TOS Crew: Aleks Math, Revisited

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It happened more than once this week: I found myself in the same conversation with other homeschool moms: What do you do for math?

We discussed the pros and cons of a number of programs. A few (very few) of the moms were happy with their math curriculum. Most of the rest had tried one thing, tried another, hadn’t found something that worked for their families.

There are two math curricula that have worked well for our children, but really just one of them works well for me. (Can you guess which one?)  Both of them focus on teaching math understanding and problem solving, rather than rote memorization of formulas. One of them required me to spend 45 minutes per lesson per student, something that became increasingly impractical–math was taking more than two hours of my homeschool day!

Our experience with Aleks started last year, with a free one-month trial. This was enough to show me how well this math program was working for our three very different learners, and without my spending over two hours a day on math. Oh, I wasn’t completely freed of all responsibility. Sometimes, especially in the early days, one or more of the girls would call me over during their math sessions, when they didn’t understand how to do a problem, even with Aleks’ explanations.

Fostering independence

Something has clicked, though, recently. I don’t know if they’ve learned more, or gotten more used to the interface, or if maybe it’s because Youngest’s reading has improved, or Eldest has had enough practice and repetition to help her get along in her lessons, but I’m not often called to work through a problem with a frustrated child, anymore.

To read about our early days with Aleks, click the links below:

Day 2 (first impressions)

Day 3 (possible bump in the road? No!)

Update (after settling in)

Aleks, for three different learning styles in our family

Quick summary:

Eldest, a struggling learner, benefits from the patient repetition she gets. Aleks never gets short with her when she’s slow to grasp a concept. Aleks provides immediate feedback; if she’s got the right answer, she knows right away. If her answer’s wrong she knows it, and Aleks will give her another chance to solve the problem, or step her through the problem, showing her how to solve it, and then offer her another, similar problem (though perhaps a little simpler) to solve. The program guides her gently through her math work, and she has a real sense of accomplishment as she sees her pie chart getting filled in. (See graphic below for an example of what the pie chart looks like: It’s a picture of progress!)

Middlest, quick to learn but easily bored, found she couldn’t take shortcuts or fool the program. (After reporting on this, I’ve been amazed at the number of people searching for a way to “cheat Aleks”. Guess what! The Aleks folks have probably already thought of ways to cheat the program, and have been proactive in plugging the holes. As a parent, I appreciate that.) After she buckled down to honest labor, she found she could make rapid progress… so she did.

Youngest, with an intuitive grasp of how math works, is the least happy with the program. She wants to go back to the math program where I sit by her side for 45 minutes. In other words, she wants to interact with Mom, not a computer. However, she’s been making steady progress with Aleks, and  using Aleks has actually given me more time to spend with her while her sisters are doing their math.

New parental tools

Over the time we’ve been using Aleks, and since my last review, the people at Aleks have continued to improve the program. One of the things they did was to conduct telephone interviews with a number of the TOS Crew, listening to our feedback and suggestions. They didn’t just listen, either, but made changes, especially in the features for parents.

Some of the new features I love:

– I can change a student’s password, order regular reports sent to my email, change the math level that a student is studying on, request a test, or create a quiz. Aleks will even create a computer-generated quiz based on recent topics studied, and provide results.

– I can see just what my students have been doing in their lessons. (If someone’s been on Aleks for 30 minutes, and only done one topic, then I know I have a problem!)

ALEKS has generously extended to the TOS Crew a one-month free trial for our readers. Just click on the link to get started.

To read more reviews of ALEKS, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog entry here.

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