I don’t know about you, but math is not my strong suit. I’m okay with elementary math, more or less. More, since we switched to a manipulative-based math program some years ago, complete with DVDs where a math teacher explained, in concrete terms, the whys of math in addition to the hows. “More or less,” I said. Less, since even that paragon of a program did not work for Youngest and we had to switch math programs yet again, after I was sure we’d finally found the one.
Anyhow, I learned math by faith rather than understanding, having memorized formulas without really understanding what they did. This makes it tough to explain math to a frustrated student who doesn’t understand the canned explanation in the math text. The manipulative-based math program went a long way toward helping me understand and be able to teach elementary math concepts.
That was my main frustration with a very popular math curriculum, as a matter of fact. It offered one explanation, and fairly standard explanation, as it usually presented things in a way that I understood — the way I’d been taught, in other words. The problem was, if the explanation didn’t make sense to my child, I couldn’t explain the concept another way. I’d have to wait until my husband came home. He understands how math works. He can offer alternative ways of looking at math concepts, and usually after a short time with him, a light breaks out on the face of the frustrated student and I hear those wonderful words, “Oh, so that’s how it works!” But he’s not always available to tutor in math. What do we do if he’s out of town?
A virtual math tutor, at your service!
Enter Virtual Nerd, an online math and science tutorial service. The site offers interactive videos that explain concepts in pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Intro Physics, with more subjects in the works.
“Interactive videos?” you ask. Before exploring Virtual Nerd, I wasn’t quite sure myself what that meant.
I’m sure you’ve seen math tutorial video presentations. You have a teacher standing before a whiteboard, talking and writing. You can pause and continue the video, run it back, jump forward, but that’s about it for being interactive.
Interactive, with more help just a click away
Virtual Nerd starts with a whiteboard presentation, and goes on from there. The presentation is on the left side of the screen, a cheerful, confident teacher who inspires confidence simply with their tone and matter-of-fact approach. The presentation is taking place within the website’s patented Dynamic White Board. (Click the link to take a tour and get an idea of how it works.) Meanwhile, on the right side of the screen the diagrams drawn during the lecture are summarized in the Diagram Window, while the Step-by-Step Window follows the explanation, broken down into smaller pieces.
Here’s where the real genius of the program shines forth.
Say you’re watching a pre-Algebra lecture on (I’m going to use our own family’s personal nightmare) dividing fractions. You watch, and partway through the lecture you realize that something’s been taken for granted. Some concept has been glossed over. It’s something you should know, to be able to follow the lecture with growing understanding, but you don’t.
However, Virtual Nerd is right there with you. As a matter of fact, it’s a step ahead of you. The points being covered are scrolling in the Step by Step window, almost as if you’re taking detailed notes as you go along, except the window is doing it for you.
Hover over a particular note and get a list of math concepts involved in that step. Click on a link and a new window opens with an explanation of the sub-topic. In our case, with dividing fractions, the concept was the reciprocal rule of division. I kind of knew how it worked, but not well enough to explain it myself. (Maybe I was out sick the day that was presented in school.) After clicking on the link within the “dividing fractions” lecture and watching explanations of reciprocals and the reciprocal rule, we went back to the “dividing fractions” lecture, all the way to the end.
Rebuilding the foundation
Actually, I’m glossing over the fact that we drilled down several levels within that one lecture, because every time we hit a half-understood concept we went to the links in the Step by Step window and went deeper. In a sense we were rebuilding a poorly built foundation. We can go on from there, adding math concepts, with understanding, not just memorizing formulas.
At the end of a lecture, by the way, Virtual Nerd offers a list of related topics for further study, or you can replay the lecture if you need to see the explanation again. The video tutor never gets tired of repetition, or frustrated with the student, either. That’s a real boon!
No matter where you are on the Virtual Nerd website, you’ll find a Help or Feedback link. Your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome, and you’ll find the folks behind Virtual Nerd helpful and responsive.
Virtual Nerd offers several options for pricing. You can sign up for a month of access for $49 (this is a recurring charge, unless you cancel), or three months for a one-time charge of $129. This gives you unlimited access during the subscription period. (Consider that two hours with a math tutor can cost as much as a month of Virtual Nerd access.)
There are also short-term options. One day (24 hours of access) is available for $5, or an entire week for $19. These are great alternatives to hitting your head against a wall, trying to help your student through a tricky bit of math learning, or for a student preparing for a test.
A free educator’s subscription is available to classroom math teachers or math tutors. (Home educators are not eligible for this subscription, though you can apply for Virtual Nerd’s Ambassador program, which provides a free subscription in return for blogging.)
Want to know more, but not sure if it would fit your student’s needs? Try out the two-hour free trial!
See more TOS Crew reviews of Virtual Nerd here.
Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were given six weeks unlimited access to the Virtual Nerd website for the purpose of review. No other compensation was involved.