Sunday, April 15, 2012

Math Made FUN?


AIMS is a non-profit foundationdedicated to helping teachers give students a solid conceptual understanding of math and science.” 

We were asked to review Looking at Lines from the Algebraic Thinking Series. It has 232 pages covering 32 distinct hands-on activities, mostly using readily available household items. We received a hard copy of the book with a cd-rom containing all of the printables for the activities. Users have permission to print up to 200 copies of the activity sheets for educational purposes.

Each activity includes:

  • A section for the teacher: standards, objectives, applications, materials, background information, procedures, solutions, and management strategies.
  • A Key Question with Learning Goals: Can be used as a handout sheet or made into a transparency or slideshow.
  • Pages necessary to complete the activity:  This includes instructions, graphs, charts, and other printables necessary for construction of the exercises.
  • Connecting Learning: These are the questions that help student connect the activity to the concept and encourage higher level thinking skills as opposed to simple observation.


Hubby and Tex helped me with this review, and here is what Hubby had to say about Looking at Lines:

  •      I found Looking at Lines to be an excellent supplement to an Algebra class or an introduction to related linear concepts.  The book is very detailed and can seem overwhelming at first, especially to someone who is not fully comfortable with advanced math concepts.  I took a quick glance on the web and I found a college course that uses this AIMS publication as its basis. That shows you the scope of its potential applications.
  •       After I waded through the detailed introductory information (which is geared towards educators), I found all of the practical exercises very interesting.  My wife and I struggled with our oldest son in demonstrating the practicality of higher math.  I think the problem might have been eliminated (or at least lessened) had we slowly introduced linear thinking using the exercises in Looking at Lines.  With my background in math and science, I thought I could use words to communicate abstract algebraic concepts.  For my concrete-minded son, this approach bore little fruit.  He embraced the value of algebra later when he started working with consumer and business applications, and he now appreciates the skills he learned as he uses them in his small business.
  •      You may wonder why I believe that Looking at Lines works better than other approaches to introducing algebra.  First, God blessed us with five other children and I have no desire to face the same struggles with them that I faced with my oldest.  While my fourteen-year-old son (Tex) is more willing to embrace algebra, he also likes to see clear examples of what he is learning.  Looking at Lines provides those examples in spades. 
  • One of the first activities uses a simple equal arm balance (a plastic straw, stick pin, and some paperclips) and begins to show the student a simple linear equation by moving the paperclips and observing the results.  How cool is that! 
  •  Build, move stuff around, and evaluate what you see...boys, especially, like that sort of thing. In the first lesson, he learned all the basics and could apply them in a very hands-on, practical way.   
  • The book provides many more methods integrating science, business, gardening, and simple construction. We still needed practice problems and significant parental involvement, but I appreciated each part and how the instruction progressed from simple equations to graphs and tables to equalities and inequalities.  
  • At times the course may require more effort in preparation and execution on the part of the educator than a traditional textbook method, but the results will be a clearer understanding of complex abstracts through concrete observations.  
  • I recommend starting the course early (6th-7th grade) and breaking the work into small, manageable chunks, though it definitely applies to older students as well. The one thing I do not really recommend is giving the book to your student and asking them to do the exercises alone. 
  • Teacher involvement is one of the strengths of this program and except for special cases, should not be forsaken.

Who will benefit from AIMS Looking at Lines?
  • Unschoolers who have curious students who want to pursue some hands-on math activities on this subject.
  • Parents of homeschoolers ready grade-wise for a higher level math course, but not quite ready for a full algebra course developmentally (and there is nothing wrong with that!). This would be a way to build some solid foundational ideas and continue doing math, while at the same time, not rushing into a math course the student is not ready for yet.
  • Younger students who need a challenge, but might not be ready to jump into a full algebra course. You could work on one of these activities a week as a supplement while completing their regular math course.
  • Parents with hands-on learners who need some guidance in how to add hands-on learning to their math lessons.
  • Parents of several mulit-age children who want to do some math activities together. While the stated grade level of Looking at Lines is grades 6-9, I really felt some of the basic experiments and concepts could be appreciated by lower level students. Older students could complete the actual graphs and problems, while younger students could help with carrying out the experiments and discussing them.
  • Folks who like the unit study concept will find that the AIMS books fit well into that sort of teaching style. Have a blast picking out your next unit study from their extensive list of choices! They sell the manipulatives to support their books, too.
  • Older students would benefit from this as a means to review key ideas by being in charge of completing the activities with their younger siblings. We all learn best by doing and teaching, don't we?
  • Anyone teaching in a co-op setting would find this entire series of books ideal for that purpose. You can photocopy up to 200 copies of each experiment, not to mention the fact that the presentation method lines up perfectly with co-op settings.
  • Private and public schools would find this product useful for the same reason.
  • Tutors might find that this series would be an interesting addition to their repertoire and a welcome change from the straightforward practice of simply going over the student's regular classwork.

When would I say "maybe not..."?
  • If you don't like having to do class prep, then this would not be an ideal curriculum for you. I felt that a thorough reading of each experiment was needed to familiarize myself with the information, not to mention preparing the materials and handouts necessary for each experiement. It's not that it was really, really hard, but it did require some bucking down on the old algebraic thinking skills.
  • If you have only one student, the prep time might be a limiting factor for you. For several students or a particularly needy student (someone who needs real life math as an encouragement), it would be all right, but it might be more work than the parent of one traditionally taught student wants to tackle on a regular basis...but how much fun it would be for a unit study!!
  • Anyone who prefers a regular textbook method is not going to prefer this curriculum, though it wouldn't be a bad thing to throw in activities like this now and then in any curriculum!
  • Anyone who feels their students need a lot of "drill and repeat" is not going to find that here. Most of these topics connect and develop each other in subtle ways, but you will not be re-covering the same territory repeatedly.

The price for Looking at Lines is $24.95 for the PDF version from the AIMS Store.

There are many more products available, and prices vary, so go check it out for yourself!

Watch some videos and download samples of activities to see how AIMS is "the right fit" for homeschoolers.

You can also check out other reviews of this product and others at the TOS Review Crew Blog.



Disclaimer: We recieved a paperback copy (plus disk) of Looking at Lines for the purposes of trying and reviewing this product. No other compensation was recieved.

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