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Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: America's Math Teacher

Do you have a student who's struggling with computations? Maybe he's reached that age when he's questioning Mama's authority and needs a little impetus from an outside source to help him master the ins and outs of solving math problems...America's Math Teacher might be just the thing you are looking for.

America's Math Teacher is a online subscription site featuring streaming video instruction, hosted by Rick Fisher (founder of Math Essentials) and supporting materials, including evaluations, worksheet exercises and timed drills. The materials cover basic 4th grade math on up to algebra with short videos (2-8 minutes each) that encourage the student to work the problems along with the teacher.

There is no fluff, filler or fancy graphics, here. Videos consist of numbers and diagrams being magically "drawn" onto a virtual white board with audio instruction. Worksheets are black and white and easy on the ink. Evaluations and speed drills do not feature any cutesy graphics, fanfare or other hoopla, just plain business. I actually like that.

The emphasis in this program is on computation, i.e. how to do the problem. If you have a child who is struggling with understanding the "why" behind the math, this may not be the program for you. Let me give you some examples (keep in mind we concentrated on basic math with my child doing 4th grade level): for teaching subtraction with regrouping, while Mr. Fisher does explain how to regroup, he doesn't really explain why you can regroup. Same with addition. Again, with multiplying multi-digit numbers---he shows you how to do it, but not why it is done that way (remember the little x's for holding open places?). For finding the circumference of a circle, he gives the formula (pi x d), but doesn't explain where the pi comes from or why this formula works. He also rounds up pi to 3.14 (perfectly acceptable), but without explaining that it is being rounded up (pi is the problem that never ends, you know).

Now, to be fair, these lessons are incredibly short, averaging about 5 minutes each. There simply will not be any great depth here. I wouldn't call this a complete math curriculum, though it would be great for review and extra work on concepts already learned.

The worksheets offer review tidbits from the lesson and a handful of practice problems before getting to the actual work (10 problems/per sheet). Enough to give a thorough practice for the average student, but not enough to overwhelm most, which I also like. If you want to review a concept over time, you could just do a few problems each day, overlapping the concepts.

The website itself is brand-new and still a work in progress. At the time of this review, I was unsuccessful at getting the evaluations section to work. On one occasion the site insisted I had taken more than the prescribed time to do the problems (I hadn't) and returned a score of "0." On another, the site simply returned no results at all. I also had issues of the correct answer to the problem not being one of the options and 2 possible answers on a problem being exactly the same. It is worth noting, too, that the site does not give you an inkling as to how much time you have when taking the test. You must also answer all questions (can't leave something blank). Personally, for evaluation purposes, I would like to have my child's thoughtful answers, rather than guesses. How can I accurately gauge whether he has mastered the material or simply aced the test?

I do like the speed drill feature. Each drill is presented like a segmented circle to be filled in so you can see exactly how many more to go. Truly a brilliant idea.

America's Math Teacher is available as a year-long family subscription for $195. This price includes all levels to be used with as many students as you want.

Want to see if it's a good fit? Try out the free sample lessons and speed drills for yourself.

Disclosure: I received free access for 60 days to this website for review purposes. I received no other compensation.

For more reviews of this product by other homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

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