all 24 levels.
(New Mexico State University; iOS — Prices Vary)
Math Snacks, a collection of games, short animated films, and apps developed at New Mexico State University, offers a variety of learning materials to help kids with math. Choose from Pearl Diver, Ratio Rumble, and several videos to learn about number lines, fractions, ratios, and proportions.
(eduPad; iOS and Android — Free)
Kids in grades six through eight can now practice math and language arts with the same app. Math exercises align with Common Core standards and cover a range of concepts, including fractions, integers, decimals, percentages, and square roots. A calculator and virtual blackboard are included, so learners never have to leave the app to work out problems.
(SumProduct; iOS — Free)
The concept of this game may be familiar to those who already play the letter-based tile game Words With Friends (though the two are not related). But instead of arranging letters, players can choose from a selection of game boards to formulate equations. Users from 12 to 18 can practice math problems and chat with friends at the same time. But if your friends are too afraid of your math skills to take you on, you also have the option to be paired with a random opponent.
(Wolfram Alpha; iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows — $2.99)
The ultimate problem-solving website can bail you out no matter whether you’re stuck on simple arithmetic or a complex calculus equation. But the program goes beyond providing answers; it also explains concepts and defines math terms. Users simply input the problem they're trying to solve, and the likelihood that they'll stump the site is slim to none. Granted, trying to stump the site can be pretty fun, too.
(Mathlap Apps; Android, Nook, and Kindle Fire — $4.99)
Graphing on paper can be a pain, but with this app, you can get a visual on anything from the absolute value of x to sin y, without sharpening a single pencil or setting up x and y value charts. You just input the equation, and you’re done. Never wonder what an infinite limit looks like again!
(Shakti Malik; Android — $1.99)
Another option for when you’re stuck on a homework problem. This app, which specialized in graphing, gives you step-by-step explanations for everything from basic math to vector algebra. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help with word problems.
(MathCrunch; iTunes and Android — Prices vary)
Sometimes, all the videos, games, and interactive problem sets in the world can’t replace the personal touch. That’s where MathCrunch comes in. The app gives you access to tutoring 24/7, in everything from algebra to calculus, with an actual person. All you do is take a picture of your assignment and send it to them. Your tutor will walk you through the problem, and you’ll hopefully help get the clarity you need.
It’s not on this list, but Noodle wrote about the app Bedtime Math in November, naming it the App of the Month. Check it out!
Find more tips for tackling math and read expert advice from former mathphobe and Noodle Expert A.K. Whitney.