Crystal Springs Books recently produced a new software program for number bonds practice. This concept is foundational to Singapore Math. Number bonds can be used for everything from addition and subtraction to understanding fractions, and Singapore Math makes great use of them in its teaching.
The software, intended for grades K-2, is a simple Flash-based program. The CD comes with installers for both Mac OS and Windows. The program is small and snappy, even on older or slower computers; I have tried it on a first-generation Macbook Pro as well as two netbooks. I have used the software with young students and demonstrated it in front of a group of teachers, and this is what we found.
The program comes with four different games, ranging from very basic to more advanced. In the first game, Pond Bonds, children must move frogs to the appropriate lily pad to form correct number bonds. In the second game, Bird Bonds, the purpose is to move the appropriate bird to the right hole in the birdhouse. In this one, each bird is labeled with a number. The third game, Which Number, shows number bonds with one of the numbers missing; students must click on the correct number to complete the bond. The final game, Which Bond, gives students a number at the top of the screen, with two number bonds below. The student must click on the correct question mark where the top number should go.
The games follow the progression of Concrete > Pictorial > Abstract, which is known to lead to student success. Picking up a kicking frog and dropping it on the lily pad, or hearing it splash in the water, triggers concrete sensory feedback, especially when used with a touch screen or interactive white board. Moving birds with numbers on them starts to combine the concrete with the abstract, and the shapes of the holes in the birdhouse mirror the shapes of the number bonds in the next levels. The final two levels use the pictorial and abstract levels to good effect.
The software has several options for customization. For each game, you can set a numerical range, a time limit, and a number of players. Be aware, though, that if you go with the defaults, it may be a recipe for failure; the time limit is set to lowest, and the numbers are set to the highest range, meaning even a very fast adult can’t get a very high score. I wish the defaults had been reversed. On the other hand, if you need to move students quickly through stations, the fast pace can be good. The fastest time may not allow adequate time for learning, though. Once you set the settings for a game, they stay that way until you change them.
One area where this software is lacking is educational feedback for the player. On the early games, if you miss a question, you can go back and try again, but you don’t receive any clues about what went wrong. On the higher games, if you miss one, too bad; you can’t even try again. I would like to see some sort of helpful feedback when mistakes are made.
When you have one player set, the score for the player is displayed at the end of the game. For more players, the others have to sit through each entire set until the scores are displayed at the end. I think more interactive game play would be nice. There is no way to save scores in the software, either. I would recommend that teachers create individual score sheets for students to keep track of their scores and how they improve over time, so they compete against themselves, not against others.
Since the software is Flash-based, it cannot run on iOS devices. I hope they develop a version for that platform soon.
UPDATE: As of March 2013, an iOS version is available! Read the review here.
Conclusion: Highly Recommended
Number Bonds is a simple, inexpensive software package that can provide extra addition and subtraction practice in the classroom or at home. Children find it fun and engaging, and it provides good composing and decomposing practice, as well as mental addition and subtraction. I would use it for a wider age range of children; it can be helpful for differentiating, like with more advanced preschoolers and upper elementary students who need foundational number bond practice. It would be nice if the software had a few more features, but I’m sure those features would take away from the software’s speedy response on older hardware. For best results, it should be run on a touch device, so it would be great if it could be installed on iOS or Android in the future.
Site license available
Small and fast
Good educational design (concrete > pictorial > abstract)
Fun for children
Range of levels and challenges
Compatible with a wide range of desktops and laptops
Not enough feedback on mistakes
Can’t save score data
Settings need to be reset when first played
Not a true multiplayer game
Needs teacher introduction to be most effective (not stand-alone)
Teachers need training to make the most of it, but program-based help is minimal