With its library of entertaining games, sophisticated adaptive software and customizable and gamified virtual learning environment, Sumdog can go a long way in helping students develop the skills they need in math and language arts in a way that is more fun and enjoyable for all involved.
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What Is Sumdog?
Founded all the way back in 1994 in Scotland, Sumdog is an interactive, online drill and practice program that uses video games to help students sharpen key skills in a more enjoyable manner.
Covering math and language arts, Sumdog provides a personalized learning experience through a sophisticated adaptive algorithm, changing the level of game difficulty and topical practice to match a student’s individual skill and ability.
What Ages Or Grades Is Sumdog Intended For?
Although founded in the UK, Sumdog has been adapted to the US market as well and offers Common Core and standards-aligned question banks for K-8 math, as well as K-6 language arts.
That said, due to its adaptive algorithm, Sumdog is largely skills-based, focused more around a student’s actual demonstration of topical knowledge and ability rather than grade and age.
The algorithm will analyze student responses and increase or decrease the level of difficulty, pace or even change the topical coverage based on their actual performance.
Similarly, at least with the family editions, parents can also set the grade level, skills and topics that students should be working on.
As a result Sumdog can naturally be used by students learning outside a typical grade progression, such as by precocious students and those in upper grades who are a bit behind or who need a skills refresher.
As an adaptive practice program, by and large Sumdog will place students at what it considers the appropriate level of difficulty in math, spelling and grammar based on their performance on diagnostic placement tests.
In these placement tests students are given a series of questions to answer.
About an hour or so in maximum length, the diagnostic begins with 15 or so pre-test questions and then moves on to a 40 question portion.
As long as their accuracy stays above 80%, students are given increasingly challenging questions until the program reaches a point where accuracy begins to reliably drop below this threshold, at which point a level is found.
There can be up to about 200 questions in total, so it can get pretty long if a student is very precocious, although most tests will likely end well before that number is reached.
As an incentive, students are rewarded with their first coins for completing the diagnostic, which is good as the more straightforward math problems the assessment uses may not be all that intrinsically interesting after a while.
At the end of the diagnostic, a placement is given.
This is essentially an assessment of the student’s performance compared to a standards-aligned curriculum in math or language arts.
Since Sumdog is configured to follow a typical, standards-based progression of skills and topics, such as might be found in a public school, it can theoretically place a student in the beginning, middle or end of a grade level based on their performance, which is fairly impressive.
A student with a score of 4.5, for example, means that the program believes them to be at about 50% of the way through a 4th grade curriculum and will start them off somewhere in the middle of a grade level by default.
Features Of Sumdog Math Practice
Sumdog is an online, self-paced learning service that is both web and app-based, meaning it can be accessed from the company website or by downloading a specific app.
As a result, students can access Sumdog in order to get their practice in from anywhere at any time.
Further, because it is offered as both a browser-based and app-based program, it can essentially be used on any device, which is quite convenient.
A student can start off on a desktop and, if they are suddenly kicked off by an older sibling, can take their work on the go by downloading and using the Sumdog app on a tablet.
At the heart of Sumdog is an adaptive algorithm.
Rather than relying on age and grade based set-and-forget standards, the program can change its learning difficulty and pace based on how a student is actually learning and performing.
If a student is having a hard time, the program will automatically note this and can scale back the difficulty or topics to help work on the fundamentals.
Conversely, if a student is flying through its practice it will make things more challenging.
In this way, Sumdog is able to personalize learning and be a little more responsive to student development than most other programs, letting them focus more on what they need help with and less on the skills at which they are already strong.
Rather than providing students with endless pages of drill and language exercises, Sumdog uses a variety of animated games to make practice a little more engaging and fun for students.
Essentially, when practicing their math or language skills, completing assigned challenges or even participating in competitions, students are given access to a wide variety of 3D and 2D games.
And these games aren’t just poorly disguised quizzes and tests, either.
Sumdog has integrated real, mobile-style games where students can race cars, shoot, stack items, play sports, knock things down, fly and even farm.
Periodically, the game will stop and the student will have to solve an exercise task (multiple choice, typing in an answer and so on) provided by the adaptive algorithm in order to continue, move the game action forward or progress to the next level.
Consequently students are drilled in the topics and skills they need while enjoying the types of casual games they might otherwise download and play of their own volition, such as the flower defense game in the video below.
