little girl in bed

Bedtime Math Stories

I was catching up on some old topics I saved at the end of 2015 to share with you here. An intriguing idea that made the rounds in October combined childhood education, gamification, parental involvement, personality, framing, and app user experience. Even better, there is both research and a working, for-sale app behind it. I definitely couldn’t leave that one on the editing room floor for too long.

So here is the set up. Too many parents have a phobia when they talk about math with their kids. They get visibly anxious and uncomfortable. They describe their interest in and ability with math negatively. “Math is hard.” “I am not good at math.” This leads their kids to think about math the same way. Plus, it reduces the child’s willingness to ask their parents for help with homework. They don’t share their interest in math with their parents over the dinner table. In the long run, it reduces our societal capabilities in math by slowing it down right from the start.

My Take

The app is called Bedtime Math. I heard about it first through a press release by the University of Chicago about research published by Sian Beilock and Susan Levine. Then I heard a story about it on NPR. If it was on NPR, it must be legit.

Even children who used the app with their parents as little as once a week saw gains in math achievement by the end of the school year. The app’s effect was especially strong for children whose parents tend to be anxious or uncomfortable with math.

The basics. It gives parents a bedtime story to tell their kids that incorporates math in a simple but engaging way. This alleviates parents’ anxiety about math and makes it more interesting to the kids. The research showed that children whose parents use the app have significant gains in math achievement at school, even with use as seldom as once a week. The app was particularly effective for the children of parents who have high math anxiety.

It works in part by improving the emotional frame surrounding math when parents are talking about it with their children. It also has the advantage of being presented within an engaging narrative (the gamification piece). The UI seems to be well designed, leading to a positive user experience.

One thing to note is that this is an example of something that has come up many times here on EID. Many of the benefits we uncover are effective at helping users rise from a level below average up to the population average, but are not as effective at raising performance from average to above average (for example here).

Your Turn

Are you a parent that feels math anxiety? Do you let that show to your kids? Were you aware of the negative consequences on their math learning at school?

On the flip side, are you involved in designs that address challenges like this? Parental anxiety? Negative framing?

Please share your stories.


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