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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: Factor Tree

Maybe your homeschool math program is great on the concepts but a little weak in practice? Or the kiddos just aren’t picking up those facts the way you want them to? Or they’re forgetting what you covered last month, last week, or even…yesterday? Factor Tree was designed for you.

Factor Tree is a new online subscription math service for grades K-6 designed to give your kiddos plenty of daily practice and keep their mathematical minds sharp. This is not a complete curriculum, but a supplemental resource that offers practice and reinforcement of skills already learned.

The website states that Factor Tree combines the best of Western and Eastern instruction: Western=conceptual understanding and Eastern=practice and repetition. I don’t know if that’s intellectually accurate, but I guess it sounds good (I’ll talk more about this in a mo).

Cost: $20/month

Here’s how it works:

Upon entering the site for the first time, each student will take an evaluation test to find out which skills they have and which ones they are lacking. After the initial test, each new exercise will consist of a practice test (20 problems) targeting areas in which he needs more practice. The tests are short, simple, and lacking in any sound effects or doodads that might distract. A little pie on the right shows them their progress.

factor tree screen 1

As the parent, you can track your child’s progress at any time in your account. You will also receive email notifications of tests that he has completed.

What did we think?

I am testing this program with 10-year-old David. First this program is not yet fully bug-free, we did encounter some bugs while using it that are being worked on. The hint button that you see in the pic above is not operational, for instance (just takes you to a screen that says this screen will display a tutorial on the topic), so I cannot speak to how good the instruction is or isn’t. At this point there is no instruction at all, just practice problems.

The controls are simple and easy to understand. The problems are not always easy to understand. Notice the problem above. What is supposed to go into the “Value” slot? Apparently nothing (if you leave it blank and fill in the correct numerator and denominator, you get it right), but how is the student supposed to know that? How is the parent supposed to know that when the student asks? Or is this another temporary glitch until the site is complete? There are other instances where what is asked for is stated in a strange way, or at least not a way that I’m familiar with. Now, math curricula do vary in how certain topics are presented, so this may be unavoidable and simply a kink to be worked through.

While David appreciates that the practice tests are fairly short (20 problems), he doesn’t appreciate that they are “tests.” For students who break out in hives at the thought of taking a test, you may want to explain that they are really practice sessions.

Overall, I’m just not seeing the East meet West thing here. There’s plenty of practice, but no explanations at all and no tools for reinforcing, say, the multiplication facts. If your kiddo doesn’t already know the multiplication facts, they are basically left to skip count or count on their fingers. There are no virtual manipulatives, or times table to refer to or anything like that. The program also does not show them why they got a problem wrong.

The cost may seem high, but apparently you can add as many students as you like, so it’s a better value for a larger family.

Would I recommend it?

I’d like to see the final product first. At this time, I can see it being beneficial in your homeschool if your children need practice to develop automaticity for the math facts, for instance, but already know the facts. Or just review topics you know they know but they might be a little rusty at. Factor Tree doesn’t seem to offer any real instruction, so if you looking for something that actually reinforces the concepts, as opposed to just giving practice for the operations, this probably isn’t the program for you.

But, you don’t have to spend any money to find out! You can get a free 2-week trial.

Go to Factor Tree and sign up for a free trial, using the code BZZAGENT.

Disclosure: I received a free trial of this product as a BzzAgent in exchange for spreading the word and reviewing the product.

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