Math Facts App Comparison: Rocket Math vs. XtraMath

There are plenty of math facts apps out there that let students practice math facts they have already learned.  Few apps actually teach math facts.  But apps from Rocket Math and XtraMath are exceptions.  While both apps teach students math facts, one is more effective and fun.

The two best apps for actually teaching math facts

Math facts apps from Rocket Math and XtraMath effectively teach math facts because they have four essential characteristics:

  1. Both math facts apps require students to demonstrate fluency with facts.  Fluency means a student can quickly answer math fact questions from recall.  This is the opposite of letting a student “figure it out” slowly.  Neither app considers a fact mastered until a student can answer a fact consistently within 3 seconds.
  2. Both math facts apps zero in on teaching (and bringing to mastery) a small number of facts at a time.  This is the only way to teach math fact fluency. It’s impossible for students to learn and memorize a large number of facts all at once.
  3. Both math facts apps are responsive.  Apps simply do not teach if they randomly present facts or do not respond differently when students take a long time to answer a fact.
  4. Both math facts apps only allow students to work for a few minutes (less than ten) before taking a break.  Teachers and parents may want to keep students busy practicing math facts for an hour, but students will come to hate the app if they have long sessions.  A few minutes of practice in each session is the best way to learn and to avoid student burnout.
  5. Both math facts apps re-teach the fact if a student makes an error.  While both Rocket Math and XtraMath re-teach facts, they re-teach them differently.

While both apps contain these important features and teach math facts, there are a few vital elements that make an effective app like Rocket Math standout.

An effective app gives a student a sense of accomplishment

The difficult thing about learning math facts is that there are so many to learn.  It takes a while and students have to persevere through boring memorization tasks. The best way to help students learn their math facts is to give them a clear sense of accomplishment as they move through each task.

How XtraMath monitors progress

To develop a sense of accomplishment among its app users, XtraMath displays math facts on a grid.  XtraMath tests the student and marks the ones that are answered quickly (within 3 seconds) with smiley faces.  It takes a couple of sessions to determine what has been mastered and what hasn’t, so there isn’t a sense of accomplishment at first.  This grid is displayed and explained, but it’s not easy to monitor progress.  Over time, there are fewer squares with facts to learn, but there isn’t clear feedback on what’s being accomplished as students work.

How Rocket Math monitors progress

Conversely, Rocket Math begins recognizing student progress immediately and continues to celebrate progress at every step.  The Rocket Math app begins with Set A and progresses up to Set Z.  Each lettered set has three phases: Take-Off, Orbit, and the Universe.  That means there are 78 milestones celebrated in the process of moving from Set A to Set Z.

Take-Off phase has only 2 problems (and their reverses) repeated three times.  The student just has to get all 12 correct to move on.  When the student does that, the doors close (with appropriate sound effects) to show “Mission Accomplished.” They also are congratulated by Mission Control.  “Mission Control here.  You did it!  Mission Accomplished! You took off with Set A!  Go for Orbit if you dare!”  With this type of consistent (and fun!) recognition, students clearly understand that they are progressing, and they get the chance to keep learning “if they dare!”

In addition to the three phases, students progress through the sets from A to Z.  Each time a student masters a set, by going through all three phases, the student gets congratulated and taken to their rocket picture, as shown above.  When a level is completed, the tile for that level explodes (with appropriate sound effects) and drops off the picture, gradually revealing more of the picture as tiles are demolished.

In the picture above, the tile for “N” has just exploded. After the explosion, a student is congratulated for passing Level N and encouraged to go for Level O if they dare.   When you talk to students about Rocket Math, they always tell you what level they have achieved.  “I’m on Level K!” a student will announce with pride.  That sense of accomplishment is important for them to keep chugging along.

An effective math facts app correct errors—correctly

Neither of these math fact apps allow errors to go uncorrected.  Students will never learn math facts from an app that does not correct errors.  That puts these two apps head and shoulders above the competition.  However, these two apps correct errors very differently.

How XtraMath corrects errors

On the left, you can see the XtraMath correction is visual.  If a student enters the wrong answer, the app crosses the incorrect answer out in red and displays the correct answer in gray.  A student then has to enter the correct answer that they see. This is a major mistake. In this case, students don’t have to remember the answer. They just have to enter the numbers in gray.

