Category Archives: math

Mastering Essential Math Skills ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Mastering Math Skills

Math is a subject that we strive to be consistent on – consistent in our choice of curriculum, consistent in our daily requirements, consistent in our approach. It is easy, especially with math, to say “This isn’t working. I need something else.” Much of the time that something else is just a bit of practice and changing up how you do that practice can be very helpful. Enter Math Essentials. They have several products but for practice, we have been using Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2 Middle Grades/High School.

Mastering Essential Math Skills

Mastering Essential Math Skills is not a complete curriculum in itself but is meant to supplement something else and provide practice on skills that need refreshing or strengthening. That is how we used this book with our 11 year old, rising 6th grade student – practice on the things that need reviewed and/or practiced for speed and accuracy.

The book is set up simply:

  • introductory notes to the teacher or parent and on using the book
  • table of contents, skill by skill with page numbers – includes whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percent, geometry, integers, charts and graphs, and word problems
  • workbook pages (5-127 are the student work pages)
  • answer key (128-148)
  • glossary, important symbols chart, multiplication table, common prime numbers chart, square and square root chart, and fraction/decimal equivalent chart

The plan? One page a day should take approximately 20 minutes and then on to the regular curriculum lesson for the day. Designed to fit neatly into a classroom schedule, it works beautifully in a homeschool setting. Actually, it may fit even better because when we found a skill that was stumbled over, we always corrected work with the student talking about her mistake or we repeated the page when there was a good bit missed and it was clear something wasn’t understood or remembered. This ability to customize the use of the book is just one more reason homeschooling is so student focused and Mastering Essential Math Skills fits perfectly to this customization.

So what does a page look like? There are five sections to each page.

  1. speed drillsSpeed Drills – These are two sets of problems, one is an addition set and one a multiplication set. The teacher chooses the number of the day – say 2 – and the student goes around the circle as quickly as possible, adding 2 to each number and writing the answer in the outside ring. In the other circle, the student multiplies each number by 2. We would set a timer for this section and see how quickly Miss J could complete it. If it took her longer than a minute, we used the same number the next day.
  2. Review Exercises – 4 problems that review much simpler concepts and should not take the student long.
  3. helpful hints sectionHelpful Hints – Tips and ideas that will help the student solve more quickly. These can be as simple as a reminder like “find the difference” means to subtract (p 7) or “Add as many zeroes as necessary.” for dividing decimals (p 63). Some of the tips could also be a reminder to draw a diagram or find a formula to help.
  4. Problems – There are two sample problems for the teacher and student(s) to work together and then 10 problems for the student to work individually. There is an answer box on the right for the student to put the answer in to make grading easier if the teacher has a large number of books to grade.
  5. Problem Solving – Each page has one word problem related to the concept for the student to solve. This is a great way to include word problems without the overwhelm of a whole unit just on word problems.

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Each day, Miss J completed one page. We would correct it together, talking about her mistakes. The pages did not have tons of room on them for her to work her problem so she often had to get scrap paper to work on and then transferred her answer to the worksheet. If your student writes small and neat, there is likely plenty of room. We are still trying to reach that point, though. We did have several times where we repeated a day but we have finished the whole numbers section of the book.

working on a page

We are going to be using this a piece at a time, not the whole book all at once. But as Miss J works through a sections, such as the decimals that she just finished in her main curriculum, we will pull this book and use some of the pages to review while she moves on in her other curriculum. Once she moves past the geometry in her main math, we’ll move to that section and use the pages that fit what she knows.

A different options would be to use this as your main math but to complete more than one page each day in it, taking time to teach and review any concepts that are not already known. But since these are skills that should be understood by high school, a semester of solid review is not a bad thing. And some sections could easily be flown through, like adding and subtracting with whole numbers.

No Nonsense AlgebraOne note – there are videos available to accompany this book. We did use them since we were in the whole numbers section but they might be helpful in some of the other, more advanced sections. There is a video set for each main concept section of the book and the information on how to access them is shared in the front of the book.

We have used products from Math Essentials before. We reviewed No-Nonsense Algebra a while back and Miss E used it for her algebra I class. Miss L will use it next fall when she begins algebra I. We like the easy and simplicity of the books and definitely recommend them where they fit your need.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read additional reviews on Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2 Middle Grades/High School but to also find reviews on No-Nonsense Algebra and on Math Refresher for Adults. Click on the banner below.

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Math from Channie’s ~ a Crew review

Channies workbooks titling

Workbooks often have a bad reputation but we have had great success with some of them. This review was somewhat of a surprise for us in this regards and what a good surprise it has been. Having not heard of Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math workbooks before, giving their math workbooks a chance seemed like a good thing to do, though we were having a good run with our current math program. After all, practice time is always good with multiplication. So, we requested One Page A Day 2 Digit Multiplication Practice . We were pleasantly surprised to open the package and find One Page A Day Level 1 Fractions, also. Both of these products have a suggested grade range of 3rd-5th.