The games are also multiplayer, so students can play against the computer, each other, other online players (anonymously and safely) and even their parents, should their competitive spirit move them to do so.
Interestingly, because Sumdog is adaptive, siblings of different ages can play against one another as, although the game they are playing is the same, the questions they are presented with are personalized to their skill and grade level.
Drilling to develop skill fluency isn’t exactly every student’s idea of a good time, important though it may be.
To help keep things interesting, Sumdog has gamified its practice as well, providing game-like incentives to keep students playing and practicing their skills.
When they start the program, students are given customizable cartoon avatars (digital representations of themselves) and animal companions.
As they successfully answer questions, complete skill paths and complete challenges, students earn coins that they can then spend to buy digital items for their avatars, get new pets and even customize a “house” with various bits of furniture and decoration.
Parents can even set up competitions or enroll their students in various online contests run by the company, which come complete with scoring and leaderboards.
Strong progress tracking
One of the benefits of online learning and practice programs is that parents can more easily track student development and progress, and Sumdog offers fairly granular progress tracking.
From their account, parents can quickly figure out how much time a student is spending on Sumdog, such as how they’ve done in their diagnostic tests, how many questions they have answered correctly/incorrectly, their average accuracy, their average speed at answering questions and how they are doing in other aspects of the program, such as how many coins they’ve earned and which animals they’ve purchased.
More than that, parents can get a real time report of their student’s skill development, including which skills they’ve started, which they’ve completed and which skills still remain to be practiced.
Sumdog’s progress tracking is surprisingly comprehensive, providing parents with pretty much everything they need to understand how their student’s skill fluency is developing in a given subject area, and conveys the information in a pretty intuitive manner, using easy to understand charts and color coded graphs.
Includes Math and Language Arts
Sumdog, as the name may imply, is probably best known for its K-8 standards-aligned math practice.
However, the program also offers dedicated practice for K-6 reading, spelling and grammar as well, making the program fairly expansive and far more complete as far as home-based learning goes.
Using the same powerful adaptive technology and fun, game-based learning, students can work on custom and program-generated spelling lists, unusual and high frequency words, punctuation, sentence completion, adjectives, synonyms, antonyms and much more.
To help do so, Sumdog has integrated a text to speech function, where students listen and then type answers into the program directly, such as in the spelling game below.
Although this can require some more advanced keyboard skills from students, Sumdog does a pretty good job at keeping the speech to text from sounding too monotonous and robotic.
Interestingly, While the math questions in Sumdog are largely multiple choice, when it comes to skills like spelling, the program also offers dictation-like listen and spell exercises, as well as a variation of Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check where words appear on screen and students try their best to spell them from memory.
As such, it manages to replicate some of the more popular practice options included in typical language arts programs.
It’s important to note that although it was originally designed in the UK, Sumdog has been adapted to the US market and US spelling standards, and so it is less likely to confuse students due to differences in English spelling.
How It Works
In general Sumdog is pretty straightforward to use.
It is an online learning platform and can be accessed either by downloading an iOS/Android app or through a typical web browser on the company website.
Parent dashboard and tools
Parents first set up an account for themselves.
From their dashboard, they can add, remove and manage student accounts, set the curriculum according to their location/state standards, view student reports, and set specific topics or skills they would like their student to work on.
As well as send their students coins and set rewards for completing tasks, parents can also create challenges, contests and quizzes for their students from their dashboard.
By setting challenges and contests, parents are able to assign specific skills and topics for their student to work on during games, rather than just let the program choose based on its determination of student skill and a typical curriculum progression in math or language arts.
In this way, Sumdog can be used to deliver customized, targeted practice for those that so desire, which can be pretty helpful.
The quizzes, on the other hand, act as more of a pure review and assessment tool.
Unlike the challenges and competitions, exercises aren’t completed in game but rather as a more typical question/answer format.
Student practice and experience
Once a parent has set up and configured their own dashboard, they can add their students.
The first time students log in, they receive a diagnostic test, which compares their skill level in either math or language arts to a standards-aligned curriculum.
Based on this assessment, the program will automatically adjust the difficulty, topics and pace of the questions it will ask.
After this assessment, students will be redirected to their dashboard where they can access Sumdog games for free skill practice, attempt any challenges set by parents or by the program itself, or spend time in their house, using any coins they’ve accumulated to modify their avatar or buy new pets.
