Saturday, August 1, 2009

Surveying the App Store for Math Apps

I have been rummaging through the ~65000 apps recently reported to be available on Apple's App Store and have found a few apps that I think deserve further investigation. But before I move onto my next reviews I decided to survey the field with respect to math and education.

Here are some observations I made while searching the whole store (both free and paid apps) for the following terms:
Math ~600 apps
Math and Learn ~400 apps
Geometry ~100 apps
Triangle ~150 apps
Protractor 11 apps
Cartesian 7 apps
Multiplication ~170 apps
Subtraction ~140 apps
Measure ~460 apps
Calculator ~1500 apps
Note that some apps will have more that one of these terms in their description and that not all of these apps will be directly related to mathematics education or found in the Education category.

Scanning through the top 400 apps in the Education category (10% of a total of ~4000 apps in the category) I found the following distribution of apps:
Art 3% (drawing, dance, music etc.)
Early Childhood 17% (matching, animals, words, counting, number words and numerals)
Foreign Languages 30%
Language Arts: 5% (lots of vocabulary)
Math 12%
Science 5% (lots of astronomy)
Social Studies 5% (countries, cities, history, etc.)
Test Prep 5% (GRE, SAT, etc.)
Other 18% (quotes, religious, school access, utilities, IQ, blank flashcards, etc.)

Within the top 400 apps in the Education category (10%) there were 47 Math focused applications, and of these:
40% were primarily focused on drilling basic facts
23% were utilities (e.g., graphing calculators)
16% were reference content (e.g., geometry theorems, math tricks, etc.)
the rest were games, manipulatives, and explorations.

However, only about 1% of the top educational apps that I scanned met the penultimate threshold of approval – i.e., I decided to load them on my iPod Touch to examine them further. If we extrapolate from the apps that I scanned and generously assume that I will find a similar proportion of interesting apps throughout this category, then we might expect that I would find about 40 interesting apps for mathematics education (along with a few other relevant apps in other categories). This is probably a reasonable number especially given that I’m not particularly keen on most of the drill, utility, and reference apps that I have seen thus far, and because I only need one or two calculators.

The apps that are the most interesting to me are those that go beyond looking things up, memorizing facts and procedures, or calculating without understanding. I'm looking for apps that seem to have the potential to help children and adults to explore, make sense of, apply and enjoy math. I’m looking for apps that I (and others) might use in the classroom to support exploration, discovery, discussion and application. I’m a philomath and I’m looking for apps that might spark a similar love of learning in others.