How Rocket Math corrects errors

Rocket Math, however, provides only an auditory correction.  When a student answers incorrectly, the screen turns orange and Mission Control recites the correct problem and answer.  In the pictured situation, Mission Control says, “Three plus 1 is four.  Go again.”  Under these conditions, the student has to listen to the correction and remember the answer, so they can enter it correctly.

Following an incorrect answer to a target problem, the app presents two more problems. Then it presents the previously target problem, on which the student made the error, again.

If the student answers the previously missed problem correctly within the three seconds, the game notes the error, and the student continues through the phase.  If the student fails to answer the problem correctly again, the correction process repeats until the student answers correctly.  Having to listen to and remember the answer, rather than just copy the answer, helps students learn better.

An effective math app gives meaningful feedback

Without feedback, students can’t learn efficiently and get frustrated. But the feedback cannot be generic. It has to dynamically respond to different student behavior.

How XtraMath’s app gives feedback

XtraMath’s charming “Mr. C” narrates all of the transitions between parts of each day’s lesson.  He welcomes students, says he is happy to see them, and updates students on their progress.  He gives gentle, generic feedback about how you’re getting better and to remember to try to recall the facts instead of figuring them out.  However, his feedback remains the same no matter how you do.  In short, it is non-contingent feedback, which may not be very meaningful to students.

How Rocket Math’s app gives feedback

Differing from XtraMath, Rocket Math offers students a lot of feedback that is contingent. Contingent feedback means that students will receive different types of feedback depending on their responses.

The Rocket Math app gives positive feedback for all the 78 accomplishments noted above.  It also doles out corrective feedback when the student isn’t doing well.

As noted above, students receive corrective feedback on all errors. They get feedback when they take longer than three seconds to answer too.  The “Time’s Up” screen on the right pops up and Mission Control says, “Ya’ gotta be faster!  Wait.  Listen for the answer.”  And then the problem and the correct answer are given.  Students get a chance to answer that fact again soon and redeem themselves–proving they can answer it in 3 seconds.

The app tracks errors and three strikes mean the student has to “Start Over” with that phase. At that point, the doors close (with appropriate sound effects) and then the student has to hit “go” and the doors open (with appropriate sound effects) to try it again.

When it comes to recognizing a student’s success, the Rocket Math app holds nothing back. After a student completes a phase, Mission Control gives enthusiastic congratulations as noted above.

Typically, students don’t have to “start over” more than once or twice in a phase, but they still feel a real sense of accomplishment when they do complete the phase.  The feedback students get from Rocket Math matters because they have to work hard to earn it.

How much does an effective math facts app cost?

It is hard to beat the price of XtraMath, which is free.  XtraMath is run by a non-profit based in Seattle.  They have a staff of six folks in Seattle, and they do accept donations.  Their product is great, and they are able to give it away.

Rocket Math is run by one person, Dr. Don.  He supports the app, its development and himself with the proceeds.  He answers his own phone and is happy to talk with teachers about math facts.  The Rocket Math Online Game is a good value at $1 a year per seat (when ordering 100 or more seats).  Twenty to 99 seats are $2 each. And fewer than 20 seats cost $3.89 each per year.  As one principal-customer of Rocket Math said, “We used to have XtraMath.  We’d rather pay a little bit for Rocket Math because the kids like it better.”

Add Login info for classes with csv file

Assign Subscriptions. The orange box on your dashboard shows the number “Unassigned Subscriptions” you have that can be assigned to students. You can give these subscriptions to students by using the blue + Import Students Logins From CSV button.
That page–the pop-up labeled “Import Student Logins From CSV” looks like this picture to the left.
Begin at #1 and click on “CSV template to fill in” to get a properly formatted starting point.
See the blank csv template to the right. You’ll enter the student’s first and last name, make up a username and a passcode for the student. Enter the code number for the learning track they will start in. You can change it at any time. Add the Teacher Mgr’s email if you wish to connect the student to a different teacher that you set up in your account.
Once you have completed the file, save it to your computer as a CSV file (it’s an excel file now, so you have to choose Save As and find Comma Separated Value -CSV in the list).
Now go back to the pop-up labeled “Import Student Logins From CSV” and do #2 Choose file and browse to the csv file you just saved and select it. Then go to the bottom of the page at #3 and hit the blue button that says “Parse CSV.”
After you hit “Parse CSV” you’ll see a list of your students. Scroll to the bottom and hit the blue button that says “Import Students.” Then they will be set up in the system.
If something goes wrong, you can use the red button on your Dashboard that says “Delete ALL students!” It is extreme, but it will clear out all of your student data, allowing you to start over and re-import.
If you have a bunch of trouble, send me your csv files and I will do the import for you. -Dr.Don

Add Login info individually for Online Game

If you have few enough students, you can simply add their login information individually.  In your dashboard click on the blue button that days + Add Student Login.

