Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Critical Thinking Co.: Pattern Explorer (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

I'm not exactly sure how I wound up on the mailing list for The Critical Thinking Co..  I've received their catalogs since long before we started homeschooling, and always had considered trying their products for "over the summer" skill practice, but never got as far as actually ordering anything, because I was so overwhelmed by the choices! Choosing from the Crew review list was easier, because the choices had been narrowed down for me!  The Crew had the opportunity to review

Alphabet Song Gam  (Windows software download) (Gr. Toddler - 1)
Math Analogies Beginning (Windows software download) (Gr. K-1)
Math Analogies Level 1 (Windows software download) (Gr. 2-3)
Math Analogies Level 2 (Windows software download) (Gr. 4-5)
Editor in Chief Level 1 (physical book) (Gr. 4-5)
Editor in Chief Level 2 (physical book) (Gr. 6-8)
Pattern Explorer (physical book) (Gr. 5-7)
World History Detective Book 1 (physical book) (Gr.6-12+)

and it was easy for us to choose which program we wanted.  We have Mac computers, so that ruled out the software programs, and the math supplement Pattern Explorer was appropriate for the most grades here.  Conundrum resolved! Fifth grader Celia was accepted into the Advanced Math program in her school, so is currently an early 6th Grade level equivalent.  Matthew, in 8th grade/studying Algebra I, is officially "older" than the program's Grade 5-7 recommendation, but because I know from bouncing ideas around with other homeschool families that Critical Thinking Co. programs tend to run "advanced," I thought it might still challenge him.

Let me start with the very first page.  The copyright privileges outlined right at the start allow the initial purchaser to "reproduce...up to 35 copies of each page...per year for use within one home or one classroom."  This is definitely a big deal for families with multiple children.  Homeschool materials can get expensive quickly. Though this workbook is "only" $14.99, multiply repurchases if you have several children, and it adds up!

There are five activities in each of 8 units:
  • Pattern Predictor
  • Equality Explorer
  • Sequence Sleuth
  • Number Ninja
  • Function Finder
Yes, the English Lit minor in me smiled at the titles being all alliterations.

The units start out fairly easily.  In fact, this English student was able to figure out the patterns on the first page of work.  For the moment, I'm as smart as a fifth grader.  Smarter, actually, because I got the answer to one that Celia missed.

I really appreciated the Solutions section in the back of the workbook.  It's not just an answer key.  It explains how to get to the answers.  I really appreciate that because there were some problems I could look at and find the answer, but I couldn't explain to Celia or Matthew how to get the answer.  Having it explained to me made it easier to show them the path to the answer.

Celia had a harder time with the sections where you had to find the equations and patterns, even from the beginning.  When it was a more straightforward "math" type problem, she was able to figure out the answers, but her skills weren't quite up to finding more complex patterns. I think she's going to take a break from working on this, and come back to it in the summer.

As we got further into the book, Matthew was generally able to keep up.  It also helped that he was working on finding equations for patterns in Algebra.  That helped him to find things a little more easily.  It wasn't too easy, though -- it took several mistakes to realize that he needed to pay attention and not just go with his first thought.  For example, here he looked at the first two and decided the pattern, plowed through, and got half of the page wrong.

Going back and slowing down, he realized the equations for the pattern(s), and just trying to mark out the extra squares wasn't going to work.

 Matthew preferred problems that were a little more algebraic and concrete, such as these sequencing pages.

 And he liked the idea of the Function Finders.    The hard part again was staying focused enough to keep all of the steps of the equation in his head.  (Yes, he could have just written down the equation in the margin, but hey...that would be too easy, wouldn't it?)

 As the book progresses, the problems do become harder.  What started out as 5 minutes of concentrated effort for Matthew turned into 10, then 20 minutes of frustration.  I think some is his ability to focus -- requiring a kiddo with Combined Type ADHD to sit and really pay attention to find patterns from solutions (rather than having the equations handed to him and the work them out) is difficult.  It's necessary, but still difficult.  Between frustration with the problem and frustration with how long it was taking (far longer than he had anticipated), it was not pretty.  Originally, I had assigned one page to be done each day,  in addition to his "regular" math assignment for the day.  By the middle of the second unit, however, we cut back to one or two pages each week, and spread it out to a problem or so each day.  This is definitely a good program for problem solving, but it just was too much of a good thing at once to be able to work any faster.

I wish I had gone ahead and gotten math workbooks from Critical Thinking Co. sooner! I really think this is an easy way to do a few problems each day to work on honing thinking skills.  However,  now that I've had the chance to experience the program, I do agree that it tends to run ahead of grade level, even for advanced students.  While the Solutions section is great for explaining where a student may have gone astray while in sorting out a pattern, I think Pattern Explorers is not very suited to teaching how to find patterns.  This program is better suited for the student who has a pretty good grasp on strategy and just needs his skills polished or kept up.  I would not use it with a student who is struggling with the concepts.  I think I will look again at the programs this summer, but make sure to choose ones that my children are at the "older" end of so that they will be a skill upkeep/review exercise. 

To read other reviews of Pattern Explorer, or to find out more about the other Critical Thinking Co. programs, either click the banner below or follow them Critical Thinking Co. on social media.


Critical Thinking Company Review

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