You may be familiar with Numbers Bee, the digital math challenge that takes spelling bee-type competitions to the next level, if you’ve been (or known) an elementary or middle school-aged kid in Delaware in the early 2000s. The company and its nonprofit, National Bee spun off from Hockessin-based software development firm Vel Micro Works, and has provided free Numbers Bee licenses to students in Red Clay, Christina and Brandywine School Districts over the years.
If you’re not familiar with Numbers Bee: It’s a desktop-turned-web-turned-mobile-app game geared toward pre-high school kids created by married business partners Sakthi and Kamatchi Vel, who are also president and VP of Vel Micro Works.
Kamatchi Vel left a job teaching at a community college to raise their children more than 20 years ago.
“We noticed that the children were behind in math, so we were teaching them at home,” she said. “There was a program called Challenge 24, and my kids were participating, but my son could memorize the whole pattern. It’s not challenging enough.”
To give their son more of a challenge, Sakthi developed Numbers Bee, a math game that makes it harder to memorize patterns by using a larger range of numbers (1 to 99).
“You can’t memorize that pattern,” Kamatchi said. “You have to do it on your own.”
So, how exactly does the game work? Each match is made up of individual problems with multiple (sometimes hundreds) of possibilities for solving it. For example, at the beginner level, it might give you the numbers 3 and 5 and ask you to use addition or subtraction to get a result of 8. Most problems have three or four numbers, increasing the number of possible solutions. This demo gives examples:
After being developed for desktop about 20 years ago, they took the game to local schools to see if they would be interested in having Numbers Bee tournaments. Several schools took them up on it, and there were tournaments from 2003 to 2016. Unlike a spelling bee, where participants come up one at a time, Numbers Bee tournaments participate all at the same time.
Now, with the release of the mobile app, the Vels are looking toward bigger possibilities as the popularity of esports and competitive gaming rise.
The free app can also be played by a single player, both as practice for Numbers Bee tournaments and as a standalone game that, according to the company’s analysis of over 3,000 students, has been shown to help students score higher on the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS) math scale by an average of 10 points, compared to students who didn’t play the game.
The research also showed that math assessments improved in relation to the number of hours a student played the game. “For every 100 minutes playing the Numbers Bee program, students appear to get an average 12.8 scale-point boost to Spring 2013 achievement,” the report states.
Also notable, as the push to get students learning software coding from the middle and even elementary school level, is that the way players interact with numbers in the game can potentially help them learn coding languages more easily.
The app also allows users to set up their own tournaments, with friends or as family game night — although designed for kids, the game is challenging for most adults, too — or they can play in online video tournaments that sometimes offer prizes, if they’re sponsored.
Numbers Bee is actively looking for schools, groups and organizations to partner with as it looks to grow in Delaware and beyond.
“We want to see organizations take it statewide, nationwide and internationally,” said Kamatchi, noting that, as a numbers game, it translate easily into an international stage.
“One plus one is two no matter the language,” Sakthi said.
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