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We chose the multiplication workbook because Miss J, age 10, just doesn’t have the multiplication tables memorized yet. The One Page A Day format of this workbook works in conjunction with any other program you are working with for math because it is a short practice page each day. One page. That’s it. It starts off gently, working through simple 2 digit times 1 digit examples. Each problem is set up within a grid, helping the student keep the steps of the equation lined up. Perfect for that gently reminder.

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This first page was multiplying 2 digits by 1 digits. These single digits are 1s and 0s. Really easy but a great way to build confidence. Next comes a page of 2s, then 3s, then on up through 9s. One page each. There are a few pages of mixed single digits to multiply by and then they move on to the next difficulty level – 2 digit by 2 digit.

Again, though, it starts them out easily and gently with this new step. 2 digits multiplied by 10, with the grid system with color coding to help them keep their numbers lined up correctly. A great teaching system.  Then green is for when you are multiplying by the ones place and the grey is for when you are multiplying by the tens place. As the book continues to progress, these colors are eventually done away with, keeping the grids in place. This gently removing of the aids allows the student to continue to feel strong and confident as they work through the multiplication page-a-day program.

Channies_fractions

As I mentioned, we were pleasantly surprised when we opened the package and saw that Channie’s had also sent us Level 1 Fractions. It follows well with the multiplication and again is a very gently system for walking the student step-by-step in learning to work with fractions.

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The program begins with what fractions are, coloring in a shape with the fractional amount. After just a couple of pages, the student is moved into addition of fractions with like denominators. The student is also introduced to the idea of a fractional amount of 1, such as 5/5 = 1. So the student adds the fractions and then determines that the amount is actually equivalent to 1. Subtractions of fractions comes next and quickly is followed by the concept that fractions are just a form of division. Several pages are spent on this concepts, since it is one that often trips students up.

Equivalent fractions are where we are at now and the workbook will spend a number of pages on it. We had to introduce multiplying fractions, using the concept of 5/5=1. By the time we finish this book, Miss J will have dealt with equivalent fractions in many ways, reducing fractions, and working with fractions through different operations. Because she has not dealt with fractions nearly as much, I am actually teaching her a good portion of the time on the new concepts instead of this being a practice. But it works this way, also. I just sit beside her while she begins each page, seeing if she understands it.

Each of the workbooks has an answer key at the back.

Since these are only one page a day programs and we are doing two of the simultaneously, we are spending between 20 and 30 minutes on math. This is a solid amount for Miss J, as so much of that is intensive thought for her. These two combined have been just wonderful.

Channies_workbooks

Channie’s is a company that has a large selection of products to try. Each of their products is designed to have a unique practice approach to an area that children often struggle with, whether it be letters, numbers, handwriting, or math concepts. When you look at their shop, there are over 70 items! These include the items I have shared with you here, as well as the items that the Homeschool Review Crew are sharing in other reviews:

Channie’s Dry Erase Flashcard For Alphabet & Number  (Better for ages 4-6)

Channie’s Dry Erase Flashcard for Sight Words (Ages 5-6)

Neat Numbers (Ages 3-5)

And who knows? There could have been others like our family who were blessed with something not on this list! And I may just order their One Page A Day Beginning Division workbook for some more practice in that area. Channies workbooks for math

I want to point out that there are some practice pads and dry erase boards for some of the items in the shop. What a wonderful tool these would be for early writers and learners. I know when my girls were young, they really enjoyed using dry erase boards so these are wonderful products.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Be sure to click on the image below to see what other families from the Homeschool Review Crew thought about the products they used from Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math workbooks.

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Online Times Alive ~ a Crew review

a multimedia way to learn the multiplication facts

Most parents will agree that the stronger a student’s recall is of basic multiplication facts, the better the student will do as they advance into higher and higher math areas.
City Creek Press, Inc. is one company that feels this way and they have created Online Times Alive to helps students memorize these multiplication facts.

City Creek Press desires to help students enjoy the learning process and to create products that helps students feel capable and smart as they learn. Judy Liautaud is the owner and operator of City Creek Press and is the bright mind behind the process of Online Times Alive. She was looking for a unique way for her students to learn the math tables in a meaningful way. By connecting visually appealing, interesting, and fun images, Times Alive is something that many students connect to and remember well.

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Online Times Alive is an online subscription program to an animated program that will help students connect their multiplication tables and facts to images and sounds. These types of memory devices seem to be very helpful for many students. Using a short story or rhyme, a song, and keywords, each of the multiplication facts is connected with visually bright and colorful images. Using these various styles reaches different learning styles, also, making this appeal to an even wider range of students.

To use this program, the student logs into their account using the chosen name. It is important for the student to capitalize and punctuate the name exactly the same each time. If once I log in as Mom and the next as mom, it will create two different accounts and all progress from the previous login will not be visible on the new account. Please also note that you must log in on the same device or computer each time. The account is only accessible from the same device; it does not store on the cloud.

