Friday, September 10, 2010

TOS Crew Review - America's Math Teacher

When I first found out that I'd been selected to review America's Math Teacher for TOS Homeschool Crew, I was excited and hopeful.  My 10 year old son, Aaron, struggles with math, and I am always on the lookout for the perfect math program that is going to fit his learning style and help him understand the concepts that he has problems with.  The fact that America's Math Teacher is an online program made me even more hopeful; Aaron tends to learn best when he's using the computer, probably because computer learning combines visual, audio and kinesthetic learning - Aaron's 3 primary learning styles.

Rick Fisher is America's Math Teacher, the voice and mind behind the website launched last month.  Rick teaches 5th and 6th grade math in San Jose, California.  His math program is so successful that each year, approximately 1/2 of the students are able to skip the 7th grade math course and go directly to an advanced 8th grade algebra program.  With this in mind, he launched America's Math Teacher website, offering math instruction from 4th-grade through algebra.  The site has four basic courses:

Course 1 Basic Math Skills

Each course includes instructional video for each lesson, and the first three courses also have accompanying worksheets to work on what you've just learned.  The site also has speed drills for addition, subtraction and multiplication, which gives students a chance to hone their skills at these basic functions.  After going through each course, there are evaluations for each level, to gauge the child's level and what he has learned or not quite gotten.
The site allows you to try out a few things and look around before you purchase.  With a coupon, you can even get a 30 day free trial.  The membership costs $195, and that is good for an entire household for one full year.
I went into this evaluation hoping to find a good math program for Aaron, and in that I was truly disappointed.  My first thought after using the program myself, and having him do several of the lessons and evaluations, was that this might eventually function as a good supplemental program to go along with a standard math program.  But at $195 a year, even if you had several students in the family using it, the price tag is pretty hefty for something you're using as an add-on and not even your basic math program.  
I realize, and want my readers to also realize, that I essentially came in on the ground floor of this effort.  The site had just come online when I was given the free 60-day trial to use for this review.  Site content was being added almost daily; I would find new things every time I worked with the program or sat Aaron down to try it out.  Bugs were being dealt with, content was being added.  In that respect, it was rather difficult to give this site a comprehensive review, because it truly isn't ready for public use yet.  Even now, within the last 3 days when I was really going back through everything one more time to make sure the problems I had were not just bugs, things had changed from the previous week.  It could be that in six months from now, or a year, the site will truly be a good stand-alone math program.  The potential is most definitely there.
Here's what I liked:
  • The speed drills are a fantastic way to build up your child's strength in addition, subtraction and multiplication facts
  • The white-board style video lessons (where you only see what the teacher would write on the board, not a bunch of distracting graphics or movement) focus the child on the math skills
  • The sequential style of teaching works well for many kids
  • The video lessons can drag on a little slowly for children with a short attention span
  • On the same token, though, the teacher will give the answer too quickly when doing the lesson, giving the child very little practice in finding the answer first.
  • The worksheets are not adequate practice!  This was a big deal to me.  In fact, I waited to post this review until I was able to read what other people were saying about the worksheets, because I was positive that I had missed some major area of the website where the real worksheets were.  But it appears I didn't miss anything.  Each lessons only had one very short worksheet to go with it, and that was all the practice provided for the entire subject taught in that lesson.  Maybe I'm spoiled with my Saxon math, but I've found that children do best in any subject when they work on the same content daily until they can show they have speed and accuracy (mastery!), then you add one new thing.  But even when you add new content, you continue to review the previously learned content.  The worksheets covered the content for the lesson; the next lesson's worksheet would have, , 4 review exercises for the previous lesson.  By the time you were 4 lessons down the road, no review at all for the 1st lesson.  In my opinion, that is way too little review, especially for a subject like math which requires that you gain good basic skills, and continue to review those basic skills while you learn a new skill.  Math builds on itself, and 2-3 days of minimal review isn't going to confer life-long ability in Math!
  • The evaluations were, in my opinion, not even ready to be brought online when they were.  Still, now, there are way too many errors and problems with the evaluations area to be made available to even test users.  Here is just a sampling of the problems I ran across:

    • One question in the basic math skills evaluation is:  The multiple choice answers are: -9, 36, -15 and -36.  There simply isn't enough information given; all of those answers could be correct.  Are we supposed to be solving for x or solving the equation?  Either way, something is missing and no matter what I try, any answer could be correct.
    • Here's another example:  What is the perimeter of a square with sides of 16 ft?  My answer - 64 ft (4 sides times 16 ft each = 4 x 16ft = 64ft).  The site shows the correct answer as being 46 ft.
    • May of the questions were marked wrong simply because there wasn't enough variation in how the answer was stated.  For instance: If the question asks "how many miles" and you put a number (200) instead of a number and the word or abbreviation miles (200 miles, 200 mi) you get the question marked wrong, even if you technically answered the question correctly.
    • Here's a question and the answer copied straight from the site: Find the least common multiple for 4 and 8.  {Correct: 12; Answer: 16} (My Note: 12 is NOT a multiple of 8)
Overall, I found that America's Math Teacher had some good potential for being a nice tutoring site, should the price be lowered significantly.  I also thought that it has the possibility of being a good stand-alone math program,  a lot more work and resources were added.  I think that Rick Fisher has started on the right path for an online math program.  But for now, it needs a good deal of work and a lot of honing before it's ready for the public.

Want to see what other people think about America's Math Teacher?  Visit The Old Schoolhouse's Homeschool Crew Blog for more reviews.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary 60-day membership to America's Math Teacher in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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