For months I’d been seeing emails from ALEKS Math in my email inbox. “Free Trial!” I briefly glanced at one, but didn’t go any farther. 48 hours of a free trial just didn’t seem like enough time to really see how well our girls would respond to the program.
When math is a frustration, you might find yourself jumping from one program to another (Been there. Done that.) in an effort to find something that works, or you might be grimly sticking with what you eventually settled on, hoping perhaps that familiarity will breed content, for a change.
We have three girls. Our oldest struggles with academics in general, and math is no exception. She needs a lot of patient repetition, and sometimes I fall down in the patience department. Our middle child is highly gifted but easily bored. She wants to get math over with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our youngest grasps math concepts intuitively but has a little trouble memorizing facts. Three completely different learners!
Then the TOS Homeschool Crew came along, and offered me a one-month free trial for our girls.
If you haven’t heard of ALEKS, in brief it is an online, standards-based math course (Grades 3-12, bilingual in English and Spanish) which uses artificial intelligence to adjust the instruction and practice to the student’s level of understanding. That means lots of practice for the student who needs repetition. On the other hand, the student who gets it on the first try isn’t frustrated by having to do the same kind of problem over and over, a pure waste of time.
Getting started; placement
When you first start the program, you as the parent have to assign a grade level to your student. ALEKS administers an assessment (call it a pre-test) and from the score you can decide to move your student up or down a level or stay at the level you selected.
Our first wanted to try pre-Alegbra because she knows that Algebra is required for a number of ways of earning a high school diploma (homeschool distance learning programs and the GED are two I can think of off the top of my head). Off the topic, I find myself wondering what people do who graduate from physical high schools, if they have big troubles with math?
She took the assessment, and her score showed she wasn’t ready for that level. I moved her into Middle School Level 1 and she is plugging along at that level, learning.
Update: We have discovered the adult math courses at Aleks, and moved Eldest into basic math. Now there is no comparison with her sisters, no fretting when youngest passes her level. Youngest, working in the K-12 program, is no longer in direct competition with Eldest.
Our middle child is also doing Middle School Level 1, and yet the program is completely different. You see, it adjusts to her learning style, just as it adjusts to Oldest’s learning style. It’s very difficult to draw a comparison between the two, and that’s a good thing, considering the potential for sibling competition.
Our youngest works steadily at ALEKS at her grade level. I get a little resistance from her on occasion, because she doesn’t want to do the “boring stuff” of pencil-and-paper math. She likes it best when she gets to use the tools: calculator (which is not always made available), protractor, ruler, graph-making tools, onscreen pencil and eraser, etc.
Honesty is the best policy
You wouldn’t believe the number of hits this blog has from people who are evidently looking for ways to cheat the system.
Our middle daughter, looking for shortcuts, found that she could click on the “Explanation” button and get the answer to a problem, then back-arrow and fill in the answer without doing any work. It looked like a quick way to get through the math lessons without breaking a sweat (or, incidentally, learning anything useful, but perhaps that understanding comes with maturity). I was glad, when I emailed ALEKS, to find out that she didn’t get away with anything. The program doesn’t give credit for those answers. She has to do the work herself.
Also, every so often Teacher gives a pop quiz, er, ALEKS puts the student through a new assessment to see how well the learning process is going. There are no “Explain” buttons here, only a place to fill in the answer and a button for “I haven’t learned this yet.”
Teaching, not frustrating, the student
I mentioned the Calculator tool above, how it’s not always available. ALEKS provides problems where you have to do the math either in your head or on paper, and then type in the answer. It’s good facts practice. However, on more complex problems where the emphasis is more on using math, a calculator is available. I LOVE THIS CALCULATOR! For one thing, as you enter the numbers followed by a sign (like + or -), you see the equation on the calculator screen. You can see at a glance if you’ve entered one of the numbers wrong! The answer pops up only after you click on the equals (=) button! This is just one example of the careful design put into ALEKS to maximize learning and minimize frustration.
ALEKS costs more than the packaged math programs we’ve used over the years, but compares well with the cost of hiring a math tutor. I consider it well worth the cost for our struggling student. ALEKS never loses its patience. It keeps track of what’s being learned, and throws in review at calculated intervals to keep the learning fresh. We’ll be buying Eldest a subscription to ALEKS. It is such a boon to see her efforts rewarded as she diligently works away at her math. The frustration level has gone way down.
To be honest, it’s a bit out of our price range for all our students to participate. *sigh* If I could see a way to make it work with our budget, it would be my math program of choice for everyone.
The cost for a single student is $19.95 per month, on a monthly basis, or you can pay a discounted $99.95 for a 6-month subscription, or $179.95 for 12 months. A family discount is also available for 6- and 12- month terms, where the discount percentage increases with the number of students registered.
Update: After receiving and using a second free month (thank you, Aleks crew!), we’ve decided to devote part of our tax refund to continuing Aleks for all our students, at least for the next six months (we bought the six-month package deal), and probably beyond.
ALEKS has generously extended to the TOS Crew a one-month free trial for our readers. Just click on the link to register!
To read more reviews of ALEKS, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog entry here.
To read our impressions of ALEKS as we’ve gone through the TOS Homeschool Crew free trial:
Day 2 (first impressions)
Day 3 (possible bump in the road? No!)
Update (after settling in)