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Exploring Mathematics in VR

Of all of the subject areas covered in schools, Mathematics is probably the one with the least content when it comes to virtual reality. In many ways, AR is a more natural fit since it allows you to pull content into the physical world. Various AR apps have utilised this principle when it comes to learning about 3D shapes – whether it be new platforms like Hologo and GeoGebra AR or ones that have been around for several years now like Arloon Geometry.

You can also find various ARkit apps that support the teaching and learning of measurement such as Aire Measure, MagicPlan and Measurekit. Perhaps the most unique AR maths app I’ve seen is MathNinjaAR which brings a whole mathematical game into your physical space.

VR and Maths has always been a bit of an awkward fit though since Maths is not something that would necessarily benefit from transportation to a different space. Sure you could harness a VR game to log scores and then use the data somehow, or watch a 360 video and build math problems from the content (we used to do this with traditional videos of a rollercoaster – having students generate mathematical questions about the ride they were watching) but what about actual, dedicated mathematics in VR? I decided to delve a little and here are 8 experiences that bring the world of math to VR.

1. Number Hunt (Vive/Rift)

This week I’ve been testing a new app on the Vive called Number Hunt VR. It’s a unique twist on the first-person shooter genre as it blends FPS game mechanics with mathematical content. Up to four players enter one of several themed arenas for three rounds of competition. The aim is to make the set of target numbers which is displayed on your left hand. You do this in a pretty unique way - by finding and blasting the animated integers that are also running around the arena! To help you on your way, you can change the setting on your guns so that they either add, subtract, multiply or divide. If you thought Call of Duty was manic, imagine doing mental arithmetic at the same time!

So for example you were looking to make 25.

You spot a 7 so you shoot that with the addition gun.

You come across a 3 so you switch to the multiply gun to shoot that for a total of 21.

Now if you can just find a 4…

Finding the numbers is pretty challenging at times and you have to be prepared to switch strategies and change your calculations on the hop. Every number you blast drops coins though and if you earn enough you can unlock a limited amount of a time using a cloning gun which can help you repopulate with the digits you are in need of. At the end of each round the target numbers are reset and you begin hunting down the digits you require once again. It definitely takes a little practice and the solo mode is ideal for this. Overall it really is enormous fun, a genuine workout for your brain and a really polished production. The developers have even hinted at an upcoming algebra-themed mode which sounds promising.

2. Times Tables VR (iOS/Android) The fun little free app allows students to select a range of times tables to practice and then fires sums at them with missing numbers. The player then looks around them to find various options on balloons and has to select the right one as quickly as possible. What’s great about this type of experience as opposed to a traditional PC or tablet based app of a similar ilk is the simple fact that it forces the player to engage with the content by looking around. A small slice a kinaesthetic learning can go a long way with some kids! It’s bright and vibrant and well worth a look for a unique lesson starter.

3. CalcFlow (Vive/Rift)

Calcflow on the Vive and Rift is a maths app aimed at older students. It lets you explore mathematical theorems and scenarios in an interactive virtual reality environment. Essentially it allows you to visualise mathematical concepts in a completely new way. Some concepts that it includes are:

  • Manipulate vectors with your hands

  • explore vector addition and cross product

  • See and feel a double integral of a sinusoidal graph in 3D

  • a mobius strip and it's normal, and spherical coordinates

  • create your own parametrized function and vector field

Now I won’t pretend to know what all of those things mean - it’s definitely an app that goes beyond my own level of maths but the feedback from users has been resoundingly positive and the developers have created an entire series of tutorial videos on YouTube to support those trying it for the first time. CalcFlow also supports note-taking inside the app which is a great touch.

4. Medieval Math VR (iOS/Android)

Medieval Math VR is another gamified approach to learning and it’s pretty slick. It utilises a tower defense/wave shooter style in which you are armed with a crossbow and tasked with shooting at the correct answer to multiple choice math problems. Each correct answer earns you another arrow which you use to shoot the waves of cartoony enemies advancing towards your castle. It’s easy to master, really engaging and a great mix of arcadey fun and math practice. A great choice for KS2 students.

5. VR Math (iOS/Android)

This is possibly the most in depth mobile VR app on this list and boasts a range of unique features including the ability to access content as a student or to deliver content as a teacher. The content itself is accessible via VR headsets or in 360 on a touch screen. It’s mostly geometry themed and presented as a series of tasks rather than passive content. Students are challenged to identify various properties like edges and vertices, using VR to help them with their spatial awareness and understanding. It’s got a decent range of content and represents a pretty purposeful use of virtual reality.

6. Calculus in Virtual Reality (iOS/Android)

This free app is clearly a passion project from developer Nicholas Long. It contains a wealth of content focused on multi-variable calculus, covering topics such as 2D Coordinates and Graphs, 3D Coordinates and Graphs, Curves and Surfaces and Vector Valued Functions. The twist is that the content is set against a backdrop of 360 images. Each section also contains some interactive demos where the user can manipulate the data using a Bluetooth controller or the interaction button on a mobile headset.

7. DataViz (Vive/Rift)

Data visualisation has come a long way from tables and bar graphs to 3D animated graphics in Excel. The next step is to bring data into full 3D using VR (or indeed AR/MR). This free beta app allows you to do just that – taking numbers and statistics and allowing you to plot them in 3D axes which you can manipulate with ease to view. This literally allows you to view data from new angles – which in some cases may result in different patterns and trends being identified. This one would definitely be good hooked up to a classroom screen to allow a group to view the visualisation together.

It should be noted that the free Dataviz demo does not allow you to upload your own datasets. Also they recently rebranded as 3Data and although the DataViz beta app is still available via Steam, it may be discontinued if they launch a full new product there.

8. MashUp Math

This YouTube channel shares a range of videos to help kids develop their math skills. One thing they have begun to experiment with is the use of 360 videos to stage algebraic problems. Here’s an example:

It’s a simple concept but still worth checking out with students. It could also be replicated pretty easily with a 360 camera. You could have students create posters with the various elements of the equation on them and then place these at various points around the camera. Students could introduce their problem and then return at the end to walk through the solution!

#VR #Maths

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