By | August 26, 2022
Duolingo has math now (and it's kind of hard)

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Duolingo, the language learning app known for the owl that haunts my dreams every nightnow has a companion app to teach you (and kids – but mostly you, the reader) math.

To get the most pressing question out of the way: yes, the owl is in the new app, called Duolingo Math. But said bird seems to have been compressed into a sort of cube. I’m not sure if it continues to qualify as an owl in this new form factor. I guess a mascot reclassification wouldn’t be wrong here, since owls can’t do math. Come on now. This is no fantasyland.

A screenshot of three Duolingo characters on a white background.

It took me four tries to get this screenshot from the opening animation. You are welcome.

As someone who has studied a number of languages ​​through Duolingo (you’ll pry my 200-day streak out of my cold, dead hands) but lost all natural affinity for math when letters got involved, I consider myself the ideal candidate to test out Duolingo math course, starting with “Multiplication 1.” Perfect. That’s about where I am.

A screenshot of Duolingo Math including Rounding, Magntiude, Rounding Ops and 10s lessons.

Come and become a student!

A screenshot of Duolingo Math.  The text reads: Solve this: 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = blank.

This is kind of hard to do without multiplying, isn’t it? Like it might take a reasonable person a few seconds? It’s not just me?

(By the way, I’m assuming “magnitude” above doesn’t refer to the field of higher mathematics that evaluates the effective multiplicity of point clouds, but I think it would be incredible if they just threw it in here. Guess I’ll find out after I learn me rounding.)

The topics that follow multiplication include division, fractions, area, perimeter, angles, time, and other things that I quickly forgot how to do as soon as I graduated high school. You get a vertical progression of lessons that build on each other as you go.

I’ve gone through some of the multiplication and division units so far, and the experience is aesthetically similar to that of the language app. The little “ding” you hear when you get a correct answer is just as satisfying, but not identical, to the one you hear in language courses. Lessons are just as quick, taking less than two minutes to complete. You will see your little circles fill up as you complete the lessons. If you don’t study as often as you should, you’ll get a passive-aggressive message from the cubic raptor.

And as with the language app, no two exercises are the same. Duolingo’s language lessons generally let you interact with a set of new words in a bunch of different ways – you listen to them, you say them, you write them, you spell them, and the hope is that some combination of these exercises will succeed in plugging them in your brain. The approach to mathematics seems similar. You add three fours together, and then you match them into a picture of three blocks of four dots, and then you tap a block of four dots three times, and then you count by fours to 12, and you hammer away at what the basis of multiplication actually is before you (probably, at some point) remember that three times four is twelve.

Some questions even ask you to write the answer by hand in a box, which the app does a good job of recognizing and converting to typed text. Unfortunately, I cannot support this feature; I repeatedly got a division question wrong because it turned out I wrote “5” backwards. If I’ve been writing “5” backwards the whole time, I blame you all. One of you should have told me.

The similarities between the two apps are no coincidence, said Sammi Siegel, a senior software engineer who built “most of what you see” in the new math program. Siegel — who has been working on Duolingo Math for just over a year and was the sole engineer on the project for much of that time — aimed to take the setup and exercises that have made Duolingo successful in the language realm and turn them into math.

“We have all these different mechanics to keep people engaged. We wanted to take everything we’ve learned from language teaching and apply it to a different subject,” says Siegel The border.

“Whether it’s calculating the tip of a check or changing the portions in a recipe, math is just really important to our lives,” Siegel says. “We also know that there’s this prevalence of math anxiety where people don’t feel completely comfortable with their math skills. We think with a fun and engaging app, we can cut into that and break it down for others.”

So you can kind of see what they’re doing here.

I’m flashing back to Mrs. Tapley in sixth grade so hard.

There are, of course, ways in which learning mathematics differs from language learning.

The primary obstacle I see is that the majority of people starting a Duolingo language, regardless of their age, can reasonably be assumed to be beginners of that language due to the fact that they use Duolingo. While some people may be bored at first (I have been complaining for a long time about how excruciatingly long some Duolingo courses take to get to something fun), starting anyone downloading Korean I or anything with the basic alphabet seems like the right move.

But math teachers, one would suspect, come in with widely varying math knowledge and ability. Figuring out where to start everyone so the material isn’t too easy or too hard to keep them engaged strikes me as a tricky prospect. You can start on any device you like, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of comprehensive placement test.

To address this, Duolingo plans to offer courses at multiple levels based on age. Currently there’s one for elementary school students (I can only assume this is the one I’ve done) and one in the works that’s more geared toward adults who want to brush up. (I’m too scared to try this one because Siegel mentioned that it would involve “harder numbers, like multi-digit multiplication.” For my pride, it’s got to be a no from me, but good luck to the rest of you.)

More levels, including some for high school, aren’t out of the question, though the team is currently focusing on the two courses they already have.

A screenshot of the Duolingo Math interface.  The text reads: Drag this block 5 times to make this number: 20.

The question got a little bigger as the lesson went on. This one pushed it, not going to lie.

A screenshot of an exercise in Duolingo Math.  The text reads: Mark all with 15 boxes.

I got this one wrong and I’m not ashamed. Look at all these boxes. There are too many.

My other concern has been that the language app has been very good (in my case) at helping me memorize words but less good at making me retain grammatical concepts long-term – and the latter seems much more necessary for math learning. For example, in the Duolingo language apps, I find myself repeating a specific sentence over and over again, which helps me remember that sentence but doesn’t necessarily make me comfortable using the words in that sentence in other sentences.

To address this, there is a level of randomness in the numbers displayed in each math exercise. There are limitations, which vary by practice, but the goal is that two people doing the same lesson side by side will not always do the exact same problem. I have yet to see any very funny numbers emerge as a result of this, but I’m on the lookout.

A screenshot of an exercise in the Duolingo math app.  The text reads: Match the pairs.

I’m telling you, they have all the SAT questions in here somewhere.

A screenshot of the Duolingo math app.  The text reads: Write the answer: 4+4+4+4+4=20.

Okay, now this is getting a little silly.

And to address the last thing I have complained about recently with the language app: no part of Duolingo Math is behind the company’s $6.99/month paywall (at least for now). “We want to make sure we get to product-market fit before we start thinking about monetization,” Siegel says. Yuk.

On the off chance that I haven’t made this fact abundantly clear yet: I am not an expert in math, learning, or any subject whatsoever. But this was a fun app to use.

While the material is clearly aimed at people younger than me, I found myself challenged in parts (which I’m not ashamed of, because there’s a calculator on my phone that can do this for me. Kiddos, you’ve got a lot to look forward to against to). There’s some creativity and variety in the exercises that puts them a step above school on the fun scale. I can certainly see how this would sharpen my mental math and make me think more acutely about what I’m doing when scribbling a tip on a receipt.

The iOS and iPadOS Duolingo Math app is currently available in beta, which you can join now, with a full launch later this year.

#Duolingo #math #kind #hard

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