Up pops this dialog box.  Enter the student’s first and last name, then create a username and passcode.  It only has to be unique to your school or family, so make it simple and easy to enter.

Then be sure to choose a Learning Track from the pull-down menu.

If you are the owner, you are also the first teacher.  If you have other Teacher Managers, be sure to connect the student with the teacher you want.  After you hit the green Save button your student is ready to play.

Adding Teacher Managers to Online Game

The person who first sets up the account is the owner (probably you).
The owner is automatically the first teacher.
 
Next, if you need help, you can set up additional teachers and give them subscriptions.
Go to the Teacher Mgr page by clicking on the Teacher Managers link in the left hand navigation.
Then click the blue Add Teacher Mgr button in the upper right.
You’ll see this dialog box (below) in which you enter the name and email. Don’t worry if you give them the wrong number of subscriptions.  When you enter the csv file with the student logins, there is a place to enter the teacher for each student.  The system will increase the number of subscriptions given to each teacher if necessary to accommodate what is in the csv file.
When you hit the green “Create” button the system will create a password for that teacher and email it to the email you entered for them.  It’s a hard password, so they might want to change it.
Don’t wait too long to let the teacher know about the incoming information or they’ll miss the email and won’t know how to enter the system.
Repeat as needed to add more Teacher Mgrs to help you monitor students.
Next, you will go on to assign student login information to your “unassigned” subscriptions so the students can login and play.

Choose a Learning Track for Online Game

Choose from ten Learning Tracks

In the Rocket Math Online Game every student needs to be started in one of the ten Learning Tracks.  A student’s Learning Track can be changed at any time**, but one must be chosen to begin with.

If you are entering the Student Login individually, you can use the pull down menu to select a learning track, as illustrated to the right.

The ten learning tracks are numbered as follows. If you are using the csv method of entry you’ll need to enter the number for the track.

  1. Addition 1s through 9s
  2. Subtraction 1s through 9s
  3. Multiplication 1s through 9s
  4. Division 1s through 9s
  5. Fact Familes (1 to 10) add and subtract, ex.4+5, 5+4, 9-4, 9-5
  6. Fact Families (11 to 18) add and subtract, ex. 8+7, 7+8, 15+7, 15-8
  7. Add to 20, example 13+4, 4+13,
  8. Subtract from 20, example 15-3, 15-12,
  9. Multiplication 10s-11s-12s,
  10. Division 10s-11s-12s.

You can click below to see a google document showing all the problems learned in each of the Learning Tracks.

Click to see the problems in the tracks.

Considerations, or what to choose when?

Begin with the basics.  The four basic operations are most important and typical expectations is one of those per grade level, so Addition in first, Addition then Subtraction in second, Multiplication, then go back to Addition and Subtraction in third, and Multiplication then Division in fourth grade, and then going back to get Addition and Subtraction if those haven’t been learned.  Make sure your student have worked through the expected basic operations for their grade level BEFORE doing any of the other optional Learning Tracks.

Another way to learn basic Addition and Subtraction Facts.  Learning in Fact Families is another order to learn. Fact Familes (1 to 10) add and subtract would be chosen in first grade.   Fact Families (11 to 18) add and subtract would be mastered in second grade.  You can choose this sequence instead of the basic addition and basic subtraction fact Learning Tracks.   Optionally, Fact Families is also a good way to review for students who have already learned the basic addition and subtraction facts in first or second grade.

Optional Learning Tracks. Add to 20 and Subtract from 20 are additional problems that the Common Core feels should be committed to memory.  They are composed of facts you can figure out if you know the basic 1s through 9s facts, but can be learned AFTER the basics are learned, if there is time in first or second grade.  They should not be assigned until after the student has mastered the basic 1s through 9s addition and subtraction facts.

