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Astro Algebra: The making of an educational game app

Anna Silsbury

Starring

Client : Andrew Lockett
UX Design : George Grover
iOS Build : Joe Benton
Strategy : Sam Allen
Project Management : Anna Silsbury

Introduction

One of the many perks of working for a digital agency is that you get the opportunity to work with such a variety of clients and products. You never know who is going to walk through the studio door, (or more likely email) to require your services.

This day back in April, Mr Lockett, a local teacher with a vision, got in touch to present his idea for his second app that would help children grasp the different topics of Algebra in an entertaining manner. The idea tickled our creative taste buds, and always up for a new challenge, we started outlining ideas for an app that could potentially achieve this on a tight budget.

Astro Algebra

Five months later we launched Astro Algebra – a space themed app where children play quickfire questions on a range of different algebra topics. Although aimed at children aged around 10-14, the app is also useful for adults and parents helping with their children’s homework and can be a useful learning resource for schools.

The app contains 10 different algebra subjects, each being represented by a different labeled planet such as ‘Missing Numbers’. The planets are made up of a Learn and a Play section, with the Play section incorporating a Practise and a Challenge (game) mode.

Astro Algebra has recently been shortlisted as a finalist in the prestigious Bett awards in the Educational Apps category. The winners will be announced at the Bett Awards 2018 Ceremony taking place on Wednesday 24th January 2018 at Tobacco Dock in London.

Planning the Features

Although Mr Lockett provided all the questions, a good thing for the learners, we still had to get our maths hats on to work out the structure and put together the questions, answers, countdown and point system.

A lot of work went into planning the functionality to be included in the app. Some of the features that had to be considered included:

  • Structuring the data for the questions and answers from a JSON file stored within the application.
  • General logic for the functionality of the ‘Play’ screen. This includes running the timer during each question, tracking score for each correct/incorrect answer, randomise a selection of 10 questions and with extra functions such as clear and confirm.
  • Format and layout for both multiple choice question user input question
  • Individual question score popup as well as overall end of level score popup
  • Storing current progress on each level along with score and remaining questions

UX / Design & Creativity

As for the look and feel of the app it was important to find a balance between child-friendly features such as large buttons, clear language and icons and a contemporary, clean design that would appeal to older children.

For the design concept we chose a space themed setting that we felt would attract both boys and girls as well as a wider age group. To appeal to older children we stayed away from very bright and vivid colours but included playful features like squared stars with a subtle twinkle in the background.

Looking at other Maths apps on the market there seemed to be a strong focus on those either aimed at young children or rather basic question-based apps, lacking in design and inspiration. To keep within budget the team had to limit the scope for design and technical features but at the same time try to achieve an engaging learning experience.

With built-in features such as; a rocket countdown, encouraging messages after each question answered, personal resultboard after each challenge, star achievements and a space cadet badge – we hoped that we had done enough to encourage replay and engage a digital generation accustomed to instant feedback and fast paced media.

Technical Functionality & App Logic

The app has been made in the latest versions of iOS and Swift and works on a variety of devices, for both iPad and iPhone.

The logic behind the game

For each game challenge players are given 10 questions, selected at random from 100 different topic questions. For variation and interest, the game comprises a mixture of user input and multiple-choice answers.

1-4 stars can be earned per question, rewarding both speed and accuracy. At the end of the 10 questions the results board shows a breakdown of each question and a total result. If and when a user completes a topic earning 4 stars for all 10 questions they are awarded Astronaut status for that planet.

Finally to encourage users to explore a variation of topics, the overall Space Cadet badges unlock as users progress through the different challenges.

Project Success

Launched and released on the Apple app store in September 2017, the app is available on both mobile phones and tablets, supporting iOS 9, 10 and 11.

Since then the app has achieved a 5 star app rating and great feedback from learners, young and old, but also from their parents and teachers.

As mentioned above we were also proud to find out that the app had been shortlisted for an award in the prestigious educational Bett awards. Whether we win an award or not we think this was a victorious project brought about from a successful collaboration with Mr Lockett, who provided high quality content for the app as well as a thorough professional understanding of the target audience.

The success of Astro Algebra has refreshed and revitalised our passion for building game based apps for both the consumer and b2b markets. Zeta is currently working on a Frogger styled events app for Mouser Electronics to help them achieve better engagement with visitors to their exhibition stand and accomplish more efficient data capture.


You can download Astro Algebra here: