Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trials and Smiles


Sometimes, tackling problems can be difficult, even annoying. Other times, while the problems are still, well, problems, they open up opportunities and reveal good things that you might have never known about if you'd not faced the trials.

Such went my review of the My Math Lab online math program from Pearson products, the same folks who offer other valuable products like the perennial favorite among homeschoolers, Sing, Spell, Read, Write. Due to an unfortunate mix-up, I was issued the code for a non-homeschooler's math course, and the process to uncover and eventually correct that problem took many hours on the phone and using online chat sessions with folks at their customer service centers. Eventually, however, I got in touch with someone who could really help me, and since then, the company's attention to making things right has been phenomenal. 

In fact, not only did they set up our course for us, but Pearson also set me up with an online live webinar with the very experienced math professor who created the My Math Lab for homeschoolers (by adapting the text written by Elayn Martin-Gay)! Our conversation was extremely illuminating and fantastically informative. Sandee was so kind and helpful, and was very eager to hear what our perspective of things was so that she could tailor the Homeschool Edition of My Math Lab to best fit the needs of homeschoolers.

Since our time using the course has been somewhat limited by our difficulties, I want to focus mostly on telling you about the many specialized features that are worked into the My Math Lab program for homeschool use based on my conference with Sandee and our time using the program under the teacher's option.

I think once you read them all, you will be impressed. Once I have shared what was revealed to me during our conference, I will tell you about our personal experiences with the program so far. Then you can check out the experiences of other homeschool families on the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew blog. Not everyone on the Crew tried out this program, but those who did should have identified themselves in the label under their thumbnail pictures.

Features of My Math Lab--Algebra I: Homeschool Edition

  • My Math Lab is a course based upon the Algebra 1 textbook written by Elayn Martin-Gay
  • The My Math Lab Algebra 1 course is mastery based. This means that students are expected to demonstrate mastery (full ability) of each topic before moving on to then next. This philosophy is particularly important in math studies, as each concept is a building block for the next one.
  • The online eText is an integral part of the course, and includes embedded links to over 3000 lesson videos (featuring the author explaining various algebra topics), computer scored exercises and practice problems, animated demonstrations, power point presentations, progress tracking, a personalized study plan, test prep videos, and online learning assessments (quizzes and tests).
  • There are 113 assignments and 11 tests. Each section introduces multiple objective- based concepts.
  • Videos can be watched as an entire unit (and are about 20 minutes long), or can be watched as they are covered in each section (they are objective-based). This means, you child does not have to spend time watching instruction on topics in which he is competent, but can skip to areas of trouble.
  • Exercises have a "help me solve this" button. This means that the computer will show a demonstration of how the problem is solved, then a new, but similar problem will be generated so that your student is truly demonstrating his ability to solve using the introduced method. This can be done as many times as is necessary to achieve mastery.
  • There is also a "similar exercise" button which will allow your student to generate endless problems of the same type, until he feels comfortable with the problem type.
  • Students are not allowed to move freely within the problem sets, tests, and quizzes. They must, for example, complete the problems in section 2.1 before moving on to section 2.2. They must pass the quiz before progressing to the following section. Problem sets with prerequisites are marked with a green flag (this would be all sets, unless the instructor unlocks one for some reason). 
  • You can, however, explore a bit under the "Study Plan" option.
  • The mastery level is set at 90% for the homeschool edition (at the request of polled homeschooling families). You can adjust this mastery level for your individual student, which makes this program ideal for students with special needs. Students can re-do the exercises, quizzes, and tests until they "get it."
  • Problems in the practice mode are not tracked by the assessment software allowing students to practice until they feel competent in each area. Problems in the "tracked tutorial mode" are tracked in the gradebook and study plan.
  • Parents (teachers) receive log in codes when their students do. They then proceed to set up a course and enroll their student. At this time, the parent can choose to set due dates on various assignments. You can choose to set dates on homework, as well as tests and quizzes, or just on the tests and quizzes, or not at all. Your student will be locked out of assignments once the due date is past, and instructor intervention will be required to re-set the dates. 
  • Use of problems sets under the instructor log-in does not affect student work at all, so the teacher can work problems ahead of their student so that they can refresh their knowledge of topics ahead of the students.
  • The MML homepage will show visual representations of student progress and achievement through bar graphs and a course timeline. This helps them and their instructor keep track of where they are and how far they have to go, and whether their performance is holding steady or improving.
  • Time spent on watching videos and working through the book is timed, which can show instructors an approximation of how much time is being spent on work. Of course, this does not account for interruptions, so this is just an estimate. Homework is not timed, to remove pressure from the students. You will, however, see a record of date completed.
  • There are no time limits on homework, BUT you can set time limits on quizzes and tests, if you have concerns that a student is not applying themselves or might take advantage of extra time to look up help online (hopefully not an issue).
  • You can edit the number of questions in the homework assignments, if there are too many for your learner. You can also allow them to break the section assignments into two or three day's worth of work. You must just remember to "save" if you stop early. Since each section covers multiple objectives, breaking them up over a day or two may make sense for some students.
  • Problems identify which objectives they cover, and where in the book to find those objectives, so you can see where to look for help if you need remedial work. You can also use the multimedia tool to look up specific helps according to topic.
  • Problem sets tell you what you did wrong after completion, so it is easy to see where you need more work. 
  • You can review your homework and quizzes before taking a test. There is also a practice test in each book, and a video of the author working through a sample test. This is an excellent way to practice study skills. I think this would prepare students well for online or in-person college courses.
  • Enterprising parents can create and assign their own tests and quizzes. Don't ask me how they do this, I just know you can. I do NOT plan to do this. I am happy that this course is 100% complete without any intervention from me.
  • The program is self-paced (if you do not set due dates) and easily self-taught (using the videos, problem sets, and other multimedia tools along with the eText). This makes it an excellent choice for homeschoolers.
  • Oh, before I forget: If you have trouble figuring anything out in your My Math Lab Course, you can access an online "help manual."
I am certain that I have not come close to telling you all there is to know about the Pearson My Math Lab Algebra 1: Homeschool Edition program, but if I go on much further, this post will be way too long...

