This post is about a simple children’s math game that I coded, which anyone interested is welcome to download. I’ll get to that momentarily; first a word about why it seemed worth doing.

One of the most glaring failures of public education is its inability to impart even basic math skills. There is a reason why we don’t succeed in teaching math: it’s impossible, the way we try to do it. All the children in a class in school are expected to do the same assignments, in the same book, in the same order, at the same time. When the book moves on to the next topic, every child in the class has to move on, whether he or she has mastered the current topic or not.

That doesn’t work at all with math because math builds on what has already (supposedly) been learned. You can’t successfully teach a math topic to a child who hasn’t already mastered all the basic skills that led up to it. If a child is weak on even one of the previously covered skills, he or she will flounder, most likely from then on. In elementary math, if you want a child to succeed, you do not move on to topic N + 1 until the child can execute topic N, consistently, quickly, with no false moves, and no mistakes. You don’t have to take my word for that — precisely that concept is the foundation of the only truly effective children’s math curriculum I’m aware of — the highly successful (and expensive) Kumon Math after school tutoring program.

Our two nephews who live with us (ages 9 and 14) go to a private (Catholic) school here in Davao (Philippines). Both are bright kids; both struggle with math. They get passing grades, but that’s mainly because schools find ways to let kids get passing grades without actually being able to do math. If they didn’t do that, everyone would be stuck repeating fourth grade forever, since, as already noted, it isn’t possible to learn math this way. More »