Wednesday, September 25, 2013

VideoText Interactive: Algebra {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

High school level mathematics - algebra and geometry - is a subject that strikes fear into the hearts of many homeschoolers as we worry about how we'll manage to teach something to our kids that we ourselves only vaguely remember. Those of us that didn't love math are especially glad to find teaching resources that make this job easier on us, and we were very blessed with the opportunity to review a curriculum like that - Algebra: A Complete Course, from VideoText Interactive.
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VideoText Interactive offers two complete courses for high school math - Algebra: A Complete Course and Geometry: A Complete Course. The curriculum uses video-based strategies to teach algebra and geometry with brief lessons and clear explanations. The video IS the text, and presents the material with computer-generated graphics, animations, and color-sequencing so that the concepts are developed clearly so the student can see and hear the explanations. Accompanying the video-text is a work-text, which gives the student lesson notes to review, examples and exercises to practice, and progress tests.

Each of the video lessons in Algebra: A Complete Course is about 5-10 minutes long, and the Course Notes provided repeat the same material so the student can read it after having seen it and heard it. The WorkText reviews the concepts, with examples and exercises for practice. The Solutions Manual gives the complete solution the the exercises rather than just the final answer, so students can follow the steps and do their own error-analysis. There are progress tests throughout, checking understanding of the material after every couple of lessons and at the end of each unit.
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Something that makes this algebra course different is that it is indeed a complete algebra course, not separated into Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II as many of us are used to seeing. Their approach is explained on the website but in a nutshell, the idea is to teach the concepts analytically, using a mastery approach rather than spiral teaching. The material is presented in a logical progression, and the student doesn't just memorize formulas, but learns how and why the concepts work. Completion of Algebra: A Complete Course is worth credits for Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II. There are three different schedules suggested for completion in one, two, or three years.

Because the program is so complete, students may be ready to begin the course earlier than we might think. VideoText offers this checklist to help parents determine if their student is ready:

How did we use it? At first, Landon was not that pleased when I told him he had to start at the beginning of the course, as he was expecting to jump in partway, having completed some Algebra I already. I explained to him that the scope and sequence was ordered somewhat differently and the course wasn't divided into Algebra I and Algebra II. We have started off using the one-year scheduling, but when we reach a point where Landon is finding it more challenging, we will slow down a bit and switch to the two-year schedule. Landon is working on the course four days a week.
Each day, Landon views the videotext lesson on the website (the course can also be purchased on DVD) which takes about 10 minutes or less. The teachers presenting the video lesson often ask for student response, and of course they can't hear or see that Landon has responded, but the course strongly encourages making use of the "pause" button to give the student time to formulate an answer to the question presented, or to discuss the material with their own parent or teacher. I will admit that Landon finds it weird to pause the video so he doesn't do it as often as he perhaps should, but at least he does it while I'm in the room! Following the video lesson, he prints out the course notes and lesson practice for that day and moves to his desk to complete the exercises. When he is finished, he checks his answers against the Solutions Manual - sometimes with me and sometimes on his own. When his answer is incorrect, he has to find his mistake and see where he went wrong. The VideoText approach holds that finding and analyzing your own errors is a valuable learning experience, and so far I would have to agree. When there is a Progress Test, Landon completes the test at the beginning of the day's lesson time and we check his answers before he goes on. So far he has aced all the Progress Tests! There are two versions of each Progress Test, so if he didn't do well enough on the first try, he would review his lesson notes and examples again (and perhaps the video lessons as well) and take the second version of the test.
What we liked best:
  • brief video lessons that break the concepts down into manageable chunks of learning time
  • full solutions offered in the solutions manual and test keys so we never had to wonder, "how did they get that answer?"
  • material is presented and practiced in ways that engage different learning styles - the student sees it on the video, hears the video instructor's explanation, reads lesson notes, and works the exercises.
  • for the online version, the price is good for two students, and a student has three years from the date their account is activated (not from the date purchased) to complete the course. For us, this means that Kennady has an account, but we won't activate until she is ready and she will have three years from that date for her to complete it. Very nice for families!
What I need to mention:
  • I have wished that the student's page on the website made it obvious which units the student has already completed, which would make it easier to remember where we left off the week before. There is a progress checklist to print out, however, and that helps us keep track.
  • some parents may wonder how to grade the student's work, since the lesson practice is mastery based, and the student is encouraged to find and correct their own errors. I have chosen to give equal weight to lesson and test scores. This is really up to the parent to decide, but the Algebra FAQs do offer guidance on how to assign grades to student work and how to implement grade weighting if desired.
  • the exercises seem to print out very small and this mom definitely needed her reading glasses to see them and the solutions!
Our bottom line: We have found this an effective and, dare I say it, rather enjoyable way to conquer Algebra! Once I got Landon started, I haven't heard a word of complaint from him about it, and he is doing very well with the course so far. He takes responsibility to check his own work and show me his progress; and he can explain what the lessons cover and demonstrates understanding in correcting any errors he makes. He even engages in some conversation about the material as we check over his work. And as I said, he has scored excellently on all the progress tests so far. I would say the good reports I'd heard from some fellow homeschoolers about VideoText Interactive are well-earned, and we certainly intend to continue through the end of Algebra: A Complete Course. While the price seems like a large outlay, when I consider that it covers all of Algebra and for two students, I believe it's actually a very good value.  I can confidently recommend this course as an excellent way to conquer high school math!
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Would VideoText be a good fit for your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at:
You may want to check out the FAQs about Algebra, Geometry, and online programs, and view "Is My Child Ready for VideoText Algebra?" (the answer may surprise you!). View sample video lessons.

Pricing: Online Algebra (complete course which includes Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II) is available for $299. This price includes licensing for two students, and additional students may be added for $49. A student license lasts three years from the date activated. The complete 6-module package of Algebra on DVD may be purchased for $529. Individual modules and smaller packages of modules may also be purchased. See the website for details on all pricing packages, and for more information.

Recommended Ages: Grades 8 through 12.

Follow VideoText on Facebook. 

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Some Crew members reviewed Geometry: A Complete Course, so be sure to check out their thoughts on that course as well.

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Kathy said...

Hi Kym, what a well written review. We already use VTI and my son who was so lost with geometry (another curriculum) is breezing through this and is completely independent. He takes the SAT's in two months - I'm predicting he will do well. Thanks for your assessment!

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