Noodle App of the Month: Bedtime Math (November 2015)

For a lot of people — kids and parents alike — math can prove not only difficult, but downright scary.

New solutions in ed tech are creatively addressing a variety of learning challenges. The innovative online tools we’ve featured over the past few months have helped students and their families manage their time, communicate with teachers, visualize statistics, stay safe on campus, and do homework.

This month’s pick has a narrow but ambitious goal: helping kids get “jazzed about numbers.” For many, anxiety about math can be an impediment to learning — a challenge that this innovative app addresses by helping students create a new relationship with the subject.

Bedtime Math

What is it?

Bedtime Math is an iOS and Android app that aims to integrate math into the nightly routines of kids and their parents. Lots of families read together or tell stories at bedtime, and these are great for getting kids interested in books and reading. So why not throw some numbers into the mix?

The app (which is based on a series of books) provides users with a very brief story each day — with a mathematical component, of course.

For example, a recent installment was based on a question submitted by Tanisha, a fan of the app (though not all of the exercises are based on user submissions). Tanisha was thinking about the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” In the story, a young woman is able to prove her nobility by sensing the presence of a pea under dozens of mattresses and featherbeds — OK, so the premise is a little dated and far-fetched.

Anyway, Tanisha got to wondering about vegetables and sleeping surfaces, and asked the Bedtime Math team just how many peas it would take to fill a mattress in real life.

The app tells you about the fairy tale and Tanisha’s inquiry, and then poses several questions that test your quantitative reasoning skills in fun and playful ways. It’s making math more approachable not only by integrating it into everyday routines, but also by presenting problems and exercises in a new context (namely a place outside of math class).

Who would love it?

Part of what makes Bedtime Math so appealing is the breadth of its potential audience — kids, of course, but also their parents.

As soon as you finish each day’s story, you’re prompted with a difficulty level for the questions that follow (“Wee Ones,” “Little Kids,” and “Big Kids” — plus an option for parents and teens titled “The Sky’s the Limit”). The questions range from simple — like asking users to name the shape of a pea — all the way to complicated word problems — such as actually answering Tanisha’s question about filling a mattress with peas. Tapping on certain answers triggers bonus follow-up challenges that fly onto the screen via adorable astronomical animations.

What makes it captivating?

The app’s design is intuitive and straightforward, with no complicated or confusing features to stand between you and the material. As soon as you open it, you’re immediately able to access daily stories and problems dating back to 2012. The latest tale is always at the top of a running list, so you can see what’s new at a quick glance. Since Bedtime Math is geared toward parents and expressly created to be used at the end of the day, this simplicity is ideal; there is no need to navigate complex displays or scroll through long lists of options to find the content you want when you’re getting your kids ready to go to sleep.

As for the stories themselves, they’re truly fun. They’re also wildly varied, bouncing back and forth between fictional tales, historical events, cutting-edge technology, and topical subjects. Users will never have to worry about duplicate content because each story is accompanied by a host of questions geared toward learners with different abilities. In this way, a single story can entertain, engage, and challenge the whole family.

An added bonus is that the app is free.

How is it making an impact on education?

Bedtime Math is the subject of a recent study by University of Chicago psychologists Sian Beilock and Susan Levine, published in the journal Science. (While the study itself is behind a paywall, you can find a description of its findings on the Science site.)

According to Beilock, who’s written a book called “Choke,” about the ways in which stress and anxiety relate to performance, a majority of American adults “feel at least some apprehension toward math.” As earlier research by the same two professors indicates, parents’ math anxiety may be contagious, making kids uncomfortable with the subject, too.

The yearlong study of nearly 600 Chicago-area first-graders found that these children showed notable gains even using the app as little as once a week over nine months. And kids who used it frequently performed as if they’d had three additional months of formal math instruction. Outcomes were even more significant for kids of parents who reported higher levels of anxiety with math; using the app virtually erased the ill effects of having a math-anxious mom or dad.

The takeaway is that introducing math-related discussions in structured, regular, and relatively low-effort ways makes children more comfortable with math exercises, an outcome that in turn leads to improved achievement in the subject.

Beilock and Levine point out that while reading is a priority in the home (and is often part of a nightly routine), math is relegated to the classroom. They hope that their study will change some minds and open people’s eyes to the fact that opportunities to engage in math are everywhere, not just in school. And, most importantly, that the subject is nothing to be afraid of.

Check out the Noodle App of the Month for October 2015, Remind, a tool that easily, conveniently, and safely helps teachers stay in touch with students and their parents.

For answers to reader-submitted questions and Expert-authored articles, check out our page dedicated to helping students and their families get better at math. Interested in finding a tutor? If you’re looking for extra help for your child, the Noodle tutor search lets you filter by subject, cost, location, language of instruction, and more.

Noodle has no ties to or affiliations with Bedtime Math.