The games are actual video games but in order to be allowed to continue playing or to advance, students must answer questions that are embedded into the game and pop up on the screen from time to time.
These questions are the practice and drill element of Sumdog.
Selected from a bank of several thousand questions, the exact subject, topic and difficulty of the question depends on Sumdog’s assessment of student skill and is where the program’s adaptive algorithm really comes into play.
As a student answers the questions, they become harder or easier depending on how quickly and accurately the student can answer them.
Interestingly, the games actually serve as something of a front end.
Students have the freedom to pick from any one of 6 free games and 25+ premium paid games, depending on their interests and what catches their eye at the time.
Regardless of the type of game the student wants to play, the questions that the program selects remain constant and connected to the curriculum progression.
It is a pretty clever system in our opinion.
Students feel they have some choice in what they want to do, never feeling railroaded into playing games they aren’t really interested in, yet the quality of practice and drill that they’ll engage in remains high.
As students play and answer questions, complete challenges and generally get their practice in, they earn coins.
These virtual coins can be redeemed in order to customize certain non-practice elements of the game.
In Sumdog, students are given an avatar, a sort of virtual representation of themselves, that is something of a blank slate at first.
Students can freely customize their avatar’s features, gender, hair, and skin tone, but can also spend the coins they earn to buy their avatar clothing and accessories.
Like other online learning environments, such as ABCMouse, students can also customize their avatars environment, buying furniture and backgrounds to suit their personal taste.
Similarly, at the start of their Sumdog experience, students are given a pet.
As they complete a whole skill level, students can teach their pet new tricks. They can, for example, get it to jump, chase a butterfly, demonstrate some martial arts skills and more.
Having completed several skills, can pick a new pet to add to their collection.
To earn coins and develop skills there are a couple modes that students can engage in.
Training mode sets students along a curriculum-linked skill development path determined by the diagnostic tool.
Students can select or be assigned skills to work on and do their work in the game of their choice, progressing from topic to topic until they complete a grade level.
Similarly, students can complete more focused and directed challenges set by parents or try their hand at contests against other students.
Overall, we feel that Sumdog can be a very effective way at delivering targeted practice in math and language arts.
The question bank underlying Sumdog’s math, grammar and spelling practice is rather expansive, allowing it to deliver effective and fun practice, building skill fluency over time.
Because of this, in our opinion, it can be a particularly good resource for homeschooling parents to add to a conceptual math program.
Conceptual math programs, such as Singapore Math, Math in Focus or even Math Mammoth, tend to work on developing a strong understanding of math concepts, focusing on why math is used in certain situations and generally help students develop stronger critical thinking and logic skills.
A common criticism is that these programs, while instilling a strong understanding of math, may not provide some students with quite as much dedicated drill and practice to develop skill fluency.
In a similar vein, it can offer more dedicated and focused language arts practice, something that might be particularly useful for those following a more unconventional literary-based language arts curriculum, or who just find the typical paper-based word lists and dictation exercises a little boring.
Additionally, Sumdog is an adaptive practice program that uses a fairly sophisticated diagnostic algorithm.
As such we feel it can offer a more personalized experience than many other practice programs out there as it changes its exercise and topical coverage depending on a student’s actual skill and knowledge, rather than grade expectations.
More than that, the adaptive technology keeps the practice challenging, matching the student’s burgeoning skill fluency, but without overwhelming or frustrating them – if exercises become too hard and students start to struggle, the program will ease up a bit.
It also can be a bit of a time saver for parents, as the automated nature of the program means they don’t have to monitor their student’s practice sessions quite as closely, freeing them to concentrate on other tasks.
We also liked that Sumdog’s games are actually fun (unlike many other educational programs out there) and most students will have a good time playing them even if they have to answer questions to keep going.
There are action games, racing games, sports games, simulators, tower games, defense games and more.
Although there isn’t a huge library of games (about 32 or so at time of writing) there is certainly enough variety to keep students interested and motivated over time.
There is also nothing particularly objectionable in the game content and so it should be ideal for most families. There are no violent shooting games to speak of, for example, or any crude humor that we could find.
More than that, we liked the fact that Sumdog offers students some choice in what games they would like to play during a session.
Consequently students don’t have to feel as railroaded into playing games they don’t like or aren’t interested in, and can feel a little more in control of their learning (also a big motivator in student learning), yet still get the same level of practice regardless of what they choose.