After students learn the basic 1s through 9s multiplication facts, if there is time, they can move on to 10s, 11s, 12s.  After basic 1s through 9s  division facts are learned (and all the other basic operations are learned) then the 10s, 11s, and 12s are a good use of time.

 

**See “How to change Learning Tracks” in the FAQs and Directions document.

How to purchase Online Game subscriptions

Here’s information (that may not be apparent) about how to purchase Online Game subscriptions.  First you register for a free account at https://admin.rocketmath.com for the Rocket Math Online Game.  The next step is to to purchase game subscriptions with our No risk 30 day trial. 

Non-credit card options

 

If you wish to buy subscriptions by sending in a Purchase Order here’s a link to our order form. Or, if you wish to order online with either PayPal or a PO number click this link to get to that page

Either in PayPal or with a PO we will give you 13 months for the one year price, and if you tell us you no longer want your subscriptions during the first month, we’ll cancel your subscriptions and cancel the invoice. With PayPal we’ll give you a full refund if you don’t want to keep your subscription.    

If you ask, I can also manually give you a 30 day free trial–without you having to enter a payment method.  I’ll give you access to all the subscriptions you’d need for your free trial period.  Then, if you wish to continue and purchase we can send an invoice.  Just contact [email protected], with the number of subscriptions you would like to use during your free trial. 

Credit card procedure

Go to the “My Profile” page to order subscriptions.  There you click on + Add Subscriptions on the “My Profile” page of your account.  It looks like this picture. 

No gotcha here–See how the auto-renew is turned off by default?  

After you click on + Add Subscriptions this dialog box will pop up.

This person in this picture has payments set to yearly.  So the price for one subscription is $3.89 for the year.

If you leave it set to monthly, the price will be $.50 (50 cents/month).
To order more than one subscription hover in the box and you’ll see arrows to increase the number of subscriptions.  This box will automatically discount to $2 for quantities of 20 or more and down to $1 for quantities of 100 or more.
Hit the green payment data to pay with a credit card.  You’ll get this Stripe dialog box.  You fill out your credit card info and hit the pay button, but remember, you will not be charged a thing for 30 days.

Monthly, non auto-renewal expires if you don’t act.

Note: As long as you leave the renewal period set to monthly, and leave auto renew set to OFF in your profile, then your subscription will simply end after 30 days.  No matter how many subscriptions you order, your credit card won’t be charged until you login and renew.  So you can try the game for free to see if it’s worth paying for with no risk of being charged for it.  When you decide it is worthwhile, come back into “My Profile” switch the renewal period to yearly, and make sure you have as many subscriptions as you want, and then change to “Auto Renew.”   You can switch it back  to non renew after you renew, but there’s no other way to renew ahead of time with the credit card.  But if your subscription has expired, you will see a green “Renew Subscription” button in “My Profile” and you can click on that to renew.

Yearly renewal gives you lower prices (and still no charge for the first month).

If you are pretty certain, go ahead and set the renewal to yearly and then order your subscriptions.  You’ll get the best price and you’ll automatically get the discounts for quantity.  Your credit card will not be charged until the end of your 30 day trial, so if you cancel before then you do not pay a thing.

 

Get a free 30-day trial of our Online Game

Here’s information (that may not be apparent) about the next step–after registering for a free account for the Rocket Math Online Game.  The next step is to to try out the game with some students by signing up for our No risk 30 day trial. 

Your credit card will not be charged until the end of your 30 day trial, so if you cancel before then you do not pay a thingYou can order from the “My Profile” page of your account with a credit card to order subscriptions. It looks like this picture. 

No gotcha here–See how the auto-renew is turned off by default?  

Leave the renewal period set to monthly, and leave auto renew set to OFF in your profile.

Your subscription will simply end after 30 days.

No matter how many subscriptions you order, your credit card won’t be charged until you login and renew.  So you can try the game for free to see if it’s worth paying for with no risk of being charged for it.

Non-credit card options

If you wish to buy subscriptions by sending in a Purchase Order here’s a link to our order form. Or, if you wish to order online with either PayPal or a PO number click this link to get to that page

Either in PayPal or with a PO we will give you 13 months, and if you tell us you don’t want it during the first month, we’ll cancel your subscription and cancel the invoice. With PayPal we’ll give you a full refund if you don’t want to keep it.    

