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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Mathletics

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As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a 6-week subscription to Mathletics for two of my children in exchange for writing an honest review of my family’s experience with the program. I received no other compensation.

Mathletics is an online subscription-based math program. The curriculum for each level is divided up into several units, each consisting of several problem sets. Units are completed with a test. Students collect “gold bars” by completing each problem set. A graphic in the lower right-hand corner of the screen shows how many gold bars have been collected and how many there are total for that level.

Each problem set has a question mark to click for an explanation of the problem and how to do it. Explanations are generally step-by-step, with graphics to illustrate, but no audio file, so they must be read.

Each time a student completes an activity (or problem set), there’s an animated victory screen and they receive points based on the percentage of correct answers and credits for completing the activity. Credits can be used to buy accessories, cool hairstyles and more to customize the student’s avatar. Points go towards earning virtual certificates. Students can also compete against other students around the world in “races” to test their speed in math fact recall.

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As the parent, you will have a parent center to oversee all of your “students.” This account gives you access to your children’s progress (you can see at a glance which units have been completed and the percentage of accuracy). You can also “assign” particular problem sets (up to four) for the next time and print out workbook pages, though the workbooks are a bit limited at this time (these are mostly available for the upper levels).

I used Mathletics with Mary (kindergarten) and David (4th grade). Mary breezed through the kindergarten level material in a week. The only thing holding her back was her reading skills. She can read, but not confidently at the level at which the instructions were written and, since there was no audio file to explain things to her, she found this a little frustrating (the use of names in charts that are hard to sound out, like “Juan”, also frustrated her), so Mom sat with her and explained what was wanted. This is fine, but keeps Mom from doing one-on-one work with another child and there’s something disconcerting about doing “one-on-one” work with your child in front of a computer screen.

Once she had completed the kindergarten level, I moved her to the next level. The topics that overlapped the previous level were no problem, but then it came time to do some topics she was not yet familiar with. I found the “help” given to explain these to be grossly inadequate at times. For example, the help for telling time to the half hour basically tells you if you are setting the time to 8:30, you should put the big hand on the 6 and the small hand between the 8 and 9---there’s is absolutely no explanation given as to why this represents 8:30 or why the 6 represents 30 minutes or anything. There’s no explanation as to why you can’t just put the small hand on the 8, either (and you will get it wrong if you put it on the 8).

David worked on the 3rd grade level, as I wanted to use it primarily for review with him (we’re working on shoring up the math knowledge he already has this year). David had no problem reading the instructions or doing the work. The explanations were not really necessary in his case as the material was familiar to him. He particularly enjoyed the “problem-solving” activities (a extra set of activities that are not actually part of the units but give valuable practice in reasoning).

Neither child was interested in competing against other students in real time. My kiddos love to compete against each other, but are not at all crazy about trying to measure up against someone else. They both do better when they are trying to improve their own times.

I found the parent center to be helpful for getting a very general idea of what my children were doing with the program, but found it lacking in terms of getting a firm handle on what exactly their weaknesses and strengths are. Sometimes it is helpful to know exactly what problem they got wrong so you can judge if it’s a concept they are having trouble with, a careless error, one particular math fact they haven’t mastered, etc. You can see the name of the problem set from the parent center, but you can’t even see an example of the type of problem it consists of. I got in the habit of having the kiddos print their test results to a pdf when they finished (after each problem set or test is completed, “victory” page shows thumbnails of all the problems completed and you have the option to print) so I would have a more complete record of where they were at. I do like the option of assigning particular problem sets, as David in particular will avoid doing topics he thinks are too hard.

Overall, the program has some good points, but I wouldn’t rely on it as a complete curriculum, more of a supplement.

Mathletics subscription rates (10 day money back guarantee):

  • $59/child 1 year subscription
  • If you know the Human Calculator's Favorite number (answer is '9') you can purchase a subscription for $49.95 per child per year.

To read other reviews of this product by homeschoolers, go to:

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