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 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 that 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!
The student goes to the student login page and logs in. This is what the student sees:
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:
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:
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.
Now for the specifics of how the lessons work. After the student launches the current lesson, here is what they see:
There are five parts to the lesson plus reference notes:
- warm up
- 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.
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