Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No-Nonsense Algebra {Schoolhouse Review Crew}

Imagine for a moment that you are a student and math isn't your favorite subject.  Now imagine that you were told that you could master Algebra I in about 20 minutes a day.  What would your reaction be?  Our first thoughts when asked to review No-Nonsense Algebra from Math Essentials were something along the lines of "that sounds too good to be true - but if it IS true, sign us up!"  So here I am to tell you how it's working!


We have been reviewing a couple of the resources from Math Essentials.  We received two books - from the Mastering Essential Math Skills series, Problem Solving, and the newer No-Nonsense Algebra.

Math Essentials presents a series of workbooks using a system of teaching developed by Richard W. Fisher that helps motivate students to learn and produces dramatic results.  The program is easy to follow and requires only 20 minutes per day because the lessons are short, concise, and self-contained. The newest product in the series is  No-Nonsense Algebra, and this was the focus for our family's review.

 No-Nonsense Algebra is an easy-to-understand text and teaching system that includes built-in reviews for mastery, and eliminates distractions.  Each lesson includes a clearly explained introduction to the topic, a section of helpful hints, examples with step-by-step solutions, written exercises, and a review section.  The idea is to teach algebra in a logical and systematic manner.

In the back of the book is an access code to the online teaching videos that correspond with each lesson.  The author teaches the lessons himself in a video segment, guiding the student through the topic and some examples.  Each day Landon worked on Algebra, he watched the teaching video, and did the examples and review in the workbook.  He didn't complain about it, and was done in half an hour or less each day, depending on the length of the video.  And so far, he's been getting the right answers almost all the time.  (The solutions are in the back of the book, but we remove them so that I do the grading, and so that it's not so easy to cheat.

After a few lessons, Landon informed me that he would like to do the entire Algebra I course using No-Nonsense Algebra, and I had no objections!! In fact, I was doing a happy dance.  On the inside, of course!  He likes the teaching videos, which work well even with our internet connection being a little spotty at times.  He can pause the video or replay a part that he needs to see again without any trouble. The problems that he needs to work out are enough to get familiar with the concept taught, and to prove that he understands it, without being overly time-consuming.  The lesson is covered in just one or two pages, and the pages themselves are clear and uncluttered.

I knew we had a winner on our hands when I was privileged to hear the following conversation a couple weeks ago.  Landon had a friend over and they were talking about school (the friend is homeschooled as well).  When this young man mentioned that he was not liking algebra and having trouble with it, Landon immediately said, "You should try the one I've got - No-Nonsense Algebra.  The lessons are short so they don't take all day. There's a workbook and you go online to watch the videos that teach it and then you do the lessons." Not only that, but he went to get the book to show the kid!!  Once again, I was doing that happy dance on the inside, because Landon doesn't give endorsements out like candy.  He generally doesn't give endorsements for anything that is school-related.  When I saw the friend's mom, I made sure to give her a heads-up that Landon had been doing an unpaid and unsolicited promo for a math book and promised to bring the book along for her to see soon.

What we liked best:

  • concise lessons - one or two pages of teaching, exercises and review presented efficiently so that it doesn't take an intimidating amount of time.
  • the clean, uncluttered pages mean there's less distraction.
  • by working out the solutions and writing down answers in a separate notebook, the text is non-consumable.  There is an emphasis on writing down each example and the steps to the solution as an important step in the learning process.  
  • the video lessons are clear and easy to understand.
  • chapter tests and a final text to measure progress and understanding.
What we weren't crazy about:
  • I did find a couple of minor typos in the solutions.  Fortunately, on problems that I could easily solve on my own so I trusted myself and Landon on those ones.  I hope that there aren't mistakes when we get to the more challenging (for me!) problems.  
I also need to mention the other book that we were looking at - Problem Solving from the Mastering Essential Math Skills series.  This series of books is targeted to specific skill areas in math, helping students in middle school and high school grades improve their mastery and understanding of topics like integers, geometry, fractions, decimals, and problem solving.  These are also designed for about 20 minutes a day of work.  The Problem Solving book reviewed skills in reading and understanding graphs, basic operations with whole numbers and fractions, working with percentages and with decimals, all in the context of word problems.  Kennady did some of the lessons in this book, and did okay with the section on graphs, but with this book being targeted to middle school and up, we found that the rest of it was still a bit beyond her.  We will probably be using it as a supplement in future though.  Again, the lessons were clear and concise, with just a page or two to teach each lesson, and even Kennady (the math-phobe!) wasn't freaked out by it.


Would this no-nonsense approach to algebra be right for your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:

No-Nonsense Algebra is available for $27.95, which includes the book and access to the online video lessons.  The workbook Problem Solving in the Mastering Essential Math Skills series is $11.95.  You can view all the Math Essential products and prices at the Math Essentials website.

Some of my Crewmates reviewed other titles in the Math Essentials series.  You can visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information about these products and to read other Crew member reviews.

Disclaimer: As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received a complimentary copy of these two books and access to the corresponding online video lessons in exchange for our honest opinions.


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