DragonBox+ Turns Learning Algebra into a Game — iPad App Review

Shh… don’t spoil the surprise, but if put DragonBox+ in front of your child she will learn algrebra.

Geared for ages 8 and up, DragonBox+’s UI introduces fundamental algebraic concepts by portraying math as a matching, rather than a numbers, game. When a player begins level one, chapter one, the app begins with a brief tutorial, explaining that there are two sides, a box, and some cards then instructing the player to match two cards with a drag gesture.


When the game opens, the player can choose one of countless, punky-looking avatars, and enter her name. The game accommodates up to four different avatars.

To win, and progress through the game, the player must isolate the box on one side. While parents recognize this as “solving for x,” kids will likely just see an intuitive puzzle.

  

The puzzles get progressively more complex, but each time a new element is introduced, the game gives the players hints on how to use the element. For example, inverses are introduced by telling the player that “each card has a ‘night-card.'” Players can “add a card” to both sides of the game board.

If the player makes an error, the game encourages her to use the undo button and fix her mistake. Eventually the image cards change from cute animal pictures to basic symbols, but by then the player is comfortable with the game play and should be able to roll with this change. When “the box” becomes “x” near the end of chapter one, the role the box plays is so well-established that kids will intuitively understand the change.

When the chapter is complete the user earns stars if the box is alone, the chapter was completed in the right number of moves using the right number of cards.

There are 20 levels within DragonBox+, each with several chapters. A user can replay previous levels in order to improve her star ranking. As a chapter is completed a character on the right of the screen grows bigger and stronger, reinforcing the player’s progress.

DragonBox+ stands out from the crowded field of kids edu-apps because it isn’t weighed down with its mission to teach. While discriminating users will know it’s not just fun, most kids won’t care.

Download Dragonbox+ from the App Store for $5.99. DragonBox, a scaled down version of the app (with 100 fewer levels) is also available for $2.99.

What I liked: The app’s attention to detail is strong. The artistic graphics impressed me, while the music and sound effects don’t grow annoying after playing several rounds.

What I didn’t like: Nothing! DragonBox+ deserves the highest marks.

To buy or not to buy: DragonBox+ is a boon for educators who need to reach kids that might not take to traditional approaches to learning algebra. Outside school, DragonBox+ is likely to appeal to curious kids who like puzzles. It will definitely ease a child’s algebra anxiety.

  • App Name: DragonBox+
  • Version Reviewed: 1.1.1
  • Category: Education
  • Developer: We Want to Know
  • Price: $5.99
  • Score:
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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite

  • Henry Borenson

    It is easy to be impressed by Dragon Box since the graphics
    are so good and since there is some algebra immersed in the program. And the
    app is certainly fun to use. However, the claim of Dragon Box at the end of the
    last lesson, “You master [sic] the basics of algebra,” is certainly
    false. First of all, simple equations such as 2x = 10 or x + 4 = 8 are not
    presented in the app, to say nothing of equations such as 4x+3=3x+9. In fact,
    the app does not use arithmetic. Hence, this app will not help students to
    figure out an arithmetic value for the unknown. Beyond that, the concept of
    mastery implies that one has become an independent learner and is not
    dependent on the app. That is impossible with Dragon Box since with each
    placement of a card — even on the very last example of the last level– the
    app instructs the student on what other card(s) need to be placed. Indeed, the
    app freezes until the “suggestion” is carried out. I had fun with the
    app. But to say kids are learning algebra or that they will on their own be
    able to abstract algebraic principles from the app is being very
    unrealistic. I give the Dragon Box app three stars (I could not change the one star rating on the top of this post).

  • whatwentwrite

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. While it is true that the app doesn’t use arithmetic, I think the lack of arithmetic enhances rather than diminishes its value. Many children find the combination of numbers and symbols confusing when they are first exposed to algebra. Were some of those children to use Dragon Box before learning algebra in school then it’s likely those who used Dragon Box would catch on more quickly and possibly feel less frustration than those who didn’t. The app is a solid addition to a teacher or parent’s toolbox, and it isn’t billed as a standalone way to teach algebra from start to finish.