Finally, we really liked the flexibility that Sumdog can offer homeschooling parents.
Parents can choose topics for students to work on based on their own homeschool learning plan and schedule, or simply let the program and its algorithm set the student’s work based on a standards-aligned curriculum pathway.
On the downside, parents should note that, although fun, the games in Sumdog aren’t the most advanced out there.
While students will definitely prefer the look and feel of these games over some of the more basic games that exist for math and language practice, these are still far from the more advanced graphics and features that modern video games can offer.
Similarly, while they are fun, at their heart Sumdog games are drill based practice and not every student really responds positively to drill even when cloaked in fun and interactive gameplay and may disengage from the practice or lose enthusiasm after a while.
Finally, while we enjoyed it, not every family is a big fan of gamified learning and may feel uncomfortable with Sumdog’s coin-based reward system and virtual store.
Similarly, more distractible students may get lost or distracted playing with avatar or virtual pet and parents may need to step in to refocus the learning from time to time.
Pros and Cons of Sumdog
Homeschooling families and those looking for a little more dedicated practice in math or language arts can subscribe to a Sumdog family plan for less than $10 per month.
This subscription includes access to all games and subjects for up to three kids and is affordable enough to suit most budgets.
Accessible from any device
Sumdog is available as an iOS and Android app and is also accessible through a standard web browser. As a result, it can be accessed and used from just about any device as long as there is an internet connection.
Effective practice in math and language arts
With its library of games, large, standards-aligned question bank and customizable challenges, Sumdog can provide effective and focused drill and practice in math, spelling and grammar that won’t bore students to tears.
Adaptive, personalized learning
Sumdog features a fairly high tech adaptive algorithm that can customize the scope and challenge of a student’s learning, adjusting the topical coverage and difficulty of the questions it asks depending on the student’s actual performance (rather than an estimation based on grade level or age).
As a result, Sumdog’s practice can be far more personalized, adapting to a student’s ability on the go and providing them with more focused and relevant practice.
Fun, game based learning
Sumdog offers students the ability to practice their math or language arts skills while playing various 3D and 2D video games. In order to continue or progress in a game, students have to periodically and successfully answer specific questions or perform certain exercises.
In contrast to some other game-based learning options out there, Sumdog’s games are actually quite fun and engaging for kids, being very similar to popular mobile games that they may otherwise play of their own volition.
This fun and engaging environment can make drill and practice a little less stressful and more interesting for students.
While students are free to play against the computer, they can also try their hand playing Sumdog games against their siblings, their friends, classmates, other Sumdog users and even their parents.
Other than being fun, this can introduce a little bit of a competitive element that can serve as a powerful motivator for some students to work on their skills.
Standards-aligned skill development path
Sumdog’s practice lessons are aligned to US Common Core and state standards, and its skill development pathways and training modes follow a typical standards-aligned curriculum, so students and parents can be assured that its practice questions are relevant and appropriate to what students should be working on.
Flexible for homeschooling parents
Although Sumdog can be very hands-off, with the algorithm and curriculum pathway guiding students through their practice, it can also be very flexible.
The program allows parents to set custom challenges, quizzes and even contests for their students, allowing students to work on specific skills in a way that aligns with their homeschool learning schedule.
Games aren’t the most sophisticated in look and feel
Although they are fun and family-friendly, Sumdog’s games aren’t exactly the most advanced out there.
There aren’t the sophisticated 3D graphics, sophisticated storylines and complex gameplay that some students may be used to, and so some may remain unimpressed.
It involves more screen time
Sumdog is accessed through a web browser or app and therefore students will spend a good deal of time sitting in front of a screen when using it.
Although the company recommends using it for only about 30 minutes a week, it is another screen-based task and some parents may be concerned about the cumulative effects of all the screen time their students are exposed to.
Gamification not for every family
Sumdog has gamified its practice sessions, allowing students to earn coins through practice that they can then spend in a virtual store, customizing their avatar, decorating their home and garden and so on.
While often an effective way to keep kids interested in learning, particularly with struggling students, it may not be a great fit for every homeschool or family philosophy, who may object to the use of coins/virtual consumption as a reward, find it too competitive and so on.
Who is Sumdog ideal for?
Students who find doing practice in math or spelling boring
Some students don’t mind doing drills in math or language arts, while others find it to be terribly boring.