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The login is simple and the student can just move through each of the activities, one at a time.  Just click on the next activity in the lesson list that has not been completed and off the student goes. The list is easy to see what has been done and what hasn’t as there is an open circle for not completed, a half colored circle for started but not finished, and a colored in circle for completed. Once an activity is completed, the student can just click the next arrow at the bottom right of the page to move to the next activity.

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This is a screenshot of the story for 8 x 8.

The activities include:

  • the story that helps created the relationship between the multiplication facts and the answers
  • a song to go with the characters and the facts
  • an activity such as coloring (just a click to color in large areas)
  • tests and quizzes that appear in different ways; sometimes the student will choose the picture to show the story for a particular fact while other times the student will solve number problems and type in the correct answer
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This is a screenshot of the song for the fact 8 x 8. You can see the two eights and then the 6 and the 4, for 64, on the sign.

There is a printable student report that is easy to access if you need a printed record. It includes the date the activities are each completed and the scoring on it, where appropriate. You can see in the image above that the student progress report is found right in the middle of the box in the bright orange space. Just click it to get the report.

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Our experience was not ideal. I was truly hoping my 10 year old would enjoy the musical stories and that it would help her. She knows how to get the answers for multiplication facts but she does not have them memorized. Since she seems to be able to remember anything set to music, I really thought she would adore this. She did not. It definitely felt “baby-ish” to her and the way it addressed things was for a student much younger than her. It is a great program but was just to young in content and tone of voice for her.

This is a good program. I think, for students up to about 3rd grade, it would be a fine fit. While students above that level could certainly need the help a program like this could afford, it could possible result in the same “talking down to” feeling as my daughter experienced. The idea is a wonderful one and many students can benefit from this program.

SPECIAL OFFER: When you sign up for Times Alive, the company is offering to waive your set-up fee, a $6.95 value, when you use the code lovetolearn.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Times Alive

Please click on the banner below to visit the Homeschool Review Crew and read about the experiences that other families had with Online Times Alive and the  Times Alive App, both from City Creek Press, Inc.

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Math Success (CTCMath) ~ a Crew review

Math Success with CTCMath

If you know much about our family, and most homeschoolers it seems, math can be a struggle and a challenge. However, the Family Membership we have been reviewing from CTCMath has been a game changer, giving us access to all levels for all three girls for 12 months. One thing we all know is that people change as they grow and mature. Our children are no different. The last time we tried CTCMath (about five years ago), it was not a good fit. However, it is the perfect fit for all three of the girls this time around and I could not be any more pleased.

CTC-Math

CTCMath is an online subscription program. It is video based instruction with online, interactive questions, printable worksheets, quizzes, tests, and online question bank options to help students all learn at their maximum ability. The customer service answers emailed questions very quickly. (We had a question about a video and their response was received within a few hours.)

The student dashboard on CTCMath is where students access their materials for the day. Each student has their own login and password. The student logs in and, if assigned a task, can just click on tasks and head on to the lesson and questions. If they have not been assigned a task, it takes quite a few more clicks to get to the next set of instruction materials (especially since it seems to still think the girls are all five years younger than they are). Still, the girls are all able to maneuver to their lessons, click the lesson, and off they go.

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They each watch the video, stopping it to take notes and write down examples as needed. There is also a PDF of the examples from the video if you would like to print that. It is found just under the video and is titled “Lesson Summary.” Then, how they answer quesitons varies a bit since they are at such different levels. Miss J, at the 5th grade level, has online questions so far. She is given a single problem on the screen and then selects the correct answer for it or enters the correct answer for it. It is automatically graded.

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Miss E is working on Geometry. She has a set of online questions to answer. Then she is given a worksheet, as well. We can print that worksheet or she can copy the problems onto a page and note her answers. She then has an answer bank to choose her answers from and a set of boxes that she has to enter the corresponding letter for the correct answer. After finishing that, the system automatically grades her answers, showing her where she missed and giving her the opportunity to view the solutions. (Solutions cannot be viewed until it is attempted at least once.)

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Miss L is working on Basic Math & Pre-Algebra. Her set up is the same as Miss E’s.

The lessons are short and to the point, teaching exactly what is needed to understand the concept being taught. There is no fluff and there is just enough practice on the concept for the girls to feel like they understand it without having to do a whole lot of excess. These straight forward lessons have really helped the girls get to the core of learning and understanding math.

As for me, I really like the parent/teacher side of the program. I can see everything the girls are doing. It tells me when they log in and log out. It tells me what they work on. It tells me their score on the lesson. I get a weekly emailed update on the girls’ week and how they did, just in case I haven’t logged into the parent side recently. I can save that PDF report if I need documentation.

login record

As a parent, I can edit my student’s material to be appropriate. I can decide what the passing level will be. My girls have an 80% pass level. I can adapt that and I have. It actually started at 90% but when the Geometry work only has 6 or 8 questions and you miss one? Well, that got really frustrating really fast. So 80% it is. And it works well.

