Sneak Peek: Times Table Galaxy - Using Competition to Learn

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As teachers, one of the most motivating strategies we’ve found is competition. Used well, with students of equal or near ability, competition is an engaging strategy for moving learners forward in their learning. This is most obvious in sports, if a team is playing against another team that is just ahead of them in skill a good team will step up to perform beyond what they could perform otherwise. We wanted Times Table Galaxy to use competition to engage and motivate learners to learn their number knowledge facts.

One of the great services Apple offers on their devices is Game Center. It allows users to safely and privately play against their peers, and compare how they are doing in a game with other people around the world. Times Table Galaxy uses Game Center to keep track of how quickly learners can recall their times table facts, and allows them to challenge people they know in real life to beat their times.

See how easy it is to challenge someone you know?

Keep an eye out for the coloured bars - they are the player's friends competing on the same level. In this level I am getting beaten by my classroom. 

The students in our class have made real efforts to top the charts with their scores, and challenge one another to get better and better scores. This has created a really neat buzz and resulted in the kids moving forward in their times table knowledge in measurable and significant ways. We obviously don't feel comfortable sharing data from real, live students - but we have lots of quantatative evidence that shows Times Table Galaxy improved their times table knowledge and fluency. Yay!

Times Table Galaxy will be available soon, for free, for iPhone and iPad.

Sneak Peek: Times Table Galaxy → Moving from Skip Counting to Multiplication Facts

We’re big fans of teaching thinking skills, especially when it comes to Math. That’s why we released Math Shake, an app designed to support learners unpacking and decoding word problems with math. To become an effective mathematician though, you need to be developing good number knowledge.

Number knowledge facts are mental shortcuts that we learn to enable us to solve more complex problems. Recalling 7 lots of 7 is 49 is much quicker than skip counting from 7 to 49 or by deriving from known facts; recalling 5 lots of 7 is 35 and then adding on two more lots of 7. When we went to school the way you learnt times tables was by rote, by repeating them, by singing them or by being quizzed on them enough that they were burned into your memory. Our next app, Times Table Galaxy, is designed to make learning times tables fun.

Times Table Galaxy uses reinforcement, engagement and competition to help students move from skip counting to instant recall. Times Table Galaxy works by scaffolding students through the stages of learning multiplication facts - starting with skip counting. Learners need to skip count through a multiple to fly higher in space. The quicker they go, they better their time is. The better their time is, the higher they rank against their friends and other players of TTG.

Because Times Table Galaxy encourages learners to play again and again to beat their peers’ scores the neural pathways for those number facts are reinforced again and again. Along the way learners need to use skimming and scanning skills and quick reflexes to constantly improve on their score and beat their friends.

Skip counting, in and of itself, isn’t the ultimate goal however - we want learners to remember their multiplication facts. To finish a level, especially the mastery (★) level, learners need to collect atoms which asks them random facts in the times table they are practicing.

Quickly answering non sequential multiplication questions and comparing multiple times tables questions reinforces those number facts not just as a skip counting strategy but a recallable multiplication fact.

Times Table Galaxy will be available soon, for free, for iPhone and iPad. Follow us on Facebook to find out when it is available.

XSendFile and Hosting Wordpress on a Mac Server

As well as make apps we also work at a innovative school in Papamoa, New Zealand. This blog sometimes contains the technical details that might be useful to colleages in similar schools, or just so we don't forget when things go wrong. Most of you will find this boring and useless, but one or two people might find it useful! 


Public Wi-Fi Network Safety Explained in a Nutshell, with Banjoes

For all those times I've thought "I didn't know they had free wifi at this airport".

If you're headed to an airport, cafe or hotel with your connected device this summer it might also be worth reading up on evil twin attacks or keeping safe with VPN.

Letterpress in the classroom

Letterpress, a fun and addictive game for iOS has been very popular in indie-developer circles and appears to be single-handedly responsible for completely destroying the Game Center servers. It might be causing Apple Server engineers to lose sleep but my classroom of nine and ten year olds absolutely love it.

Essentially Letterpress is a strategic word game, where players have to make words from a letter board. It's competitive and can be used to teach vowel and letter blends, suffixes and prefixes.

"No, February is a noun"

"No, February is a noun"

I introduced it as a whole class activity, with Game Center set up on one of our classroom iPads which was AirPlay mirrored to an AppleTV connected to our projector. It was Team 13 vs. their all knowing teacher (I played on my phone).

I'm impressed. I used to think that I was good at this game (well, until I started playing my wife anyway), but right now Team 13 is destroying me. The coup de grâce came when Jaedyn suggested Penumbras. Jaedyn is 9.

Yes, a lot of the fun in the game can include picking words that are inappropriate for the school environment; but set clear boundaries and expect the same propriety in written language as you would in the verbal. My next step will be to set up a couple Game Center accounts for my class so that learners can play against one another during literacy choosing time.

If your pride can handle it try Letterpress with your class. It's free with an optional 99c in-app purchase, which you don't need for classroom use. Although, that 99 cent purchase is a great way of saying thanks to the developer if your class loves Letterpress as much as mine.

And on this moment I was owned. 

And on this moment I was owned. 

Earcandy: Podcasts about Apple, Development & Education

I love podcasts. I love being able to learn, be entertained and informed while I'm doing something active whether it's the dishes, the gym or driving.

Two of my favourite podcasts, Build & Analyze and Hypercritical are finishing before year end. Because of this I thought it would be a good idea to share some great podcasts out there in the intersections between Apple tech, Education and Development.

Apple-Style Tech & Design

  • The Talk Show. A dry, but very well informed podcast from John Gruber (and friends) on Apple hardware and software. Thoughtful and not sensationalised.
  • ...there's a big gap here left in Hypercritical's absence. A show to watch out for in this space is The Crossover, hosted by Dan Benjamen and a variety of other hosts from the 5by5 network. If you enjoy the 5by5 hosts then this seems like a goodie with a very broad topic base.


  • Developing Perspective. A more technically focused podcast by David Smith. Always under 15 minutes, genuine, and practical.
  • Core Intuition. A higher level perspecive on development as a business.


  • Out of School. I'm just starting out on this podcast which seems to focus around iPads in the education space. Very experienced and insightful hosts.


What's this for then?

This blog will be a bit of an overlap between the world of apple tech, teaching and education using  technology, and developing for iOS.  Monique and I are both enthusiastic teachers and enthusiastic, albeit fledging, software developers so expect to see a bit of both worlds.

Part of the motivation for writing here is that I expect my students to do a lot of blogging, and leading by example seems like a great place to start. Plus, what's the fun in being a real geek if you can't share the stuff you've learnt?