For many kids, especially visual learners, algebra is an enigma that confuses and discourages. Fortunately, technology has a way of providing help and the iPad as an educational tool is very useful with the right apps.
One great example of combining learning with technology can be found in the Hands On Equations app for iPad. Developed by experienced educator Dr. Henry Borenson, the Hands On Equations system is a visual presentation that strives to take the mystery out of algebraic equations and give kids a kinesthetic learning tool to simplify the basic processes.
Hands on Equations is an educational application that provides video lessons, examples and practice exercises for learning to solve basic equations. It is presented in conjunction with a scale (or see-saw) view in which pawns represent unknown values, or “x” and through visual representation, kids attempt to “balance” or equalize the scale. This process provides a straightforward means of demystifying algebra and sets them up to grasp the beginning concepts.
One of the advantages of Hands on Equations (HoE) is a product that has been developed by experts in education. The Hands on System is used in schools and taught to teachers in continuing education workshops, so it is entirely possible that your child’s school already uses some HoE products.
Granted, this is not an app based on a “game” per se – rather it is a series of visual instructions intended to provide help and understanding of basic concepts. It is very similar to the manipulative object counters used in many kindergarten classes that help kids develop a concrete understanding of addition and subtraction.
Whether you’re a parent or an educator, if you haven’t heard of Hands on Equations, but have or teach kids in fourth through eighth grade then it’s worth exploring. Perhaps the biggest advantage to the Hands on Equations app is the video instructions provided with each lesson.
There are six total lessons that gradually present the basic algebraic concepts of equations and include only whole number values and coefficients. Each video lesson provides a step-by-step demonstration of not only how to perform the exercises, but also the purpose of each step. It visually demonstrates both sides of an equation to help students get a better grasp on beginning algebra.
There are two levels of Hands on Equations. The first level contains six video lessons, two examples from each lesson and a series of 10 exercises for each lesson. A final review series of exercises is also available. The second level app builds upon the concepts in the first. Though the video lessons are the best aspect and thoroughly demonstrate how to use the app and perform each exercise, the biggest drawback is the interface.
The pawns and numbers used to represent the equations are simple drag and drop, but the solutions are “checked” by entering values from a pop-up scroll wheel with numbers. This isn’t necessarily ineffective, just not as intuitive as kids are inclined to expect or prefer.
The “auto check” function also does not provide the proper feedback and while there is always the option of returning to the video lesson, if a child struggles with a particular problem, there is no demonstration of that exact problem available.
Overall, Hands on Equations is an excellent way to give kids a boost in beginning algebra. The visual representation of equations could prove useful in understanding both the concept and process of solving equations, which in turn fuels kids to a better understanding of math all around. The $4.99 investment is less than a workbook would be and provides more interactive and visual assistance, making it an all-around good value.