Another feature I like having is the ability to delete a score and have the student redo it. There was one day where one of the girls was just off. She got a lousy score on her daily work and it was the only thing that was not 100 in her row. She was miserable over that. I was able to visit the User Guide and find a video about what to do with that sort of thing. I was able to delete it and let her have another go at it since it was an unusual thing for her. She redid it another day and was able to happily move on.

There is a neat feature on the program that is fairly new – Question Bank Wizard. This allows you to select the lessons your student needs practice on. It automatically generates a set of questions for the student to practice with. You determine how many questions you want it to generate or how many minutes you want the student to practice. Next you determine if you want easy, harder, or a mix. You then have it generate the question bank. You can order the questions, moving them up or down in the series. This is a really nice feature for a student who is struggling in a particular area or two. It is available up through Algebra I. I hope the rest of the high school topics are coming soon.

question bank wizard

There is a User Guide online that is composed of a number of different videos to help you see how to do certain tasks, such as scheduling tasks for the student, using the Question Bank Wizard, or adding students. They are easy to follow and very helpful. This is the place to start if you decide to check out CTCMath, as their Getting Started video was very helpful. There are several other features, such a printable checklists and exporting data, that may be helpful to you.

CTCMath picture

CTCMath has been an wonderful change for our family. The girls all asked if this could be their math curriculum for this year. No discussion necessary – it is done. I am so pleased with CTCMath. Please check them out.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Families on the Homeschool Review Crew have been using CTCMath for the past couple of months. Click on the image below to see what their experiences were like.

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Matific Galaxy (math practice) ~ a Crew review

Matific Galaxy review

Once in a while, we end up with a program that just captivates one of the girls’ attention. Matific Galaxy has done just that. This online math practice program is such an enjoyable way to practice math that when Miss J asks to play computer games, this is where she goes. She will easily spend as much time as I will let her practicing math on the Matific Galaxy site.

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Even when she gets stumped, she doesn’t mind asking for help since she is having so much fun. We started her off on the 5th grade level since she is a rising 5th grader. I figured it would give her a bit of a challenge but if it was too hard, we could easily go back down a level and truly call it practice. Even the hard stuff she is enjoying. I don’t remember her being frustrated with this once.

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Matific Galaxy is available worldwide in a huge variety of languages. It is not American and thus is not aligned with anything in the US (such as Common Core) YET it does a great job of teaching the math skills the students need. With a research-based spiral curriculum, this is a challenging and encouraging supplement. They list all of the skills taught in each grade level right on the website, with the opportunity to try one of them before purchase.

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Matific Galaxy is an online subscription. It requires internet access and a paid subscription. You can choose a single grade option or a multi grade option. The material goes up to 6th grade. Each student must have a separate account as it tracks individual progress. There is a 25% discount for each additional student according to the website.

There is not a placement test that I could locate.  Since the skills are listed on the website, it was fairly easy to make a determination of where to begin. It is easy enough to move them up or down grade levels if needed.

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The student will login and it is easy to get right to work. The student works through different episodes. Each episode has a cute little pixelated character that shows progress within the episode. Each completed activity earns more pixels to complete the character. You can see the difference here with the completed character and the one being worked on.

 

The activities are fairly straightforward. Miss J’s favorite are the activities that work on geometry. She has really enjoyed those. It will ask her to identify the number of sides or the number of vertices or some other identifying attribute and then click on shapes that match that. Within each skill area, there are just a few question so that it doesn’t wear the student out or frustrate them when working on a challenging skill. I believe they ranged from 3 to 7 questions per skill.

 

If it was a computation skill, there is a calculator that comes up on the screen to help the student figure their answer. This was helpful in some of the multiplication skills. Miss J still needed paper and pencil or whiteboard and marker for many of the skills she was working on. She had not worked on multiplying decimals or adding fractions before so this was one area where she needed help from one of her big sisters or a parent. We had to teach the skill and then she could practice it. While it meant the game took a tad bit longer, it was a great way to keep doing what she was having fun with for math and still get in the teaching of new skills and concepts.

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One of Miss J’s favorite parts was taking care of the characters after she had earned them. Each character continues to want care – cleaning, toys, and food. When you do this for the characters, more coins are earned which allows more clothing or accessories to be bought for the character. While this has nothing to do with math, it is something that Miss J enjoyed about the program. AND, she could replay the math games to earn more also. Miss J did this often as she wanted to earn more coins to buy the characters the things they wanted, like new handkerchiefs or hats or construction equipment.

 

There are reports that allow you to see where your student is excelling or struggling and the reports are simple to read and understand. There is the activity highlights report that tells you how much has been completed and the average of scores for overall categories.

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The Results by Topic report breaks the categories down by skill area and gives the percentage correct. It also gives a comparison of the average for all students using that level of Matific Galaxy.

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There is also a report that breaks the skills down further by the assignment within each episode. Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 10.12.42 AM

You can select to receive a weekly update via email to get reports how the student is progressing, if the weekly time goal was met, and other information.

