Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TOS Review - ALEKS

A lot of homeschoolers are just a bit nervous about needing to teach math, especially at a high school level.  After all, for the average parent, it's been a long time since we took high school math and the methods of teaching have changed since then. When I started looking for high school level math help, I needed to find math resources and teaching tools that work for our students, and fill in the gaps.  And I still look for those kinds of resources!

Please meet our new math tutor, ALEKS.  We really appreciate being introduced to ALEKS through The TOS Review Crew, and even though we've met only recently, I'd like to introduce you to ALEKS as well. 


Rather than try to explain 'who' ALEKS is, I'll just quote from the website:

Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. ALEKS courses are very complete in their topic coverage and ALEKS avoids multiple-choice questions. A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking.
ALEKS also provides the advantages of one-on-one instruction, 24/7, from virtually any Web-based computer for a fraction of the cost of a human tutor.

ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) can provide you with the instruction and support you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. ALEKS is accessible from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a flexible and mobile educational solution for your children.
ALEKS is a Research-Based Online Math Program:
  • Complete Curriculum Solution for Math with Access to Full Course Library
  • No Textbook Required
  • Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
  • Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
  • Master Account - Monitor and Direct Learning Progress
  • Unlimited Online Access - PC & Mac Compatible

Now, I'll be honest - at first I thought that it was likely that my kids would balk at yet another math project to do.  I asked Landon to try first, because he is well on his way through seventh grade math and I thought it would be a great way to check how much he has learned already. (He's in fairly good shape! Whew!)  I hesitated in having Spencer use it because I worried that it would be "one more thing" on his plate and slow him down even more.  I'm glad I finally decided to make him try it as well.  He is using it for high school geometry.  More about that later... First, the student does an assessment test that determines what he already knows at the chosen level and also familiarizes him with how the questions are answered.

The student always has the option to say "I haven't learned this yet" instead of having to blindly guess at an answer when they don't have a clue. I think that takes some pressure off.  After completing the assessment, the student gets their "pie" to show them what they've already mastered, and which areas they can work on.

The student's Pie makes recommendations for further study, and helps the student figure out what they can work on based on what they already know.  Some sections of the pie are pre-requisites for other sections, so they do have to master those in order.  Clicking on a section of the pie immediately switches the student to the Learning Mode, where ALEKS provides practice problems and explanations of new concepts.  ALEKS avoids multiple choice answers, so students can't "lucky guess" their way through.


The student gets immediate feedback as they work through the Learning Mode, so they know right away if they've answered correctly or not, and sometimes ALEKS will even give a suggestion for
correcting mistakes.  The student can review any topic they've already mastered if they wish, and going back to the Pie chart will show them the progress they've made in each section.
ALEKS also offers the ability to print out worksheets, and the master account (for the parent) gives detailed information about what each student enrolled has mastered, what they are working on, their progress, and the time spent.  I receive emails that detail all this information too.

I mentioned that I'm glad I had Spencer try it - here's why.  Turns out he prefers ALEKS to his traditional workbook, and in my opinion, he is learning the material faster.  And both boys have told me that they really like knowing instantly whether they have given a correct answer to a problem. (And I like that I don't have to grade it!) We've decided that Spencer will probably continue using ALEKS along with his current math program to finish the school year.

What we liked best...
  • instant feedback! The student is told immediately whether their answer is right or wrong.  No waiting around for Mom to have time to grade the work and hope that she can decipher the answers.
  • at-a-glance pie chart showing what the student has already mastered, and their progress.
  • detailed progress reports available for the parent/teacher. 
  • when the student gets an answer wrong, or doesn't understand, there is an "explain" option that will instantly bring up a teaching section for that type of problem, and allow the student to practice.  Landon mentioned this because he doesn't like paging back through a textbook looking for a review on something he needs to refresh his memory, and Spencer heartily agreed.
What we weren't crazy about...
  • both boys mentioned that it was difficult to be accurate with the protractor and ruler tools.  For instance, when told to draw a 70* angle, Landon thought he had done so, but the program said it was 71* and told him it was wrong.  Not that there was a penalty for getting it wrong, but he got impatient when this happened.
  • I was glad that a friend who had already used ALEKS cautioned us that the original assessment test might seem long, and that students tended to like the program itself a LOT better than the assessment.  That made sense, so I offer that same advice to others who may want to try it.  The assessment test will not give the instant feedback of right or wrong answers, and may seem a bit long - I just encouraged the boys to keep going through that and they did indeed find the program to be very useful.
We think ALEKS is a great program - I started the review period worried that my boys would balk at trying it, and hoping that they wouldn't complain about "having to do it."  And now they are both asking to work on it, liking it, making progress, and Spencer has said quite firmly that he prefers it to a workbook and wants to use it for the rest of the year!  What a difference a few weeks of the trial have made!  So yes, we will be continuing with ALEKS for Spencer for sure!

Would you like to meet our friend ALEKS? Here's what you need to know...

ALEKS courses are available for grades 3-12, and beyond.  They are designed for independent and individualized learning.  Each course comes with unlimited online access.  It is an online program, not a download, so it can be accessed from more than one computer, and is compatible with both PC and MAC systems. 

Subscription pricing is as follows:  $19.95 per month; $99.95 for six months, or $179.95 for 12 months.   Family discount plans are also available.  ALEKS is offering a free two-month trial for homeschoolers who haven't used it before.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog for more information, and to read other Crew member reviews.
Note: As a part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we received a complimentary two-month subscription to this website in exchange for our honest opinions.


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