Monday, June 11, 2012

MyMathLab - More than I Need!

One day, 2 sealed "secret envelopes" arrived in the mail.  Inside were access codes for the parent and student kits for My Math Lab from Pearson.  Following the carefully-written instructions, I went online and registered as an educator.  Smooth. Then, using the student access code, I went and set up my 9th grade daughter in the Algebra 1 class.  We each ended up with user names and passwords.

Before I get further into this review, let me digress for just a moment.  We all know that homeschooling does not always run the way we plan.  Life can get in the way.  Last month, I unexpectedly had to go in for surgery and then spend several weeks recovering.  All that went very well (praise the Lord) but, like often happens, those last 2 or 3 weeks of school slid a bit due to doctor appointments and such.  We were also in the midst of our annual homeschool convention, piano recital, dance recital practices and more.  (I am so thankful for a helpful husband and children!!!)  By the time we got to this review, we were supposed to be on summer vacation and it took some bribery to get as much done as we did.

All that to say, I want you to know up-front that we only spent about a week with this product, a little more than a half-hour a day.  I apologize to Pearson, TOS and you!  And then, my attitude was one of:  "Let's jump in and flail around and see what we can figure out."  It wasn't very systematic and I did not seek any help.  That is my normal M.O. in life and that is the process we used.  Because of that, the first four days were a bit confusing, but on the fifth day, light began to dawn and we were getting the hang of things!

What made it confusing for me, I think, was that it had so much to offer!  That sounds crazy.  But, it felt like a program that had been developed for "regular" school classrooms (30 kids in a class) and then marketed to homeschoolers.  You had options to create and add your own lessons, add due dates to all the assignments, create your own assignments, quizzes, tests, and even add videos.  There was a calendar to track assignments.  You could keep track of a plethora of students, their progress and achievements.  What I like to do with math is hand the text (or video and text) to the child, let them read the instructions, let them do the problems, and then only come to me with questions.  It is more like tutoring.  We do not generally do quizzes, tests, grading, etc.  (Did I hear a loud gasp?  I know some of you are nodding and some of you are shaking your heads.  It is okay.  I understand.)  So, all those nifty calendars, assignment sheets and things would be wasted on me.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time just trying to figure out where to start.  There are letters to parents and students that say they will tell you where to start, but they were not clear and we were lost for a bit.

As we finally got into the student side, we found that you go to the website, sign in, click on your math course, then click on the first lesson (called "practice units").  There, you find a "text book" page of instruction.  As you read, you have tools for highlighting important sections or thumb tacking notes.  The cool part about the notes was they could be added by the student or the teacher.  So, you could say "This will be on the test."  Or, "Honey, I just wanted to take a minute in your stressful day of studying to tell you I love you!"  Or "Don't forget this rule!"  Or even "After this page, go clean up your room!"  (LOL)  I really liked the notes, but thought they could size the thumb tack a little smaller.  You have the option of showing/hiding the notes as you read.

My daughter, Holly, preferred the text over the video - but that's her learning style.  She felt that some of the questions were hard at first, but most of the confusion seemed to be in how it was all being scored.  Once she figured that out, things felt more simple and she was getting in the groove.

Along the left side of the "textbook page" are listed the objectives for the lesson.  At the top left, you can choose to watch a video with an instructor explaining (using a white board) the lesson you just read.  You can watch the whole lesson, or you can watch individual sections by clicking the video icon by each objective.  The teacher was nice and perky -- okay, she made me think of a kindergarten teacher -- but she was clear and understandable.  (Holly did not find her overly perky like I did.)  The videos were nice and clear but sometimes we ran into trouble if we tried to fast forward a bit, the sound would sort of double up on itself or the video didn't seem to change at all.  No trouble if you watch from beginning to end.

