The Adder is the result of a collaboration with Dr. Elena Rusconi and colleagues from Abertay University and the University of Glasgow. Our recent Maths survey highlighted a strong association between Maths learning difficulties and Maths anxiety. Moreover, an association was found between Maths difficulties and anxiety and difficulties in finger discrimination.
The Adder was devised as a prototype tool to try and address some of these problems by providing a friendly and motivating environment to work with numbers. It comprises two training modules and three games and aims to improve players’ fluency and understanding of additions and subtractions with 1-, 2- and 3-digit numbers.
The training modules introduce the player to the basic principles and commands used in the following games by organizing numbers along a unidimensional (Line training module) or bi-dimensional (Grid training module) visualization representation. A direct connection is established between motor acts, navigation on the visuospatial template provided by the number line or grid, and successful solution of arithmetic problems. Feedback is provided both for correct and for wrong answers and the correct result is shown at the end of every trial.
The games are named "Balancing Act", "Magic Square" and "the Adder". All of them present the feature of adaptivity, whereby difficulty increases as the player masters lower levels of complexity. If the player fails to master a level, then the range of arithmetic problems are drawn from an easier set. This will prevent unnecessary frustration and maintains good levels of self-confidence throughout.
Balancing Act trains the player to solve arithmetic problems in order to create a perfect balance between the arms of a scale. One arm holds the problem (e.g. 45 – 17) and the other arm holds the proposed result. By clicking on a plus or a minus sign the player can add or take away units, tens, hundreds from the result arm, until it is on a perfect balance with the problem arm (e.g. in the example it would be on balance at 28).
Magic Square trains the player’s mental calculation skills by presenting classical magic squares under time pressure. Aim of the game is to find the missing number in a grid, so that the sum of all the numbers in a column or row is exactly the same. In order to find the correct answer, the player will have to calculate and retain the partial results of sums and subtractions between several numbers.
The Adder requires the player to solve problems by moving on a number grid like in the Grid training module. Additionally, it introduces a mild anxiety-inducing stimulus in the form of a snake (the Adder indeed) whose aim is to catch the player. The better and faster the player becomes, the closer and faster the Adder will come. The result is a very motivating game, which trains the player to see numbers not as the anxiety inducers themselves but, by focusing on solving arithmetic problems in a fast and accurate way, as a tool to escape a potential threat. The adaptivity feature embedded in these games is especially crucial here, because the snake gets only as dangerous as the player’s abilities can bear.
The Adder was subject of a field test at Abertay University - the Adder Challenge - conducted by Ms Kirsty Gallacher under Dr. Rusconi's supervision, in which 45 students were placed into two groups. The first group undertook traditional arithmetic testing with before and after maths anxiety measurements taken. This group showed no improvement from the initial level of maths anxiety level (if anything, it seemed to increase it although the test was not sufficient to say this statistically), whereas the second group of students, who used the Adder to answer a similar group of questions, actually showed a significant decrease in maths anxiety. This difference may well be due to the adaptive nature of the Adder together with the visual/ motion-based aspect of its training.