Mathletics: Training and Competition Online Is Future of Education

Mathletics encourages students to love math by helping them compete against themselves and their peers from all over the world.

Mathletics is another sign that the internet holds the future of education. Sydney-based 3P Learning developed the Mathletics program as a way to augment traditional K-12 maths education. At school and at home, students login to the Mathletics website to perform exercises with fun visuals and continuous feedback. They can compete with classmates and peers all over the world to see who can get the highest scores in math competitions geared at their learning level. With the ability to set their own pace, see their progress, and strive to outperform others, children on the Mathletics program are encouraged to become engrossed and enamored with learning math. There are more than 3 million students registered worldwide, with more than 10 billion correct answers recorded on the website. 3P Learning gives you a sneak peek into a typical Mathletics enabled classroom in the video below. Motivating, adaptive, and media-rich, Mathletics embodies the type of digital education that will one day replace our traditional systems. Go Math.

Countries all over the world are feeling the crunch when it comes to finding qualified workers in science and tech-based fields. We need more engineers, scientists, programmers…we need more mathletes. Yet mathematics is seen from a very early age as too difficult, boring, and inapplicable. Additionally, we tend to stereotype success in math to select demographics of children (usually by race and gender). The truth is that math can be fun and life-changing to all students if it is presented in a way that challenges children correctly. Engaging graphics, constant feedback, tracking of improvement, self-determined pacing, reward systems, and encouragements to compete – these are some of the qualities of an educational system that will teach students to love math, and Mathletics really does have them all. If it was free instead of $100 per year (less if you buy in bulk), I’d be dancing in the streets with joy. The kids who use Mathletics already seem ready to meet me there, judging by the following promotional video:

Mathletics portends of the education system that is to come. Beyond its strong approach to pushing students to love math, it is also digitally equipped in ways that give it a clear edge over previous programs. Students can login anytime 24/7, from any internet-capable computer, and continue their lessons. Not quite as good as having a teacher available at all hours of the day, but still pretty good. The reward system takes a note from many popular video games on the market, allowing students to build virtual avatars they can customize by earning more points. There’s also intelligent response from the system – Mathletics adapts to students during exercises, adjusting difficulty to match progress so far. Students can track their personal progress and, when ready, compete against their peers on a global scale. That gives each mathlete the feeling that they are part of something bigger, a sense of belonging that could transform math from a fun challenge to a purposeful part of their lives. The scale of these global competitions is getting huge. Every year, 3P Learning sponsors World Maths Day. Millions of students compete to see who can become a world champion. 2011’s competition is coming up soon, March 1st, and is expected to exceed all the previous years in scale.

Mathletics Leaderboard
The Mathletics homepage tracks the world's best students, giving all students something to strive for. Children who achieve a certain level of points could be chosen as the selected Winner of the Week.

I’m cheerleading Mathletics so strongly because they are getting so much right, but the truth is that what 3P Learning is doing could be easily replicated across fields and curricula. In fact, 3P Learning has already expanded into language skills with Spellodrome. We’ve seen other programs aimed at modernizing education with digital power, notably The Khan Academy which provides video lessons on mathematics. In the near future we’ll need both instructive videos and rote exercises to help develop the next generation of science and math professionals.

Mathletics Rewards
Get correct answers, earn points, improve your appearance. If only life were so easy.

Eventually I think such systems will go from augmenting traditional education to replacing it. As I mentioned when discussing digital textbooks and digital education, the flexibility that comes from setting your own education can make it a vastly better system than classroom instruction. Surfing the web is addictive in part because each idea or concept links to another interesting concept. Digital education can be the same way. Exercises and competitions like Mathletics can be the video games of education – encouraging us to stop our surfing and improve our skills to challenge others. After a little practice and success we go back to our hyperlinked exploration of learning, pausing at the next challenge (science, literature, history?) that draws our focus.

I know that sounds like utter disarray, but it is more about freedom than chaos. Digital education could allow for increased freedom without losing the evaluation needed to make sure students are learning well. Mathletics tracks student performance, showing where they consistently fail in a subject. The website pushes this information to teachers and parents who can help the student focus on the areas needed. Future systems should be smart enough to guide students towards the video instructions or text lessons they need to correct their weaknesses before parents or human educators would have to get involved.

That’s not to say that digital education won’t introduce us to new problems. Cheating will take on new dimensions as you’ll see in the following video:

Of course cheating will always be with us, even if it does evolve into hacking. The bigger concern about computer-dominated education replacing traditional classrooms may be the lack of human interaction. To quote the Mathletics website: “Mathletics is a completely safe, online community. There is no communication with, or between students,” where the emphasis on the latter is mine. As much as students are competing in global contests, they are not engaging with other students socially. The lack of face to face contact could be a limitation to any form of digital education. We’ll need to find ways (including but also beyond social networking) to balance an online education.

Everyday, more online resources are being created that could profoundly augment children’s education. We just saw Google place thousands of pieces of famous art in virtual museums that can be explored in exquisite detail. Gapminder is making global statistics more accessible through colorful graphs and user-friendly interfaces. At the same time we see more technologies that could change the classroom, such as a robot that lets students teleconference into school or a statistical method of detecting cheating. These innovations will hopefully push educators towards challenging traditional classrooms and taking the step to promote digital education. Mathletics is a great example of how this progress has already begun, but there is still much more that could happen in the years ahead. The future of education could be radically different, and better, if we find the way to let technology inspire us to learn.

[image credits: Mathletics/3P Learning]

[sources: Mathletics, Mathletics Blog]

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