If the student is struggling, you can access a few worksheets that correspond to some of the skills. They are not simple to get to for the homeschool teacher as they are found on the classroom part of the site but they can be sent via email one by one for the topics where more help is needed. I was looking at what was available for work with decimals and found this one that I had emailed to me. I can then print it out for Miss J when she is working on that skill.

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This has been a wonderful program to have come across. I imagine in just another week or two, Miss J will have completed all of the grade 5 skills. This is because she will spend, easily, 4 hours a week on the program as opposed to the suggested 45 minutes per week. That’s okay with me as she is really increasing her math knowledge at great speed.

I plan to have her go back over the skill areas where she didn’t have above 80% since this is where her greatest challenges are being shown. Most of these are where she had to be taught the skill to complete the game and so she struggled a bit. Not a problem! She can tackle them again in order to earn more for her characters. A Win-Win!

After she gets those averages up, I plan to move her on to the 6th grade skills. Why not? If she loves it and is learning, why hold her back? This program is a huge hit and I feel no hesitation in recommending it.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog to read about the other families who have been using Matific Galaxy. Just click on the banner below.

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Hands-on Geometry for Elementary

3D geometric shapes

There are many options for teaching geometry but I find that most of it is paper and pencil. While I do believe this has its place in learning, hands-on learning is so much more effective for many youngsters. Miss J is one of these. She thrives when we have something to place in her hands to help her understand ideas and concepts.

Today during her math lesson, she had to identify various shapes. While she knew most of them, she still didn’t enjoy it and struggled a bit with some of the names. After writing a couple of them down, she jumped up and ran away.

My first thought was “she was doing so well and just chugging away; now I am going to have to get onto her.” A minute later she was back and carrying a box. It was our set of 3 dimensional solids. Yep – something to put in her hands to help her feel the idea and solidify it. (Can I get away with that pun?)

She spent the next 20 minutes or so looking at, classifying, naming, sorting, and just enjoying learning about these shapes. By the time she was ready to put them away – yes, she chose to be done with them; I did not make her stop – she had a much stronger understanding of most of the 3D shapes and was able to write those names down with no problem.

shorting shapes

Other ideas for hands-on learning of geometric shapes?

  • chalk and drawing shapes
  • making shapes out of clay
  • building shapes from blocks
  • pattern blocks from fun foam
  • pattern blocks with magnets

These are just some ideas that popped to mind when I thought about writing this post because sometimes we forget how crucial hands-on learning is for students. I encourage you to add some hands-on learning to your math time and see the faces of your student light up.

Blessings,
At Home.

No-Nonsense Algebra ~ a Crew review

No Nonsense Algebra
As we continue on in our quest to learn the various math concepts, anything that presents in a new or different way is a potential treasure. When Math Essentials was up for review, the No-Nonsense Algebra looked like a very good possibility to assist us with some pre-algebra concept review.

No-Nonsense Algebra is a book that begins at the pre-algebra concepts necessary to be able to learn algebra. From there, it goes all the way through quadratic equations. That is a huge span of material but it is a compact, straight-forward presentation. Each lesson is a page or two long and consists of a written instruction, examples, exercises, and review of previous concepts. There is also an online video lesson to assist in the teaching.

This is more of a text book than a workbook, as there is not a lot of space between each equation or question. Additionally, the student is encouraged to copy down and work each step of the example, as well as showing all work for each exercise and review. The pages are definitely not spacious enough for that and using notebook paper or graph paper allows the student to keep their work lined up nicely and neatly.

video lesson

The video lessons are accessed with a code that is found inside the book. With that code, you just head over to the No Nonsense Algebra website where you will be able to create an account. With your code, you will have access to the videos for each of the lessons. The videos seem to run around 10 minutes in length, some a little more, some a little less. It is a video of a smart board with a voice walking you through the steps as they are shown on the board. It is a no frills video and the voice is straight-forward. The videos are not just a repeat of the written examples; they are an instruction in the concept.

HOW WE USED THIS BOOK

Since Miss E is working in pre-algebra, we asked to use this book as a concept review of the materials and concepts she has covered so far. We knew we would probably only get through the first chapter and a little into the second during the review period since those are the concepts she has worked with. We especially knew we would need additional work with negative integers.

What we found is that the videos confused Miss E a lot. For some reason, the instruction confused an already weak concept when it came to negative integers. With this being the very first lesson, it made the book a difficult one for us, as it brought tensions and tears. We pushed through the lesson over a few days, walking her through every example, exercise, and review.

I then took a look at the table of contents a bit more closely than I had and decided that we needed to work through the first chapter out of order. I found that the number line review was not first even though the first lesson of adding integers teaches and refers to the number line. Some other concepts such as the properties of numbers, greatest common factors, and least common multiples were pretty far down in the chapter yet those concepts were needed to do lessons that came before that in the chapter. This is a definite weakness of the book, in my opinion.number line lesson

Noticing that allowed me to reorder the materials in a way that made sense by concept and we tackled the book again. This time, we worked up through the materials, reviewing items that were the stepping stones to the next concept and it all made much more sense to Miss E. Her confidence grew and when we came again to the integers and dealing with negative numbers, while it still wasn’t easy for her, she didn’t have such a bad time of it.