If you ask, I can also manually give you a 30 day free trial–without you having to enter a payment method.  Then we can send an invoice if you wish to continue.  Just contact [email protected], with the number of subscriptions you would like to use during your free trial. 

How to prepare students for math success–30 minute webinar

You may be interested in a webinar Dr. Don did recently with the folks at the Educational App Store in the U.K.  We discussed what is needed for children to have success in math–learning math facts to automaticity.  We also talked about how best to help children learn facts and therefore what is needed in an app to achieve that learning.

http://https://youtu.be/xzWS4c7NhaQ

Dr. Don Crawford, the author of Rocket Math and Justin Smith, CEO of the Educational App Store discuss

  1. What are math facts and why are they important for future math success.
  2. What happens when students haven’t memorized math facts.
  3. How can you best help students learn math facts.

https://www.educationalappstore.com/webinar/how-to-prepare-students-for-math-success

Four star rating for Rocket Math Apps

Rocket Math App received 4 Stars!

App Names: Rocket Math Add at Home, Add at School, Multiply at Home, and Multiply at School

Developer’s name: Rocket Math, LLC

App Link :

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rocket-math-multiply-at-home/id1048024368?mt=8

Primary School Apps (5-7 Years)

Educational App Store Review

Rocket Math is an offshoot of an existing programme for schools designed to increase children’s speed and fluency in answering simple arithmetic. This app encourages frequent short sessions and is supported by plenty of information explaining its purpose and methods.

The purpose of Rocket Math is to build what its developer terms “automaticity” in arithmetic. A fluent reader does not need to decode simple and frequently encountered words letter by letter. The same can be true for frequently encountered arithmetic.

When automaticity is achieved in arithmetic the answers are available in an instant. The advantages of this, beyond speed, are that it leaves more of the person’s mental processes available for other aspects of the problem. If a person does not have to think about achieving simple arithmetic answers, he or she can concentrate on the more complex and lengthier aspects of a problem.

Rocket Math the app follows on from a well-established programme of the same name based on traditional written resources. Repeat practice and a steady increase in the breadth of the covered arithmetic are at the heart of its methods.

Children are taken through a series of stages in which they are faced with a rapid succession of arithmetic questions. Remember, the purpose of this app is to build fluency in frequently encountered arithmetic problems, not complex ones. As such, the questions will be simple ones and, at first, until the breadth expands, there will be little variation in them. Only three seconds is allowed per question so, for some children, developing enough fluency to progress will be difficult but others will thrive on the challenge.

Answers are given by typing them onto a built-in number pad. The app is simple to use and looks attractive. Its space-travel styling and theme add a game-like feel although it is not a game. Speech provides a response to incorrect answers and provides encouragement between levels. It all works very well and provides the exact type of practice that it promises.

An unusual but useful feature is that the app enforces its little-and-often recommendations by insisting on a thirty-minute break after 5 minutes of play. As multiple sessions are likely to yield better results than a single, marathon session, this is an excellent feature that will prevent children from relying on a last-minute catch-up rather than a steady engagement with the app. This, combined with a useful breakdown of each child’s performance in the student report screen, provides reassurance to adults that their children are making the best possible use of the app.

A family of apps is available and potential buyers should think about which they need. Two of the apps cover addition and subtraction and two cover multiplication and division. Your choice here is obviously dependent on what aspect you would like to cover.

The remaining choice is between a school and a home version. They are identical in functionality except that the home version is free to download with a lengthy trial period. The school version has a flat, one-off, fee. Prospective teachers would still be wise to download the home version first so that they can appraise the app’s suitability.

If they choose to utilise the app within their school then buying the school version will be a simpler process than the in-app purchase of the home version. It will also allow schools to utilise the volume purchasing programme whereby they can receive a discount for buying twenty or more of the same app.

Parents will be pleased to see that the app caters for up to three children. As each child engages with the app, parents can check to see how they are performing and offer help, encouragement or rewards as they see fit.   Some useful background information on the app’s purposes and usage are provided within the app itself and a more comprehensive overview of the Rocket Math ethos is available on the developer’s website.

All of the Rocket Math apps provide a learning opportunity that is tightly focused on realising their goal of improving children’s arithmetic fluency. As such, if this is a goal that you also share, you will find them good value and useful apps.