MathTech Review: Math Tricks

In this month's MathTech Review, we looked at the Math Tricks app and identified how you can use it in the classroom to explore different strategies for tackling difficult arithmetic problems and developing your students' number sense.


Lachy Fitzpatrick
Co-founder and CEO

Introducing Math Tricks


Although I did cringe a little when I was first told about Math Tricks (I have not come across many ‘brain training’ apps for which I would remove the quotation marks around ‘brain training’) I decided to give it a go and keep an open mind.

The basic format of the app is that it explains a math trick and then provides the user with automatically generated questions to practice.

Screenshot of Math Tricks problem

An example of an automatically generated question on Math Tricks.

At first, I was quite underwhelmed by the explanations of the maths tricks. Although they were nicely colour coded and somewhat easy to follow, they failed our fundamental assessment at Math Mate: ‘Is this teaching the mathematical concept or only a trick to memorise the concept?’.

Naturally, my next step was to enter full-blown skepticism of the app and to test whether the supposed ‘math tricks’ even worked. I thought I’d start with their cover trick: double digit numbers multiplied by 11. You can see my working below as I picked apart their algorithm to see the maths behind the tricks.

Working out to determine the maths behind the tricks.

A photo of my working out when checking the Math Tricks algorithm. Note that Math Tricks uses underscores to indicate number concatenation (eg. 1_2_3=123).

All of a sudden this app got a lot more interesting! It elicited my curiousity to find out why this trick worked. The best bit was that there were a whole lot more tricks for me to explore!

This opened up opportunities to adapt the use of the app to exploration and discussion activities. The speed, and by proxy, the ‘power’, of the tricks presented are good enough to get students interested. Coupling this with careful content selection and well facilitated discussion, and Math Tricks becomes a useful tool for developing students’ number sense and conceptual understanding of arithmetic.


Using Math Tricks in the classroom


It turns out that all the ‘tricks’ that Math Tricks explores, take advantage of patterns or arithmetic properties (eg. simplifying multiplication through decomposition 32x3=32x2+32x1). This makes Math Tricks a useful learning tool as the tricks can be pulled apart to reveal their inner mathematical mechanics.

Here are the ways we identified that Math Tricks can help your students’ learning.



The explanation for the trick to square numbers between 10 and 19.

The trick for squaring numbers between 10 and 19. Have a go at working out why it works mathematically!


What does Math Tricks cover?


Math Tricks sports an impressive collection of different play styles. I mostly spent time in Training Mode where I can choose particular skills to practise. We think this is the best place for students to spend most of their time as they have control over what trick they are learning.

Training Mode provides tricks for: addition (2 tricks), subtraction (3 tricks), multiplication (35 tricks), division (17 tricks), squaring (17 tricks), exponentiation (9 tricks), nth roots (6 tricks), and percentage (18 tricks).

Screenshot of the topics available for training.

Topics for Training Mode.



Outside of Training Mode, there is also Single Game, Joint Game and By Heart.

Single Game provides a couple of different time modes plus a mode with no time limit. Here students can challenge themselves to set high scores. When students struggle with a problem they are able to see where they need to go in Training Mode to better learn the trick.

Joint Game is a fun little ‘player vs player’ format where students can play with each other on the same device. Students are competing to finish each problem first with the first person to 10 points winning the round.

Screenshot of the Joint Mode where the screen is split in two for each player.

The screen setup for Joint Game with room for a player on each side of the screen.


By Heart is a drilling tool for times tables covering 1x1 to 100x100 and every combination in between.


Words of caution


With all this in mind, Math Tricks is a long shot from a perfect app, especially if its use isn't orchestrated by you as the teacher. The following are some words of caution when using Math Tricks.



Conclusion


Math Tricks is an app surprisingly packed full of learning potential. Although it could be dangerous if not used thoughtfully due to the lack of mathematical rigour in the trick explanations, a facilitated unpacking of the tricks in the classroom will provide a great platform for building curiousity and having valuable mathematical discussions.

We’d encourage you to have a look at the free version and judge for yourself if it could suit your class’s arithmetic needs!

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