WHY THIS BOOK?

If your student is ready for Algebra I or higher, this book is right up your alley. There are no frills. It is straight-forward. The videos are designed to help with instructions. No-Nonsense Algebra covers

  • Necessary Tools for Algebra
  • Solving Equations
  • Graphing and Analyzing Linear Equations
  • Solving and Graphing Inequalities
  • Systems of Linear Equations and Inequalities
  • Polynomials
  • Rational Expressions (Algebraic Fractions)
  • Radical Expressions and Geometry
  • Quadratic Equations
  • Algebra Word Problems

Included in the back of the book are the solutions (but no explanation of how to get the correct solution if you make a mistake), a final review, glossary, tables of important formulas and symbols, multiplication table, and squares and square roots.

With all that this book covers, I can imagine that it is a good review for a student who has completed algebra courses and is taking, or preparing to take, college entrance exams. It would definitely provide a thorough review.

All in all, this is a good book that just didn’t fit my girls’ needs. But, I am going to keep it around as I can see it being a lot of help in a few years as college exams approach.

At Home.

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No-Nonsense Algebra {Math Essentials Reviews} 

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UnLock Math ~ a Crew review

UnLock pre-algebra

I admit – I had super high hopes for this review of UnLock Pre-Algebra, an online math program from UnLock Math. Perhaps my hopes were too high (this was not, after all, the magical class I had dreamed of) but regardless, this is a fantastic program that has shown my daughter that she CAN understand math and that she can actually do well at math.

UnLock Math pre-algebraUnLock Math was dreamed up and created by Alesia Blackwood, a high school math teacher, and her husband Matthew. They were both home educated and so knew the curriculum choices that existed and what a solid curriculum would need. They envisioned a program that did everything the parent needed, including fantastic customer service.

UnLock Math is online math education featuring small segments of material and reviews of already learned material. Focused engagement is found by the student only viewing a single question at a time and all of the questions have a fully-worked out solution for the student to view. Combine this with video presentation that utilizes technology (the smart-board interaction is engaging!) and an interesting and excited presenter, you find yourself with a math curriculum that is different than other things on the market.

We have been using UnLock Pre-Algebra with our rising 8th grader. She is not a student UnLock Math video imagethat has just jumped for joy at math classes. She has struggled since she was in public schools and they pressured her with tests and timed requirements. She has not recovered her confidence yet. However, and this is HUGE, we have seen a bit of a change since starting this program. She still does not love math but she also does not balk at every single mention of it. In fact, we have seen her whoop and holler when she gets things right and challenge herself to repeat a question set for a better score. Voluntarily repeating questions? That’s big! Any excitement about math? That’s big! Excitement about doing well in math? That is GIGANTIC!

So, what does is the program like? What do we see? How do you navigate it? Easy!

DASHBOARD

The student goes to the student login page and logs in. This is what the student sees:

student dashboard

Looking at the left side, the student can see what they have completed by the lock next to the Unit. In this image, Miss E had completed two units. She is ready to move on to unit 3. You can also see the dial which indicates your current overall score (this changes after the first unit; until then it seemed to stay at the same place and not be accurate). At the bottom (out of the range of this screenshot) is a pie chart that shows the completion of the unit – how much is done and how much still needs to be done in each area (warm up, practice problems, stay sharp, and quizzes).

Two other places can be accessed on this page that are helpful. One is the gradebook and the other is a progress report. I’ll cover those in a bit.

To launch the next unit, the student clicks on the rocket ship on the right side of the unit title. This takes you to a page where you see the lessons, quizzes, and tests. It looks like this:

daily lesson selection

Again, you can tell what is completed because it is unlocked. If it is still locked, that is the next lesson that needs to be completed. This page was so well set up that it was easy for Miss E to see what lessons she needed to complete before she could take a quiz (or the test at the end). Lessons and reviews are on the left; quizzes and tests are on the right. We also really liked that each quiz tells you which lessons are being covered in the quiz.

The gradebook is a line-item gradebook, showing a grade for each item completed. In preparing for the course, UnLock Math tells you how much each item is weighted in the grade calculations. This is an example of what the gradebook looks like:

grade book

You can show more lines by searching at the bottom left. That was an important feature that I wish were more prominently placed and a bit easier to use. I have to guess at how many lines I need it to show in order to look at how she did on any given assignment.

The progress report is another piece that might be useful, especially if you have to show periodic progress. It is easy to use. Once you are on the screen, you have an overall view of the program. If you want a report on the progress of just one unit, click that unit at the bottom of the page and it will update the scores shown. You can then print what is needed.progress report

LESSONS

Now for the specifics of how the lessons work. After the student launches the current lesson, here is what they see:

Lesson example

There are five parts to the lesson plus reference notes:

  • warm up
  • video
  • practice problems
  • stay sharp
  • challenge yourself
  • reference notes

Each lesson runs approximately 30 minutes, depending on the speed at which the student completes the questions.

