Sunday, August 2, 2009
Nine Gaps promotes thinking and learning
The Nine Gaps game has been around for a couple of months now, and has managed to climb up near to the top of the heap in math applications. Indeed, as I browse through the 10 math apps above it, I think it deserves to be on top.
In the game, the player is challenged to position the digits 1 through 9 onto a 3x3 equation grid such that all of the equations formed (horizontal and vertical) are true. Although it has a passing similarity to Sudoku – it is much more worthwhile. The user interface is clean and simple and a pleasure to use. Everything seems to work as it should and players are never distracted by the interface as they work on solving the puzzle.
I like Nine Gaps because it is a creative game that challenges the player to problem solve and think through multiple possible expressions as they search for solutions for each of the 6 equations on the board. It provides simple but very effective feedback in the form of sounds (positive and negative) and color (green means the completed equation is true and red means that the completed equation is false). The goal is to minimize the time taken to complete the game, but because players can’t really achieve a good time by grinding or guessing, they are encouraged to think through their choices systematically and even undo correct equations if further explorations identify a dead end. This type of game – where the players are challenged to examine and evaluate the multiple possible expressions is a great tool for helping students to think logically, refine accuracy and build fluency in basic facts.
The only gripe that I have with Nine Gaps app is that the order of operations convention is not followed. Players are forced to ignore the precedence rules and follow the game rule of calculating from right to left or top to bottom. Although this quirk may not a big problem for adults who have mastered the convention or even perhaps only minimally so for children who have not yet been introduced to it, it may be distracting and unhelpful to students who are just learning to apply such (typically ages 11-12). Perhaps the authors of this program could add a setting whereby parentheses could optionally be included on the game board to support the learning of this important convention.
Nine Gaps has 3 levels of play - the easiest mode gives you a bit of a hint by preloading two of the digits onto the grid in order to provide the player with an obvious next step. At the medium level, a single digit is preloaded into the grid providing the player with two expressions missing only two values reducing the number of combinations that must be tried in order to discover the first workable guess. Finally, the hardest level leaves all 9 positions unfilled – giving the player no explicit hints.
As a math teacher educator, I see Nine Gaps as something much better than a flashcard program for learning basic facts. It is a great tool to offer to teachers and parents seeking to help children to improve their accuracy and fluency with basic facts while simultaneously promoting the development of problem solving and reasoning skills. I’m impressed with Nine Gaps and I intend to keep it on my Touch for a while.
Posted by Tim Pelton at 3:52 AM