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I have very clear happy childhood memories of sneakily hiding under my bed covers when I was supposed to be asleep, so I could play on my Little Professor, released by Texas Instruments in 1976.

It was a handheld drill-and-practice aid for basic maths that suggested problems and rewarded you with a message on its display when you gave the correct answer. The LED display made it possible to play in the dark once I had memorised the button positions.

Just finding an image of it makes me smile and remember the HOURS I spent having fun and testing myself – both secretly at bed time and during daylight hours.


Last week when I took my young daughter to our local library, after looking at a few non-fiction books, she asked to play on one of their iPads and I said she could play one game.

The game she chose to play is one that she had played there before on a visit with her dad. I hadn’t seen it before. It was a game where you’re helping a bird to fly up a tree to get to a key and let another bird out. But not really. That’s just the visual interface. Really, it was just like the Little Professor in App form!

The game involves solving simple addition problems, then slightly harder ones, then simple subtraction problems and so on, with visual rewards provided through the bird collecting things as it flies up the tree on a mission to get a key and free another bird.

There are hundreds of maths apps and games available, so I’m not reviewing this App in particular, just commenting on the embedded nature of the maths problems in the game dynamics, and the ease with which my emerging mathematician engaged with the problems.

At five years old my daughter’s maths skills seem fairly limited, but using her fingers, and then her fingers and toes she was able to get a fair way into the game. The satisfaction she got from solving the problems was immense, with big smiles and jumping up and down with excitement.

I am so proud that my young daughter chose to play a maths game, and loved it! I am so proud that she could do it, and that she persevered when the problems got harder. She stopped playing not long after the first bird had unlocked the next bird, but she loved the challenges it gave her. Here’s hoping that she stays as engaged with maths concepts when she starts school next year!