There is a nice and clearly presented video showing you how to answer questions -- they have a special way of filling in fractions or square roots or other special situations.  What we found most confusing at first was just where to start, but we figured it out, so let me share!  I'll focus on lesson 1.4.  The video for that lesson was 24 minutes.  You can close-caption the video in English or Spanish and then play it with or without sound.  So, first you read the text and/or watch the video lesson.  You get a point for watching the video.  My daughter, of course, found the loophole in that you get the point for just clicking on the video.  If you close it down 2 seconds later, you still get the point as though you watched the whole thing!

Then you move to the practice questions.  For this lesson, it said there were 37 questions -- even though there were only 35.  (It could be that they meant points, because you get points for videos and such so that might change the number.)  You can see your percent correct and the number you have completed so far as you go along.  In the question box, there is a clearly worded question or equation to solve.  Below the line, there is space for you to fill in the answer.  The big reminder is that if you use fractions, always simplify first or you will get it wrong!  I thought the question/answers were very well done.

So, you work the problem and fill in the answer for number one.  You can click "Check Answer" to get immediate feedback.  The responses are many and nicely varied, including:  "good job", "well done," "fantastic," and "nice work!"  If you get it right, you get a point and can move on.  If you get it wrong, you can re-do the same problem right then.  The feedback for a wrong answer is also somewhat varied, but says something like "Sorry!  Your answer is incorrect."  Then there is a reminder rule given of how to solve the problem.  I purposely put in a wrong answer at one point (okay, I really got it wrong!) to see the response.  The response was a repetition of the rule for the lesson in using exponents, but did not address what I messed up which was the decimal point.

If you feel you need continued practice, you can then select "Choose Similar Example" and work another problem of the same type.  If you are confused, you can click on "Help Me Solve" for a detailed explanation.  Or choose "View Example" or "Text" or "Ask Teacher" or "Print."  We only tried the first two options.  If she needs to ask the teacher, I am standing right next to her.

During the 35+ problems for this lesson, I found it odd that two were repeats.  I don't know if this was done on purpose, or if there is a random list of examples, or if there was a glitch.  Either way, those 2 were really easy because Holly just looked at the scratch paper where she had worked them the first time!

You must get a 90% on each lesson in order to pass onto the next lesson.  I think this is where some major confusion came in during the first couple of days.  We are used to texts -- and even video instruction -- where you can flip the pages or move around at your own leisure and decision and look at other areas of the "book."  This program appears to be locked down (at least, I did not find a way to unlock it).  When you finish the first 8 practice units, you then can take a quiz.  When you pass the quiz, you can take the test, and so on.  You cannot go ahead or skip around.  I do like that you have to get 90% -- working toward mastery.

There were 113 assignments for Algebra I, including homework, quizzes, tests and final exams.  Again, you can add more assignments, tests, quizzes, etc. at will.  I could be wrong, but I thought that most homeschoolers would not use that feature very much -- unless they were previously public school teachers.  I guess I can only really say that I would not use it.

After you complete your practice "homework," you can view a chart of your results for the week.  You can see the number you got correct for each lesson, your score, the time spent and the date/time you completed it.  The teacher, from his/her vantage point, has access to all this information as well.  So, if you have specific due dates, you can make sure they were met.  And, of course, the computer grades everything for you.  (That is nice.)

So, again, I thought the registration process was easy.  I thought the video for "how to answer" was well done.  And the lesson text and videos were well done.  I liked the ability to highlight or add notes to the text, but I thought otherwise there were too many bells and whistles that most homeschoolers would find superfluous -- and that meant there were a lot of confusing things to wade through in order to find the meat of the product.  The instructions for what to do (how to get started) were not intuitively obvious and could be made much simpler.  Once you get in there, the math seems to be solid and understandable.  I would prefer more flexibility in reading/looking ahead or even trying ahead.

Pearson sells My Math Lab parent access for $30 and the student access for $49.97.  You do need both according to the instruction folder.  You receive access for eighteen months.  You do need separate student access kits for every course.  Other courses offered by Pearson are:  Developmental Math, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Trigonometry, Business Math, Statistics, Computer Math, and others.  Pearson has other labs besides math -- social studies, reading, and more -- be sure and check those out too!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  To see more reviews of this product, click here