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Personal Trainer: Math DS Review

27/03/2009 Family Teaching Gamer Review
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Personal Trainer: Math DS

Personal Trainer: Math



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If you're looking to practice arithmetic and you're happy with the mental strategies you currently use then this game will certainly satisfy. However, if you're hoping for advice on different approaches into arithmetic and you suspect that your own strategies are slow and inefficient, then maybe you should look elsewhere.

We share a dark secret in our house: even though I'm a teacher none of us are any good at mental arithmetic. So, when this game arrived, we were pretty excited about putting it through its paces. It's not a bad looking game, though the thing that immediately jumps out is its similarity to Brain Training. You even get a token professor, Hideo Kageyama, to guide you through setting up your profile and motivate you to revisit regularly.

The main menu has three areas: Daily Test, Kageyama Method and Practice exercises. If you're going for the minimalist approach you can do your Daily Test in about four minutes. When you're on the lowest level you get simple addition and subtraction, plus a few flash card exercises. As with Brain Training, the sums appear on one screen and you use the stylus to write in your answers in on the other screen.

If you're feeling more motivated you can explore the game's other features. First, there's the Kageyama Method. Although it may sound like rocket science, this is nothing more than a grid (you decide how large) with one row of numbers running horizontally along the top and one column running vertically along the side. Numbers from each edge are highlighted, two at a time, and - depending on whether you've chosen to add, subtract, multiply or divide - you write your answers in against the clock until the grid is filled.

It caters uniquely to those people whose learning style is visual.

Given our collective uselessness at arithmetic, this was a game that we all wanted to love. But its failings, or missed opportunities, far outweighed its benefits. First, it should be called 'Mental Arithmetic' not 'Math' because no other aspect of maths is covered here. Second, it caters uniquely to those people whose learning style is visual. All the exercises are visual and require written answers. I have no idea whether or not this would have been technologically viable, but it would have been great if some exercises could have been aural / oral - in other words a sum is spoken and the player has to speak back the answer in individual digits.

These are minor complaints. Our main issue with this game was that it did not provide any tactics to enable players to improve their learning strategies. Let me explain. One of the more useful educational theories floating around at the moment is the idea that people need to learn how to learn - to find efficient strategies to rote learn, do mental arithmetic and so forth, and to recognise and un-learn ineffectual strategies. In school, many of us had curriculum content shoved in our face but were never encouraged to reflect on how we took it on board. Many of us (me included) have some very dodgy and inefficient strategies for dealing with mental arithmetic, because our teachers never actually suggested a range of tactics that we might use. As a consequence, I am painfully slow with some types of maths.

One of the more useful educational theories floating around at the moment is the idea that people need to learn how to learn - to find efficient strategies to rote learn, do mental arithmetic and so forth, and to recognise and un-learn ineffectual strategies.

It would have been absolutely superb if professor Kageyama spent less time celebrating my utter mediocrity and instead suggested a number of different approaches into, say, long division. This missed opportunity felt all the more infuriating because I just found myself tapping my way through all the preliminary screens of him talking guff about important it was to practise regularly. Practise yes... But how professor? What about some advice on how? This is sounding like a rant, but there are probably many other people like me who are embarrassed about how useless they are at maths and want to sort out the problem at foundation level. Unfortunately, this game is not in the least bit interested in what inefficient arithmetic strategies are creaking away in the player's head. It's only recourse is to bombard you with more and more practice.

In and of itself, practice is okay. The Practice Exercises section does contain a wealth of material, ranging from the absurdly simple to the absolutely impossible. But the range of practice material in no way makes up for the absence of strategies to deal with it. What's more, our third grader would only do the practice if she was rewarded with time on other DS games. This highlighted what both of us parents thought: that the game itself does not provide sufficient reward to stimulate the player to push on with it.

All this game ultimately did was to highlight my weaknesses and make me feel more humiliated about my inability to deal with arithmetic. I just wish that Kageyama had said something like, 'Have you ever considered doing it this way?' Maybe that's just too much to expect.

Written by Melrose Fish

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Melrose Fish writes the Teaching Gamer column.

"Welcome to my teaching Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS lite and PSP game reviews. As well as being a parent of a teenager who is learning languages at school, I'm also fluent in French, and a trained educator myself, so I hope to bring a bit of teacher know how to these educational game reviews."

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