Tabula Digita offers three math software products called Evolver Pre-Algebra, Dimenxian, and Evolver Multi-player. All their products use a first-person 3D engine, similar to the first-person shooters like Unreal, Second-Life, and World of Warcraft but with little or no violence. The student is a character in a story and must solve math problems in order to make the story progress.
Unlike almost every other product we reviewed, these programs teach math by situating the student in an elaborate story which requires their participation in order for the plot to continue. For example, in Dimenxian, which teaches Algbebra, the first mission involves collecting data from weather stations at specific locations on on a cartesian grid and then using the data to make a scatter plot. The student must label the axes of the plot and then actually plot the data before the story continues to the next mission. In the Evolver program for pre-Algebra, the user has to collect prime numbers in order to open a gate. In Evolver Multi-player there is less reliance on a story, but the student competes against other students in a 3D-world and tries to solve problems as quickly as they can. For example, in the first mission of Evolver Multi-player, called "Swarm", the student collects data points by running around on a grid and then attempts to pick the equation of a line that represents a "best-fit" of the data. They get more points by picking a better line.
There are 4 missions in Dimenxian, 20 missions in Evolver, and 3 Missions in Evolver Multi-player, and altogther these missions cover 44 different topics in pre-algebra and algebra. At the start of a new mission, a computerized character from the story, such as a "Mission Commander", introduces the concepts related to the mission objective. At the end of each mission, the user completes an assessment and receives a score. Teachers can review the results of these assessments and the student progress through the 44 topics overall via an online reporting system called the "Educator Portal".
Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of these programs, and one which is charmingly enunciated in numerous candids on the company website, is that they are actually fun to play. Tabula Digita has also invented several ingenious interfaces for understanding such engimatic things as the cartesian coordinate system that allow for much more open-ended and explorative learning than any of the other products.
One potential weakness of these products is that they do not introduce concepts as thoroughly as some of the other products. This gives the impression that students are expected to be somewhat familiar with the topics already, prior to sitting down to play. Also, in at least two of the samples provided on their website, it was easy for us to spend time running around and shooting things instead of doing math, which makes these products "appear" less educational.
Click to enlarge