By allowing students to play fun games while engaging in targeted practice, Sumdog allows these students to work on their skill development without getting quite as frustrated.
Parents looking for a more independent learning option
Sumdog does an excellent job at placing students at the right curriculum level, maintaining an appropriate challenge and guiding them through their practice sessions without needing a lot of parental intervention.
As a result, parents don’t have to manage the practice process quite as much and can step back into an oversight role, allowing them to refocus their time and attention on other tasks.
Students who love video games and respond well to gamification
Sumdog has well over 30 different types of games covering a wide variety of game types. These games are not as obviously educational as other options and are similar to real and popular mobile games.
Similarly, the program rewards student success with coins that can be spent on upgrades and accessories for their avatar and its virtual world.
As a result, it can offer a more entertaining and relevant practice experience to students who enjoy video games and their reward systems.
Parents looking for a program that can keep their student challenged without boring or frustrating them
Sumdog uses an adaptive learning algorithm that responds to students’ actual performance, raising or lowering the difficulty of the questions it asks on the fly.
As a result, the program can keep practice more or less at the level of the student, meaning they won’t get bored by being asked a series of easy questions or too frustrated by difficult ones.
Homeschooling parents using a conceptual math curriculum who are looking for more practice
Sumdog is designed to develop skill fluency in students, i.e. helping them develop the ability to answer questions quickly and accurately.
As a result it can be an effective supplement to math programs that focus on developing a deeper understanding of math concepts.
Homeschooling parents using a mastery math program who are looking for more spiral review
Many homeschool mastery math programs are criticized for not providing enough revision and review of previously learned concepts.
In addition to the training mode, parents can set Sumdog challenges to test previously learned material, adding a bit of spiral review to their core program.
Who is it not ideal for?
Parents looking for a complete curriculum in math or language arts
Sumdog is essentially an adaptive, online practice program. While it does use a standards-aligned curriculum for its questions and skill development sequence, it is not itself a method of teaching the material and is not a complete curriculum in math or language arts.
Students looking for straightforward and to the point practice
Some students will love Sumdog’s games and method of introducing practice, but others may prefer a more straightforward and to the point, practice-sheet method of drill.
Parents looking to limit screen time
Sumdog is an online program and requires the use of a mobile device or computer to access it. It is, therefore, a source of additional screen time for students.
Homeschooling parents using a math program that already has a lot of drill and practice
Homeschooling parents that are already using a procedural math program that already involves a good deal of drill and practice, such as Saxon or CLE, may not find adding more to be all that effective or desirable, even if it is cloaked in engaging and entertaining video games.
Note: All prices current as of writing, all prices in USD.
Homeschooling parents and those learning at home will need to subscribe to a monthly Sumdog family plan to access the material.
A family subscription provides all access to the program, both in math and language arts, and allows parents to set up 3 student accounts and two parent accounts.
In general, with these plans Sumdog costs about $8.99 per month.
It is important to note that while there is a free trial, parents do have to sign up before accessing it and it is a basic account so doesn’t have access to all the games in Sumdog’s library.
As usual, before making a purchase parents should always check for current pricing as well as for any discounts or offers that may apply.
Is It Worth the Price?
Although it is fairly affordable, we feel that Sumdog can provide a great deal of value to the right family.
Sumdog is available for math, spelling and grammar and is standards-aligned, allowing students to get practice in a way that fits a typical curriculum progression.
Yet parents also have the option of setting their own custom challenges and contests, allowing students to work on specific skills and topics that they feel are important or that fit a particular curriculum’s scope and sequence.
The program is also adaptive, changing its difficulty and topical coverage in real time and in response to student performance, so students don’t get too bored or frustrated and are more able to spend time on the skills they need the most improvement in.
Most importantly, however, Sumdog allows students to engage in critical skill practice and drill through the use of fun video games.
Whether they are stacking, building, racing or defending, students spend time honing their skills in a way that’s a lot more engaging and entertaining for them, meaning they won’t get quite as bored or frustrated in the long run
Let’s face it, drill and skill practice is not every student’s favorite part of studying.
With its library of entertaining games, sophisticated adaptive software and customizable and gamified virtual learning environment, Sumdog can go a long way in helping students develop the skills they need in math and language arts in a way that is more fun and enjoyable for all involved.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.