Friday, September 10, 2010

America's Math Teacher Review


Our most recent product review for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine was of America's Math Teacher, self-proclaimed to be a "highly functional, successful mathematics teaching system that produces amazine results." I believe this claim to be entirely possible, as we thoroughly enjoyed our experience with this product.

Rick Fisher, or "America's Math Teacher," is a public school instructor with an amazing record. Approximately half of his fifth and sixth grade students do so well with his program, that they bypass seventh-grade math altogether, and go straight into an intensive algebra program. This is important because algebra is a "gateway program;" it holds the key to higher math courses. If you cannot succeed at Algebra, then your chances for success at higher levels is doubtful.

Algebra success does not, however, begin in eighth-grade, when most students take it. It begins much early when students are learning the basic building block skills that everything in higher levels of math build upon; things like addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, decimals, least common multiples, greatest common factors, percents, geometry, word problems, and graphs and charts. The value of a solid math base cannot be underemphasized. Furthermore, the importance of building up a student's math confidence cannot be pointed out enough. If a student is given the appropriate time and instruction to master the needed skills, yet still feels at a loss and thinks he lacks proficiency, he is not as likely to do well as a more confident student.

To help develop these two things, skills and confidence, requires a gentle, persistent, guiding hand. After reviewing America's Math Teacher, I feel that Rick Fisher seems to have this capability. My middler son, Tex, who is starting Pre-Algebra this year (7th grade), liked him a lot. In fact, Tex said he wouldn't mind doing Mr. Fisher's math lessons for the rest of the year, instead of his much liked other computer-based math program, which we temporarily set aside for the purposes of reviewing this product. That he is willing to set aside a program he REALLY likes says a lot to me. He didn't say he liked one or the other better, but rather that he liked one just as well as the other.



Let me tell you a bit more about the program:

  •  Video tutorials are available for each skill set at each level. For example, if my son needs to learn about exponents, there is a video for that topic (ranging from as little as two minutes to about eighteen minutes, depending on the scope of the topic). See a list of videos lessons HERE. Tex did make the comment that he wished there was a bit more information on some of the tougher topics. When that happened, I wound up going over things in more detail with him. I think this program is ideal as a supplement to an existing curriculum, or as extra help for a public schooled student. However, a parent who is confident about their own math skills could make this work as a freestanding curriculum since they could elaborate if their students needed further help.

  • Units (such as Integers or Exponents) are accompanied by printable written exercises, including an end of unit reveiw AND (every mom's favorite thing...) an answer key (yay!). You can see a listing of available printable exercises HERE.
"This is a tested teaching strategy that will produce dramatic results for students. This easy to follow, step-by step program provides all the video tutorials and exercises you will need to super-charge any math program. There are plenty of free videos and exercise materials available for you to see how valuable this system will be to your students. "

  • Each unit also has an end of unit quiz that is automatically graded by the computer. There is also a FINAL EXAM at the end of each of the courses. Check out the list of evaluations HERE.

  • There are evaluation exams available if you need to see if your student is ready to move onto another level, such as from advanced math to pre-algebra. These are extensive tests (they take about sixty minutes if you allow a minute per question) and are graded automatically. If your student fails to show mastery of the subject (scoring 80% or higher), he can review the materials and retake the evaluation in two days.

  • The site offers speed drills in the areas of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Your student can do these as a daily warm up and compete against his own times.

  • There is a Customer Support Center that will handle any technical questions you may have.

  • You can try out sample videos and sample printed pages HERE.

  • The content for the courses follows the guidelines for the NCTM (National Council for the Teachers of Math) Standards. You can read more about the standards for each level HERE.

  • The teacher videos are done using a "white board" on which the teacher writes example problems (your student can solve these along with the instructor) as he speaks to the students. My son said he really likes Mr. Fisher's voice. He says he thinks he sounds like he is very nice.
    "The lessons are carefully explained in clear, simple terms, so that all students will understand, learn, and master each and every topic."
  • The cost for homeschooling families is currently $195.00. This gets you access to the entire library of lessons in every course from any computer, any time (it is login/password based, not software dependent). This makes it ideal for larger families with  more than one student taking anything from basic math (grade 4) to algebra, as well as for families who vary in their schooling locations (ie. some days at grandma's, some days at home). Tex commented, "This would sure be a good deal for the Duggars!"

  • The program is proven to improve performance when used as a supplement/tutorial to existing programs. The site specifically says that "this award winning program compliments all basic math textbooks, so it is a perfect partner program for school." This might be the solution for a family whose student is struggling with an already purchased curriculum, but the money just isn't there to support a regular tutoring service, or it could provide the security an overwhelmed mom needs when she feels like her days of doing algebra were a looooong time ago (I know the feeling!).
  • "Rick designed this system for elementary, middle grades and even high school students who were not prepared for algebra, to help bring them to algebra-readiness in less than one school year. Through this program, many of Rick's students have improved several grade levels in their math abilities in just one school year. Rick has also used the program successfully with students who are struggling with math and have limited English skills."
  • They have added content just since we started evaluating the program, and I believe their goal is to make their site THE place to learn math on the web, so I wouldn't be surprised if they keep on adding more good stuff. If they keep up the pace they have set, they will certainly be a full-blown, independent curriculum choice very shortly (if they aren't already...I could probably make this work as a full curriculum at this point, now that they have added tests, quizzes, and answer keys for our level).

All in all, I think we had a pretty good experience with this program. Early on, there were a few glitches, such as missing content, quizzes timing out or being incorrectly scored, and not quite being organized in a user-friendly way.

BUT in the last month since we have been using the program regularly as our daily math lesson, we have seen these glitches be removed and/or improved upon to the point where we don't really notice them any more. For example, today we took a test and one question did not show up, so we had to guess at the answer and missed it (of course). This wasn't a big deal. I knew we had guessed and was able to adjust the grade in my gradebook accordingly.

Their customer support system has been on the ball as far as my experiences have gone, and I am guessing that given another month or so, everything will be running smoothly. In fact, today when I signed in to have one last look around before the review, I was very pleased with how it is now organized...it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. There is so much on there, I wish we had more time left in our free subscription. Way to go, guys!

I hope that I was able to share with you some valuable inormation about this product. I was given a two-month membership to this site for the purposes of evaluating it. What you have read in this review reflects my personal experiences and the experiences of my son while we tested this product. By telling you what I found to be true, I am in no way expecting or guaranteeing that you will have the same experience that I did. I hope you do, though...actually, I hope yours is even better!

If you would like to see what others on the Crew have to say about this product, you can check out their reviews by clicking HERE.

Blessings to you all,

Heather

3 comments:

Guiding Light said...

WOW! This is an absolutely AMAZING review! Lots of information, with pictures and links! Love it! Thank you!

One Mom said...

Great review!

The Unsell Family said...

Visiting from the TOS crew. Good review! I love your blog!
~Jen Unsell
www.theunsells.blogspot.com

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