If you’re like me, you think it’s a problem when students immediately reach for a calculator. Especially when they see a problem like 302-298. But to solve this problem, I’ve also worked with many students who immediately reach for a pencil instead. Most of them actually can’t even solve it without a pencil because their only mental math strategy is using the algorithm on their mental whiteboard.

So we see a couple of things here. First, students aren’t even taking a moment to look at the numbers before jumping to a solution strategy. That means they’re not thinking critically. Second, students might not know any other strategies for solving subtraction problems. For 302-298, you could use 300 as a landmark and recognize each number is 2 away from 300. Or, you could shift the whole problem to be 304-300. Either way, you certainly don’t need a calculator or a pencil. But too often, students only know the algorithm. And as the adage goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Students know when a subtraction problem will require a lot of borrowing. That’s one reason why they immediately reach for a calculator.

At DreamBox, we knew we wanted to make a game to help students choose good strategies based on the numbers in the problem, but we weren’t sure how the game should be designed. So we began by creating a short concept video called the “Addition Action Avengers.” In this video, students are introduced to heroes who use different strategies to solve addition problems. When teachers and students saw the video, their very first question was, “Can we see the game that goes with it?”

At DreamBox, we have over a thousand interactive and adaptive lessons for Pre-K through grade six content. In our lessons, students learn the algorithms and use number line strategies and other mental strategies to calculate answers and develop number sense. And with this ground-breaking game, we’re continuing to help students think critically about which strategies are appropriate for certain problems. As always, our goal at DreamBox is to help students be great thinkers in math. Because in the end, we know it’s the thought that counts.

Thanks for your time.