Friday, February 22, 2013

A+ Interactive Math (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

A+ Tutorsoft

Both Celia and Matthew have been eagerly awaiting their turn to be part of a review.  When A+ Tutorsoft, Inc.  offered the Crew the opportunity to review the A+ Interactive Math program, both were excited.  Thankfully, I didn't have to choose one child over the other -- the student needed to be between first and fourth grades.  Since only Celia fit in that group (she is in third grade), she got to be part of the review.  (Matthew will get a turn soon, I'm sure.)

A+ Tutorsoft Interactive Math online screenshot
We chose the online version of the program, for two reasons.  One is that with everything being internet-based, Celia could sit at a computer and work, and wasn't dependent on me making sure I had worksheets printed out.  This came in handy when she had a day off from school and came with us to the hospital for Damien's regularly scheduled feeding therapy visit.  She was able to bring the computer with her to work on math during the appointment, and I had no extra work to prep for the day.  Definitely a good thing! The second (and probably more compelling) was that I have a MacBook Air, and a CD-ROM program means digging out the CD drive and hooking it up to run the program. I am all about ease-of-use, so Online it was! Since I wanted this to help reinforce what she was learning in school, we chose the third grade version.

When it actually came time to do the review, at first Celia decided she was not interested after all.  Literally two days before the program was given to us, her school had begun using a different online supplemental Math program.  She was mad that I would not let her use it at home until she had worked on this program.  After about ten minutes, though, she decided this one was "just as nice" as the one at school.  She has not asked to switch back, but asks every night if it is time to do more "Crew Math."  One thing she likes better is the ability to choose the topic she wants to work on, rather than a specified sequence like on the school's program.

I felt the site could be very difficult to navigate.  For example, it took us two days (and talking to other crew members) to figure out how to take the placement test.  It was very confusing - you needed to create a separate account but use your current username and password.  I emailed Customer Service for assistance on January 16, and still have not heard back from them (nothing in my Inbox or Spam) as of February 22.   Once we figured out how to access the test, it was difficult to complete.  First, several questions were missing words, so Celia would call me over for help; I was able to figure out the meaning of the question and paraphrase it, but that was definitely disappointing for a program that is supposed to be able to be used independently.  There is no question counter -- so you just keep going until the test says, "Stop."   It is a timed test, but you don't know how to pace yourself because you don't know how much is left to complete.   Finally, it would be helpful if it said "Get a pencil and scrap paper before starting."  Celia assumed that the test was going to be mental math, as opposed to multiplying three digits by two digits.  She raced about the house frantically, trying to gather paper and pencil and use as little time as possible.  This really concerned me -- while the test is not essential to use the program, it definitely colored my perception of the program before we had really even begun.

Once we got into the program itself, it was a little easier.  The "choose your topic" feature was a benefit was when Celia was learning how to tell time.  She was really struggling in school with understanding how to read analog clocks.  She skipped ahead to that part of the program, and spent half an hour working on the lesson and accompanying online worksheet.  By the time she was done, she felt much more confident in her abilities.  The lesson explained how to read the clock, and to differentiate between the minute hand and the hour hand.  However, it was it was very difficult to read the clocks - they were very small and difficult to visually line up the hands with the minute marks.  We solved the problem by using a clear 12" ruler to extend the lines.  She felt that it would be really helpful if these images were made larger.  I agree with her - even with glasses and lots of analog clock experience, I found I needed the ruler just as much as she did.  I took pictures using a penny for a side by side comparison, but later found a loose dime on the floor. On a whim, I set it atop the clock, and the size was a perfect match.

Clock size reference and comparison A+ Tutorsoft math program

1. Using the ruler to figure out what the hands were pointing to.

2. Comparison sizing of A+ Interactive Math clock (single clock on page)

3. Comparison sizing of A+ Interactive Math clock (mutiple clocks on page)

4. Comparison sizing of clocks in Celia's school Math textbook

One thing she really liked was taking copies of her progress printouts to her teacher.  She was very excited to share that she went home and was doing extra work and trying her hardest.   Mrs. M. was dutifully impressed with all of the pages Celia brought to share. 

I think that this is a good supplemental program.  I would not use it as a sole teaching source.   We started with some review-for-her lessons, because I wanted to see how the program aligned with a state-approved curriculum, and I do think it did well (at least compared to her New Jersey private school), and she did well with things she already understood.  The clock lesson was a great way to help her understand what she had been taught that day, and when I asked her about it after school the next day, she said it really helped her and now she knew what she was doing.  However, when I had her look at a lesson for something she had not already learned, she was very frustrated because she was not grasping it as quickly as the video presented it.  I definitely think her education will benefit from using it (extra practice is never bad), but I definitely would have her stick to what she has already learned and not try to work ahead.

To purchase the Online program, fees are determined by the payment schedule.  After a free one-month introductory membership, prices are $19.95 monthly and $49.99 when paid quarterly.  A full year advance payment is normally $124.99. As a thank you to my readers, A+ Tutorsoft has offered a 50% discount on both the Online and CD-ROM programs, valid through March 31, 2013. 

Obviously, we are not the only family using A+ Interactive Math right now.  
Come see what other families think of the program!

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