Math in an unlikely app - Subway Surfer???

     As I was researching math apps in iTunes, it quickly donned on me that people can call an app "educational" and mark it as "math" without it being educational or there being much math in the app.  So I caution teachers, and parents, all the time that just because it says MATH in the app store doesn't mean it is good.  Well, now I have had a similar insight...just because an app is listed as a "game" doesn't mean it cannot be educational.  Here is how my discovery happened...

     Recently I have become a bit concerned with how addicted my 5 1/2-year-old son is to the game Subway Surfer.  This app connects to our Facebook account (my husband's, my 5 YO does not do Facebook) and you can see the high score of all of your Facebook friends who play the game.  This is what spurred his addiction.  His 13-year-old cousin had a high score of over 800,000 points and our son, the competitive boy that he is, became obsessed with beating his cousin's score.  But with his high score only being around 30,000 points we thought it was impossible to ever reach that score.  So one night we called his cousin to find out how in the world he got a score that high.  The secret to upping his Subway Surfer score held so much mathematics along with a game he came up with today that spurred me to write this post.

     I will start with the mathematics within Subway Surfer that helped him increase his high score.  Subway Surfer has a score multiplier.  It starts out at x1 and after you complete a set of missions your multiplier increases by one, all the way up to a max multiplier of x30.  So as my son completed sets of missions he saw his multiplier increase by one and I heard him several times saying what his multiplier would be after he completes his next set, thus thinking about what +1 would be.  There was also a lot of mathematics happening as he tried to complete the missions as well.  The missions are things like "roll 40 times in one run."  So during his runs he would be counting his rolls to try to get 40 before he crashed...lots of practice counting while playing his favorite app.  There was a lot of counting down and being able to connect to number bonds when trying to finish missions.  For example, there are lots of missions like "jump over 12 trains."  These mission didn't have to be completed in one run, so after he crashed he would check his missions and it would show him how many trains he had left to jump over.  After a run, he checked and it said "9 left."  So I asked him, "If you had to jump 12 but now you have 9 left, how many trains have you jumped over so far?"  I explicitly have to point these math problems out to him, but after asking those questions a time or two I heard him figuring those problems out without me even prompting him on later missions.

     Now on to what prompted me to write today.  My son's high score is now up over 1 million and he has the top score in our network of friends, thus he has no one to compete against.  So today he came up with a new competition.  He decided that we should take turns playing and then compare who collected the most coins in one run.  So he played first and got 452 coins (and yes he says the amount we are working on reading large numbers).  Then I played and got 213.  Right away he knew that he had more.  It got interesting later because I ended up crashing before I even got 10 coins and he decided that if we crashed with less than 10 coins we could have another turn.  About two turns later, he crashed with less than 100 coins and decided to change the rule to less than 100 coins...which I gladly let him so that we could work on numbers less than and more than 100 rather than 10 since he is pretty solid in numbers less than 10.

     There is a whole lot more math that I see him doing when playing Subway Surfer, but this post is going on too long and with three little ones running around I better go see what they are getting into.  But for now download the Subway Surfer app and start investigating how these game apps can really be educational.  Are there any other unlikely "game" apps that you have found that actually build some great math thinking??


  1. Sounds like you and I are living similar lives. I was also getting concerned about the hold that Subway Surfer had over my 8 year old. We tend to load up her iPad with only educational games but every once in awhile we let some of those "games" on there. You are very correct when you say some of those "games" have some great math, while some of the so called "math" apps have very little to challenge young minds.

    Subway Surfer was irking me until my daughter set a goal for herself to unlock a time limited character. She figured out how many points/coins she would need to accumulate over a certain time period, and then divided that by the number of days she had left. She then continued to check this goal as time went on to re-evaluate her progress and whether she needed to play more/better to achieve her goal.

    Thanks for the comforting blog post!! Now I know I'm not alone.

    1. What a great additional math problem. I forgot about those characters and hoverboards that are for a limited time. With the new update that has the flamingos that you have to capture a certain amount in a week, my son is seeing the amount he has captured related to how many he needs that week and we can talk about how many more he needs to meet that goal. Thanks for sharing how you are seeing the math in Subway Surfer!

  2. I just found your site through Kinder-Kraze and I love it! Thanks for the great recommendations! I'm your newest follower. :) We're about to head out on a road trip and I've just downloaded several new apps to sneak some math into the trip.

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  7. Great article about these amazing apps! We actually don't use apps and still like to use websites (easier for us to monitor). We really like Beestar, especially the math competition, easy to use and the we can see the kiddos' progress in the end. After using it they also do really well with MATHCOUNTS and other competitions.