Duolingo now has math (and that’s pretty hard)


Yes, you read that headline correctly. Duolingo, the language learning app famous for the owl that haunts my dreams every night, now has a companion app to teach you (and kids — but especially you, reader) math.

To clear up the most pressing question, yes, the owl is present in the new app, which is called Duolingo Math. However, this bird seems to have been compressed into a kind of cube. Not sure if it will continue to qualify as an owl in this new form factor. I suppose a reclassification of the mascot wouldn’t be amiss here, as owls can’t count. Come on. This is not fantasy land.

It took me four tries to get this screenshot from the opening animation. Don’t mention it.

As someone who has studied a number of languages ​​through Duolingo (you will pry my 200-day streak from my cold, dead hands) but who lost any natural affinity for math when the letters got involved, I consider myself the ideal candidate to tests from Duolingo’s math course, which starts with ‘Multiply 1’. Perfect. That’s about where I am.

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

Come become a student!

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

This is pretty hard to do without multiplying, right? As if it could take a reasonable person a few seconds? Am I not alone?

(By the way, I assume “magnitude” above doesn’t refer to the field of higher math that evaluates the effective diversity of point clouds, but I think it would be incredible if they just added that here. I think I’ll find it off after I learn Rounding.)

The topics that follow multiplication include division, fractions, area, perimeter, angles, telling time, and other things that I promptly forgot how to do once I graduated from high school. You get a vertical progression of lessons that build on each other along the way.

I’ve gone through some of the multiplication and division units so far and the experience is aesthetically similar to the language app. The little “thing” you hear when you get a good answer is equally satisfying, but not identical, to the sound you hear in language courses. Lessons are equally fast and take less than two minutes to complete. You will see how your small circles fill as you complete the lessons. If you don’t study as often as you should, you’ll get a passive-aggressive call from the cubic bird of prey.

And as with the language app, no two exercises are the same. Duolingo’s language classes generally let you interact with a range of new words in different ways – you listen to them, you say them, you type them, you spell them, and the hope is that a combination of those exercises will work for them. cram your brain. The approach to mathematics seems similar. You add three fours together, and then you match them to an image of three four-dot blocks, and then you tap a four-dot block three times, and then you count four to 12, and you hammer on what the basis of multiplication actually is before you (presumably at some point) remember that three times four is twelve.

Some questions even require you to handwrite the answer in a box, which the app can easily recognize and convert into typed text. Unfortunately I cannot support this feature; I repeatedly got a sub-question wrong because it turned out I wrote “5” backwards. If I wrote “5” backwards all the time, I blame you all. One of you should have told me.

The similarities between the two apps are no coincidence, says Sammi Siegel, the senior software engineer who built “most of what you see” into the new math program. Siegel — who worked on Duolingo Math for a little over a year and was the sole engineer on the project for much of that time — wanted to adopt and create the setup and exercises that brought Duolingo language success.

“We have all these different mechanisms in place to keep people engaged. We wanted to take everything we learned from teaching language and apply it to another subject,” says Siegel The edge.

“Whether it’s calculating the tip on a check or adjusting the portions in a recipe, math is simply essential to our lives,” Siegel says. “We also know that there is an increase in math anxiety where people are not completely comfortable with their math skills. We think with a fun and engaging app we can cut that and break it for people.”

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

I flash so hard back to Mrs. Tapley in sixth grade.

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

The main hurdle I see is that the majority of people who start a Duolingo language, regardless of their age, can reasonably be assumed to be beginners of that language by virtue of using Duolingo. While some people may be bored at first (I’ve complained at length about how painfully long some Duolingo courses take to get to something fun), leaving anyone downloading Korean I or whatever with the basic alphabet is the right move. to start.

But math students, you might suspect, will come in with highly variable math knowledge and skill. Figuring out where everyone should start so that the material won’t be too easy or too hard to keep them busy seems like a tricky prospect to me. You can start with whatever unit you want, but there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive placement test.

To address this, Duolingo plans to offer multi-level courses based on age. Currently there is one for primary school students (I can only assume this is the one I did) and one in the works that is more geared towards adults looking to refresh. (I’m too scared to try this one because Siegel said it would contain “harder numbers, like multi-digit multiplication.” The rest of you.)

More levels, including some for high school, are not out of the question, although the team is currently concentrating on the two courses they already have.

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

The questions got a little bigger as the lesson progressed. This one pushed it, don’t lie.

A screenshot of an exercise in Duolingo Math. Text reads: Select all with 15 squares.

I misunderstood this one and I’m not ashamed. Look at all those squares. There are too many.

My other concern was that the language app was very good (in my case) at helping me with brute force to memorize words, but less good at letting me retain grammatical concepts in the long run – and the latter seems much more needed for learning mathematics. For example, in the Duolingo language apps, I find myself repeating a specific sentence over and over, which helps me remember that sentence, but I don’t necessarily feel comfortable using the words in that sentence in other sentences.

To address this, there is a degree of randomness in the numbers that appear in any math exercise. There are limitations, which vary with each exercise, but the goal is that two people doing the same class side by side don’t always have exactly the same problems. I haven’t seen any really funny numbers come up as a result of this yet, but I’m wary.

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

I’m telling you, they have every SAT question format here somewhere.

A screenshot of the Duolingo math app. Text reads: Type the answer: 4+4+4+4+4=20.

Okay, now it’s getting a little crazy.

And to address the last point I recently complained about 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 the product-market fit before we start thinking about monetization,” said Siegel. Oof.

In case I haven’t made this fact abundantly clear yet, I’m not an expert on math, learning, or any subject. But this was a fun app to use.

While the material is clearly aimed at younger people than me, I found myself challenged in parts (which I’m not ashamed of as there’s a calculator on my phone that can do this for me. Kids, you guys have a lot to look forward to). look until). There is some creativity and variety in the exercises that take them a step above school in terms of fun. I can definitely see how this would sharpen my mental math and make me think more clearly about what I’m doing when I scribble a tip on a receipt.

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


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