Warm up: This is designed to help the student “turn on” their math brain. These have generally been easy to answer questions that just help get started.

Video: This video is Mrs. Blackwood presenting and teaching the concept for the lesson. She talks about it, gives examples, and uses a smart-board to help her illustrate the concept. These have been, generally, less than 10 minutes.

Practice Problems: This is a set of problems using the concept presented in the video. There are not a lot of these. I think they have run between 10 and 20 of them. These can be done more than once if the student struggles. The highest score will be kept. Each time, a new set of questions is generated; there is no repetition of questions and solutions.

Stay Sharp: These are review questions over things previously covered so that concepts will not be forgotten. There are perhaps 5 to 10 of these. Again, these can be repeated.

Challenge Yourself: This is a critical thinking exercise in which the solution requires the student to really think and analyze the material presented. If this is missed, it is not counted against the student. This is one of Miss E’s favorite parts!

Reference Notes: This is printed materials for those who process things better if they can also see it written down. We have not utilized this yet but it is a wonderful addition that I can see being really helpful.

The input of solutions on this program is decent. Math solutions can be difficult to enter via a keyboard. It is not intuitive but it is not terribly difficult in Pre-Algebra so far. The student will need to get used to it, based on how each student thinks through a problem. Miss E tends to enter solutions from the right to the left so she will enter a digit for the ones column and then hit the left arrow key to go to the tens column. She figured it out easily but she does have to pay attention to how solutions are entered.

SUMMING IT UP

I know this is a pretty long review. This is one I wanted to be thorough on. I am hesitant about online math programs. We have seen a number of them and while they look pretty good, they do not turn out to be what we needed. I am pleased with the setup of UnLock Math and think that it is a worthwhile program to spend some time looking into for your family. If you would like to see a demo video of a lesson, please visit the UnLock Math site.

While one of my biggest complaints about online instruction is not fixed in this program (that being that the instruction is on video and thus the instructor cannot address the individual student and what is being misunderstood in the presentation; honestly, I don’t know how you would fix it online), UnLock Math seems to have explanations and video that do a very good job of explanation. Thus, there is not quite so much still out there that I have to figure out how to explain. I am pleased with that.

UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that there is actually a chat option on the site that the student my access during the session. This chat is monitored by licensed teachers Monday-Friday from 9-4 EST. I had totally missed that option. This is a wonderful thing to know about and basically eliminates the concern I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Teachers on-call? Now this program really does seem like the ideal. I hope it continues to be what Miss E needs!

UnLock Pre-Algebra  I think is going to stick. As we approach some of the concepts that are more difficult, we will see but it looks so much more promising than other programs. And anytime that I can get Miss E working on math and finding success, well, that is a quality program in my eyes.

At Home.

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UnLock Pre-Algebra 

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(this is the newest addition to UnLock Math!)

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Crew Disclaimer

K5 Learning ~ a Crew review

K5 Learning is a supplemental, online program that is designed by educators and intended for anyone needing to strengthen their reading, math, or spelling skills. Both home educated students and public school students alike are the target users for this program.

K5 LearningK5 Learning has three main components – reading, math, and spelling. The reading instruction is intended to help students in phonics, sight words, and reading comprehension. Math is intended to assist students with numbers and operations, geometry, and data, along with beginning algebraic thinking. The spelling portion of the site is a combination of spelling and vocabulary building.

When a student begins with K5, it is best to begin with an assessment. This is designed to help place the student at the lessons that will most benefit the student. It takes about 20 minutes to complete each assessment, a total of about 40 minutes as there are separate assessments for math and reading. We found these assessments to be fairly inaccurate, especially in the phonics department.

After completing the assessment, each time the student logs in, she is taken to a page to choose either math, reading, or spelling for the day. Clicking on the category takes the student to the beginning of their activity for the day. The student is then taken through an online lesson that consists of stating the object, instruction, practice problems, and then an activity. Each page has a button at the bottom that is supposed to allow the student to stop and save their work. This is where they should be returned the next time they log in to this category.

Some of the nice parts of the online program include:

  • easy login for both student and parent

    math worksheet

    a printable worksheet

  • once logged in and the area is selected, the student begins right where they left off the last time (assuming the programming is working correctly – more about that in a minute)
  • the program is rich in visual and auditory material
  • the parent can retrieve reports on the student’s progress and growth
  • bite-sized lessons
  • parents can assign material if additional practice is needed
  • spelling words can easily be added
  • printable worksheets are available to provide an off-line component

While these are all really nice things, we found that K5 did not meet the needs of our family. I will start by talking about the assessments.

Miss L – 10 at the start of the review period; 11 at the end

  • I expected Miss L to assess out of the program in reading, as she reads and comprehends at a very high level and her spelling is excellent. She tested at 2nd grade levels in phonics but those lessons were completely inappropriate for her age and ability. There was no way for me to see what specifically she needed to zero in on, if anything, related to phonics. Her reading placements put her at high 5th grade but even those lessons seemed below her ability. It was not pleasant or helpful for her to complete these lessons.
  • In math, Miss L placed approximately where I expected her to – right on level. I felt like this assessment was probably accurate but the instruction was a very poor fit for her age and ability. She was unable to work with the instruction and program without extreme frustration. We did not make her continue with the program.

