May 30 2008

Algebra Pinball

Offer your students unlimited, randomly generated math practice, online and off.

To do just about anything in math, you need strong algebra skills. Students want loads of practice, with answers. Some like a bit of competition to spice things up. Teachers want students to understand ideas, not just memorize particular problem types; quizzes and worksheets at the touch of a button would be great, too. Put it all together, and you’ve got Algebra Pinball.


Algebra Pinball is a collection of about 100 online exercises — part of an entire online Algebra I course titled “One Mathematical Cat, Please!” There are many ways to use these materials, ranging from five-minute math refreshers to class competitions to a full-year course. Here are some basics:

  • Go to Carol Fisher’s homepage:
  • From the homepage, click on “Will this Web site work on your computer?” Everything is free, quick and easy.
  • From the home page, click on “Algebra Pinball” and see how it works at Miss Hall’s School. Marvel over the fast times. Pick a topic that looks interesting; a good one to start with is “Multi-Step Exponent Law Practice” in Section 21.
  • The in-a-nutshell material on the webpage forms the basis for the online exercise. Click “read the text” for a more thorough discussion, including more exercises and solutions.
  • At the bottom of each page is an exercise: click a button to get a problem, type in the answer and click to check. Time yourself. Create a worksheet with solutions (you get a different one every time you click). Have fun!


In total, there are about 225 online exercises covering Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. One of the distinguishing features is the way the math is handled — HTML can’t “do” math. Posting math as pictures isn’t a good solution: Pages are slow to load, directories are cluttered with graphics files, and you can’t create randomly generated math problems with pictures. Math Markup Language (MathML) solves the problem and is what makes Algebra Pinball possible. But MathML isn’t catching on in the educational world, and one purpose of Algebra Pinball is to help spread the word.


Every high school mathematics standard requires algebra, and this collection of online exercises covers it all. (If you find a concept missing, please e-mail the author.)

There is a mapping of the Scholastic Aptitude Test mathematics content to the Fisher website at:



Students can turn in a timing sheet, with a desired number of problems and/or a desired average time per correct problem

Teachers can copy a worksheet for an entire class to solve; or students can print out their own worksheet with solutions


  • Watch someone trying to beat a really fast time — the flying fingers explain the name “Algebra Pinball.”
  • Make a batch of chocolate chip cookies for your local IT person, in thanks for putting MathPlayer and math fonts on all the school computers.
  • The fastest players use a numeric keypad, never the mouse.
  • No Internet connection? Put an exercise on your desktop: From the View menu, select Source; from Edit, click Select All; from Edit, Copy; then paste into Notepad, and save as pinball.htm (the .htm extension is important). The files are completely self-contained; of course, the links won’t work.

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