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The start of our math work during the first year homeschooling had us backstepping to skills he had not mastered in school. While he started to regain his confidence at first, each time we encounter a challenging topic the complaints and tirades will begin. Some of his frustration is from rushing through work too quickly leading to missed problems, but other times it is just feeling like things are not sticking in his head.
When I told him we would be testing an online math program, he was a bit skeptical. The only thing he saw as positive is that we would take a break from his other curriculum for a while. Considering he’s been working on that book for over a year, I can understand his excitement over shelving it for a while. And, there was the excitement over using mom’s computer for schoolwork as well.
ALEKS is not like many of the math resources I have encountered online so far. The student begins with an assessment of skills for the level the parent has chosen for them. While I could have chosen Math 6 for him, I opted to be daring and selected Middle School Math 1. For my middle son, we chose his grade level: 3. The assessments took about 30 minutes for each son. ALEKS walks them through a tutorial of how to enter answers before beginning the ‘test.’ At first, the boys called out for help. But, after discovering they could just click “I have not learned that yet” as an option they felt more comfortable. The math program we usually use does not follow the typical scope and sequence for introduction, so both boys had several questions where they had no clue.
Once the assessment was done, the boys could then see their pie. For each student, the different skill areas in the course are formed into wedges of a pie.
They can see how many concepts are in each area as well as how many they have already mastered. By running the mouse over an area, they can see what topics ALEKS has determined they are ready to learn.
This is where I see it really sets itself apart from other programs I have read about or seen. Why allow a student to spend energy on topics they are NOT ready to tackle and create more frustration for them. This way they can build on their knowledge and build confidence as they progress. And, the choice of what they should do next is made for both the parent and student in an objective fashion.
ALEKS is not cheap. However, the cost is far less than contracting with a private tutor. A recent call for help seeking a math tutor here in MD produced a referral where the tutor charges $25 an hour. Considering how many hours a student could spend on ALEKS during a month, you can really get incredible bang for your buck.
Using ALEKS in Our Home
After my first student’s account was established, I set up a parent master account. With multiple students in a family, this central landing pad for the parent is extremely helpful.
When I’m logged into it, I can see what each student has done and see a rating for how well they have mastered new topics. There is a bar showing mastery of the course material as well as projections of how long until they have mastered the course material.
When the boys log into ALEKS, they may be presented with review of concepts they have recently worked on and have not come close to mastering. Otherwise, they see a pie chart that shows how much of the course is mastered (each wedge is a different concept area e.g. geometry, place value, addition, etc.)
My 3rd grader is soaking up a LOT of new concepts and loves seeing his mastered portion growing. When a new topic is introduced the child can either attempt the problem OR ask to show it worked out. I think this option is available for all the practice problems. Seeing a new concept in step by step format is how they can learn the new material.
After they attempt a practice problem, their response is shown as well as whether it is correct. If they pick it up a concept quickly, then the student has just a short group of practice problems. But, if they miss one it adds to the number of problems to do.
My 6th grader’s initial assessment showed about 21% mastery of the material. He has not been spending a ton of time on the site, but is making gains. P has only gained 7% in the past 18 days and given his current rate of mastery they project he will be done with this level in 25 weeks (60 hours).
R is making great gains with his assessment showing 12% mastery and a gain of 20% so far. At his current rate of learning, it would only take 8 weeks (or about 11 hours) to complete the course. Of course, that’s at the current rate of learning and changes as things start slowing down. R’s also spent more time on the site than P as he loves math and is thrilled to be learning more new concepts.
What I am hoping is that this short trial period we received will help them tackle some subjects not in our normal programs scope and sequence. Plus, I know that a different presentation of a topic can make a difference.
Maybe I will even have a child turn from being math phobic to math loving!