Miss J – age 8 during the review period

  • I felt as though her reading assessment was off. While the numbers for placement looked good, the material was almost all review for Miss J. She was working on phonetic material that she had completed easily six months ago and the reading was below her abilities.
  • Miss J’s math assessment also seemed off. It had her working on materials that she completed a while back, while also having her work on things that she did not know anything about yet. It was kind of a mixed bag for her, though technically it was showing her as placing at a low 3rd grade level (a bit higher than she is currently working in her curriculum).
student dashboard

student dashboard showing the three parts of the program and the printable worksheets

 

We encountered several issues, aside from the assessments. One of the biggest? Miss J had to repeat assignments that she passed a number of times. In particular, there was one series on reading comprehension that she had to repeat a total of five times before it moved her forward. I did contact the company and they told me that she had to pass it with better than 65% to move forward. Well, she had. I had sat beside her for 4 of those times and she had gotten everything or almost everything correct. We would log out and log back in, and it still made her repeat it. We were just about to give up on the program completely when it finally let her move forward.

This came up another time, as well. However, this time she only had to repeat the lessons three times before moving on.

reading comprehension page

One of the biggest issues I had with the repetition is not that she had to repeat – after all, relearning material can really help in the long run. The issue was that the repeat was just that – an exact repeat: same lesson, same words, same passages to read, same questions to answer. After the first time through a reading passage, it is no longer a reading comprehension exercise; it is now a memory exercise. This is not helpful if the student is truly struggling with reading comprehension.

Another issue that we saw was in the math instruction. Miss J was working on multiplication. The lesson began with a image of some arrays that was intended to assist her in solving the problem. But after the first reference to the arrays, all other discussion was done without referring back to the image. The image for the problem is never tied to the method of solving it. We saw this same sort of thing occur in many of the math lessons. The picture appears, and then is ignored in the instruction.

In math instruction, we did not feel as though there was actual instruction. Most of the time, multiple problems were walked through, step-by-step. Lack of instruction meant that I had to sit with Miss J for the duration of her work on the program so I could fill in the missing information for her. I realize that this is a supplemental program but, as such, student who are needing additional practice need additional instruction. I expect a supplemental program to provide that piece, especially since K5 is designed with an assessment to help place the student where they were having difficulty.

Additionally, I had to instruct her on how to answer questions. The input of answers was not intuitive for the student and problems were often not lined up logically. Problems did not have the tens and ones places lined up vertically. Some problems had to have commas inserted for the answer to be counted correct; others did not. Adding those commas often misaligned the columns. Just another bit that makes it hard for the student to not get frustrated.

vocabulary lessonTiming was another issue. If a student knows an answer, it is detrimental to their concentration to have them have to wait out all of the talking the program does before they are allowed to answer the question. More than once, frustration built up because our students had to wait to type in an answer. At other times, the answer was timed and if the student took too long to type it in, what they had already worked out was erased and they had to start over. This was especially true in the 5th grade level math. She often had no idea that it was going to be timed until after she had already had an answer erased. Again, this built frustration and did not help in her learning skills that needed practice.

At the late 2nd grade level, a student does not need everything read to them. This is a great option but it should be just that – an option, not an automatic feature. This took up a lot of time and Miss J often lost her concentration while waiting on the voice to stop talking so she could answer a question.

I think that there are probably some very beneficial things about this program. However, after our experience, I wonder if this is not a program that the student needs to begin when they are younger. If they had grown with this program, perhaps we would not have met with all of the frustrations and issues that we did. All in all, this just was not a good fit for our family.

At Home.

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Subtracting Negative Numbers

Negative Numbers resource

I struggle with understanding negative numbers. So, when Miss E could just not get it from the video on her current course, I went in search of things that could explain it. Because, you know, understanding the “why” of something is sometimes required to move forward. This was one she could just not take on faith.

So, in my search, we went through some of the norms that are shared: Khan Academy, YouTube, etc. While these were not bad, they just kind of assume that their explanation of “taking the debt away” is enough. It is not. I don’t even understand that outside of that one application.

Then I stumbled on MathIsFun.com. Now this site? It is bookmarked now. Their explanations and pictures were perfect. It made sense!!! You have no idea how impressive that is to me. Subtracting negative numbers is something I have always done because a teacher told me that two negatives make a positive but not because I understood why. Now, finally, I understand why. (I am telling you this because I am impressed. I do not get a thing by sharing about this site.)

Check out the site on adding and subtracting positive AND negative numbers. Very cool. Their explanation is simple, clear, and – best of all – applicable to lots of situations. And now both I and Miss E understand subtracting negative numbers. Now to get her to redo those practice questions on her math program. {sigh}

At Home.

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