What we have experienced personally so far indicates to us that this program is just what I explained to you above: an excellent, self-paced, mastery-based, independent learning math program. Tex enjoys watching the instructor. She is very cheerful and seems like someone you would like to know. The problem sets are thorough, but not intimidatingly so. The mastery level of 90% has so far not been a problem, in part because the preparation for each set of exercises is thorough. The visual representations of the content covered and of student performance are motivating to Tex, as it helps him to see how far he has to go and how far he has come. He particularly likes the "help me solve this" option, as that way he never gets stuck for too long on any one thing. He can see how a problem type is worked, then work a different, but similar problem for full credit. 

My favorite thing is the fact that I can set due dates for the quizzes and tests to provide some accountability for Tex, without having to set dates for the homework, so his schedule can remain somewhat flexible. After that, I really do appreciate the fact that Tex cannot move past any topic until it is truly mastered, as he is a creative sort of learner and tends to skip around as he explores interests, which is nice sometimes, but it can also be distracting and leave gaps. I feel that by the time he completes this course, I will well and truly know that he is competent in Algebra.

Sandee told me that she surveyed many Algebra courses and made sure that every subject area that most places felt was a necessary component of Algebra is covered in this program. If we find anything that is missing or needs more coverage, she even asked for us to call her and let her know so that she can tweak that section. Now that's service and dedication for you!!

Our only negatives with the product resulted from our difficulties in our attempts to contact customer service. The phone number to reach them is not easily apparent on their site, and their hours for phone contact are limited to 12 pm-7pm EST, which was most often outside of my window of availability (our busiest hours of the day). If you want help outside those hours, you can contact them via email and you can request an online chat help session 24/7. Unfortunately, the few online sessions, other than the amazing webinar conference call I had with Sandee (which was two hours, but it was awesome, so it impressed me), took way too long to set up (a half-hour wait once, for a total of two hours on the chat, most of it waiting between transfers). The knowledge of the phone reps I encountered was also somewhat limited (some of that was due to language barriers, I think). 

Pearson has told me that they are re-evaluating their call center operations, and also that they will be sending a printed copy of the "help manual" to any homeschooling families who sign up from now on. The reps I talked to never even mentioned the online manual's existence to me in the many times I spoke (or typed) to them, and it really did help in making the program and how it works much more clear to me. Pearson was very apologetic about my difficulties and quite helpful once the "right" people knew about the problem.

My Math Lab Algebra: Homeschool Edition is available for $49.97 for each level (Algebra 1 or Algebra 2). To me, that seems like a very reasonable price for a turn-key product that can take your child through an entire year of upper-level math (you can also fully-customize it, if you are so inclined)

If this seems like something you might be interested in, I suggest that you check out the Homeschool Review Crew blog and see what others on the Crew thought about the product. I did not find that the Pearson site really revealed to me much about the product, though the product page does offer a link to the Table of Contents, if you are interested in seeing which topics are covered.

Overall, I must say that while figuring out this product was a small trial for us, I think it revealed some issues to the company that they are addressing, and I think our experience will help others have a better experience in the future. Also, I do believe that of 100 reviewers, I was the only one who had huge issues (though I haven't read every review). Honestly, I'd probably not have had such a difficult time figuring things out if the proper codes had been sent. The homeschool edition is MUCH easier to navigate than the one intended for public school use, and being able to log in to the correct product was a BIG relief...and a pleasure, now that we are well into it.

Mistakes do happen, and I say better me than someone else, since I am not so inclined to get mad as to look upon it as a learning experience for everyone involved. Now that my trials are turned into smiles (since we are truly liking this product), I am very glad we were asked to review this math program. I think we may have settled on using this as Tex's Algebra program this coming school year, and we are very grateful for it. 

Have a blessed day,


Disclaimer: I received access to Pearson's My Math Lab Algebra 1: Homeschool Edition for the purposes of reviewing this product. What you read here are our actual experiences and opinions about My Math Lab. 

1 comment:

Pearson Homeschool said...

Thanks for reviewing our Pearson Homeschool product and posting such great things. Feel free to follow us on our new Facebook account.

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