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Friday, March 1, 2013

What We're Using. A+ Tutor Soft Math Review.

We are a family of non-math-lovers (in case I've never mentioned that before, lol!)  My girls will regularly tear up with a new math concept, and I have been known to start ripping my hair out over their tears over a new math concept.

It has not been a fun time in our home, this picking out of math curriculum!

And this year, added to the mix, I have a little boy who--wait for it--LOVES math!  Really loves it.  As in, counts out loud as far as he can just to see if he can do it loves math.  Plays with a calculator to get math answers and then announces them to all within earshot loves math.  Will spend the morning happily weighing items on the scale or measuring things with a ruler loves math.

And I had NO idea what to do with him.

But then A+ Tutor Soft Math gave me a chance to try out their online, computer-based math program with him.  Computer-based and math.  Wow!  Win-win for my Bug!

About A+ Tutor Soft Math

A+ Tutor Soft Math's goal is to "help students of all ability and grade levels reach their educational potential by offering expert instruction that is engaging, easy to follow, and easily accessible."  (from their website).  They offer math curriculum as CD software, or via an online version, and offer it for 1st - 6th grades, PreAlgebra and Algebra 1.  

The CD software version of the curriculum comes in a standard ($99.99) and a premium ($124.99) edition.  The Standard Edition contains multimedia lessons which address auditory, visual, and text learning, interactive quizzes with instant feedback and "re-teaching" if needed, a lesson plan, curriculum book on CD, printable worksheets and exams, and parent solution guides.  In addition, the Premium Edition gives you access to progress tracking and reporting, parental controls, and weekly certificates of accomplishments.

The online homeschool version of the curriculum also contains the multi-media lessons and interactive quizzes, as well as the choice of online or printable worksheets and exams (or both!), the curriculum, worksheet, and exam books as ebooks, and a weekly certificate.  One set of advantages to the online program is that it offers instant online grading, progress reports listing areas of weakness and strength, and parental controls that will lock down the solution guides.  A+ Tutor Soft's online curriculum can be purchased several different ways.  It is $19.95 for a one-month subscription, $49.95 / quarter, or $124.99 for one year.

On the website for A+, you can find a free online placement test, free sample worksheets, free exams, free multimedia lessons of the day, and a free one-month trial membership, as well as sample lessons from the CD and online versions!

What We Reviewed

We received the online version of the 1st grade curriculum.  (Yes, I know Bug is technically a Kindergartner, but did I explain that math is his thing?--First Grade math wasn't a problem for him.)  This version consisted of 100 lessons in 14 categories:  Counting Numbers, Number Sense, Comparing and Ordering Numbers, Addition Part 1, Addition Part 2, Subtraction Part 1, Subtraction Part 2, Fractions, Graphs, Time, Money, Measurements, Geometry, and Algebra.

The multimedia lessons are like interactive slide shows, with a female voice reading all of the text on the screen for the lessons.  The next slide only comes along when the child chooses to go to it.  At the end of each lesson, there is a section of interactive Questions and Answers (usually 5-10) for the student to use to ensure that they understand the material.  These questions, and all of the multiple choice answers, are also read to the student.

There is also a 32 week suggested lesson plan included.  We did not use this, but it's really nice to have for those check-off-the-box moms (like I usually am!)  There are printable and online worksheets also included for each lesson, as well as printable and online exams, and a printable "Reference Sheet" full of helpful information (think a 100's chart).

ALSO included are some really helpful ebooks:  the curriculum book, worksheet solution guide and exam solution guide.  I can see these being extremely helpful as we progress past a first grade level, lol!

How Did We Use It?

In the time that we've been reviewing the curriculum we've used it a couple of different ways.  In the beginning, I would sit down at the computer with Bug and totally work through the lesson with him.  I would make him go through the whole lesson (even if he said he knew the material) before we went into the Q & A section.

Yeah.  That didn't last long.

One of the really great things about this curriculum is that we could tailor it to best fit our needs and Bug's interest level.  If we started a lesson and he insisted that he "already knew how to do it", we just went right to the Q & A to prove it, lol!  If he seemed to have a problem answering the questions, THEN we would go back and listen to the lesson, and try the questions again.

Bug was even able to use this program independently.  On busy days, or on those days when he might have had a more-difficult-than-normal-unnamed-sister, I would get the program to the right lesson, sit him at the computer, and ask him to print out the certificate he received when the lesson was over.  Right there I would have in my hand his results from the Q & A, so I could tell whether or not he understood the lesson.

We used the program three to four days / week.  At the end of each section, I would give Bug the online exams to check his comprehension of the whole section.  The exams in this version were not read to the student.  Luckily, my Bug can read well.  However, if you have a little one who excels in math and not so much in reading, be prepared to sit with them to do the exams and read for them.

Also, the exams were quite a bit longer than the regular Q & A sections (around 25 questions).  They are timed, but you can turn the timing off in the Administrator panel.  There is plenty of time for most kids to finish the exams, even taking into account the normal "wiggle time" needed by 6 year-old boys!

What Did Bug Think?

"I kind of liked it.  I learned it right away.  It doesn't give you time to think about stuff.  I like to get the certificates."

What Did I Think?

I was very impressed with this math curriculum.  The information is presented to the student in a straight-forward way, using visual tools to help make the point.  Smiley faces are paired up in a lesson about even and odd numbers, for example, and the concept of place value is taught with different colored blocks in different columns.  The Question and Answer session is a crucial part of the curriculum, and the instant feedback given during it is wonderful.  I also liked that we had the opportunity to do additional worksheets when we reached a concept that Bug didn't understand very well.  I would have him do the lesson, the Q & A session, and then the next day we would do an online worksheet.  If he still didn't understand well, we could re-do the lesson and create a whole different online worksheet.  It was a great way for us to work on his pace, going rapidly through concepts he mastered easily, and then spending more time when we needed to.

The Q & A sessions, it seems, were designed to be fun for the student, and not just a dry review.  In the 1st Grade level, at least, there were sometimes when the correct answer was rewarded with a frog's "ribbit", or, at the very least, always with a "thumbs-up" and a smiley face.  The certificates that can be printed out at the end of the session were also a big hit--Bug happily printed them out each time to show to his Daddy that evening.

One piece of the curriculum that I would change, or at least have users take note of, is during the lessons themselves.  Bug would tend to get frustrated during the teaching time if the instructor asked a question and didn't quite pause long enough for Bug to get the answer himself.  He spent a few sessions starting to "sass" the instructor a bit, until we figured out where the "pause" button was!  After that, he would automatically hit the pause button whenever there was a question, so that he could take all the time he needed to answer.  (But that probably just has much more to do with my ultra-competitive children. *ahem*)

Overall, A+ Tutor Soft Math will have a spot in our homeschool curriculum for quite some time.  (As a matter of fact, we've also used the Fourth Grade CD-ROM version.  You can check out our experiences with that here.)

Let me know what you all are doing for your math.  Are you using a computer-based math program?

A+ is offering a great discount to my readers who order before 3/31/13.  If you enter the coupon code SPOFFER50, you will receive 50% off!!

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the vendor in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

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