“Add” – The story behind the App

I created “Add” not for me but of my children. And yet…

I’ll get back to that “And yet…”

When I first came up with the idea for “Add”, it was because I was frustrated. I have a fabulous first child. Keen on sports, agile and quick in her moves on the field but, and this is not easy for any of us, she suffers from learning difficulties.

She has no patience when it comes to school work, quickly becomes frustrated and then, as could be expected, loses interest and becomes impossible to communicate with. This is not easy to live with for any parent, but this leads to certain situations that are very frustrating and thought provoking.

It was early one evening, as I was trying to help her with her math homework – a few simple sums – and I was about to pull my hair out in frustration over my 20th impatient attempt to show her how to add a column of numbers and “carry” the first result digit (because it was above ten!) to the next column that I came up with the idea for “Add”.

“Add”, the app, is something simple. It’s suppose to resemble the blank page on which we write down simple notes, quickly scribble down a few numbers, maybe because we wish to sum them up… but more than that, it transcribes exactly how our children should learn to initial sum up a series of positive numbers.

“Add”, the app, serves it purpose. Why you may ask?

Today, sometimes, our children find it easier to interact with a touch screen than their family or tutors there to help them.

Curiosity is raised by interacting with a touch screen.

So, the idea that came to me early that evening was that I decided to decompose the problem I was trying to explain to my oldest child. I decided to create an “app” where she could interact in “her way” with an blank screen meant to represent a white page of paper, but a page of paper she could not throw out, scrunch up, and chuck in frustration at the wall. An interactive “blank page” she could secretly practise her additions skills.

To work, it was important that “Add”, the app, did not have complex animations, nor should it have a kids cartoon look. What is needed to do is have numbers at its core, numbers that appear on screen with which the users, our children, could concentrate on without distraction.

So, I built a first test version of “Add”, the app, and put it in her hands one Saturday afternoon.

From a distance, I watched her reaction…

What a surprise it was. I had created something that worked! And beyond my expectations!

She found it fun. A simple fun, but fun nevertheless and started adding numbers after numbers on what was initially a very simple interface. She then handed it over to her younger brother, saying: “You try!”

And my son, took the smart phone into his nimble fingers and started pressing here and there on the touch screen.

My much younger boy, who is still early on in his school journey, took the experience in his stride and made up his own way of enjoying numbers. Initially, it was just taping on one number and placing it into the “challenge” boxes to see if the “correct” or “incorrect” animation would turn up. And then, he started enjoying mapping one number with another, as if his mind was searching for a logical pattern – and to be honest – as “Add” was progressively improved, I noticed that the app had greatly helped in his understanding of the natural sequencing of numbers. It made me into a very happy Dad.

… And, week after week, as the app development progressed, I saw a change in my daughter. She loved spending a few minutes doing random sums, not to win points (though she could) but more for the satisfaction of doing her sums. She even occasionally put my phone in her friends hands to see if they could beat her score. It was “cool” she said.

Seeing this behaviour, I decided to take the testing of the “Add” app one step further. Each time we were invited at family friends for either lunch or dinner, I asked (with their parents permission) our friend’s children to play with the test app version of “Add”, watching from a distance to see how they interacted with the app. Once again, I discovered they disappeared in their own world where they could enjoy doing simple or more complex sums (by then I had implemented the three different difficulty levels) without having the stress of having to owe results to anyone but themselves. It was a bit like leaving them alone with their own personal secrets where simple maths could be fun!

..and then something happened that frustrated me to the core.

I caught my daughter using a calculator to solve a random sum on “Add”! This annoyed me so much, I discussed it with her, and we came up with with the idea of plugging in a calculator into “Add” that would allow her to build her own sums, decide in what order she wanted the numbers, re-modify a sum she has done to make it easier or more complex, and then “play” them as she would the random game version.

Today, the first version of the “Add” app is finished and she loves it, and my son you may ask? Well, he adores the “Calculator” mode, it allows him to enter the numbers he wants, he does not have the “time bar” to stress him nor is he “told he has lost” if he runs out of stars. Sometimes he just enters a single line of numbers and maps the numbers one after the other, enjoying the “correct” sign as it pops up, others he enters a few lines and then asks either I or his mother what numbers he should enter at the top (for the carry) and the bottom (for the result), and occasionally, he now adds up the little numbers on his fingers and gets it right, saying “YES” with a wicked smile as if he just scored a goal at hockey. Success!

Now let me finish with my “And yet…” comment above.

I am a man in his forties. I have grown up with computers all my life and have picked up some very bad habits along the way. At work I have always used spreadsheets as my “blank” page to scribble down notes, put down a series of numbers and do simple calculations, including the most basic sums. Outside of work, when shopping, I would use the calculator function on my smart agenda and then later smart phone to work out amounts. Conclusion, I realised while building the “Add” app how bad my additions skills had become, even for simple numbers. My brain had become lazy… not good.

Now, thanks to “Add”, thanks to the hundreds (maybe thousands…) of test sums I have done while building the app, I have noticed my own skills have returned. I have seen that I can quickly “Add” up those few numbers I have to in my brain with the correct result and have given up my bad habbits. The spreadsheet is not opened so often any more… The smart phone is used less for calculations than it was before…

And I find myself playing “Add” more often than I expected. I like the quick challenge if offers. I like the way it has woken up my brain and even improved my short term memory.

Yes, I like the quick challenge the “Add” app offers, especially when the difficulty is set to “HARD” and the timer bar is set to “10 SECONDS”. That is fun. Try it, you will see, I am sure you will enjoy it. Adults friends of ours have, I am convinced you will too.

Anyway, you now have the story behind “Add”. I hope your children, or even you enjoy it. And if you do? Well please don’t hesitate to “review” it.

And if you have any suggestions, well please, feel free to contact us via the “contact page” of the “GrapeSeeds” projects Switzerland’s web site. I am very happy to read your proposals and if possible, will see how I can implement them to make the “Add” app even more of a pleasure to use for your children and you.


Michael Wintsch
August 2015


PS. Thank you Mum for testing. Your input was very precious.
You were right as always, the “Tap – Tap” input method was by far the best way to interact with “Add”, the app!