This review is quite long, thus I have broken it into two parts: “About…” and “Our Experiences With…” America’s Math Teacher. I also added lots of pictures. I hope the extra pictures and white space helps. If you are looking for a twaddle-free, easy-to-use math program, you REALLY want to read the full review!
ABOUT AMERICA’S MATH TEACHER:
America’s Math Teacher is a new online subscription math site covering fourth grade math through Algebra I. (Algebra II is pending, but coming soon.) The site launched August 23, 2010. America’s Math Teacher was created by Rick Fisher, a math instructor for the Oak Grove School District in San Jose, CA. Rick has taught fifth and sixth grade math since he graduated from San Jose University in 1971. Each year, about “one-half of his students bypass the seventh grade math program and move directly to a high-powered eighth grade algebra program.” Rick has “developed a highly functional, successful mathematics teaching system” which he utilizes for America’s Math Teacher.
Rick’s teaching strategy produces “dramatic results”. It is easy-to-follow and provides plenty of video tutorials and exercises to “super-charge” any math program. Rick’s program has been successfully used to teach struggling math students who were not prepared for Algebra, yet the program brought them to algebra-readiness in less than an academic year. The program has also been used to teach students with limited English skills. It is an “award winning program” that “compliments all basic math textbooks.”
America’s Math Teacher is NCTM compliant. That is, it aligns with the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The video presentations “carefully guide students through the topics recommended by our National Academics Advisory Panel.” It contains “no extra fluff or side topics to confuse or distract” the student. Its short, concise, and self-contained lessons help to keep students from getting bored or discouraged. After each video lesson, students will have printable exercises to help them master the material. The site contains four levels of math instruction, including videos and printable exercises for each level. The site also contains Speed Drill exercises in the Resource Center.
America’s Math Teacher is “perfect for individual students, homeschooling, and educational institutions.” It is suitable as a stand-alone curriculum, an intervention program, an after school program, an adult learning program, an ESL program, and as a way to simply get ahead in math. Several subscription types are available. The Individual (or Family) Plan costs $195 per year and, according to the site Terms of Service, it is available as a monthly payment plan. A plan for homeschool groups is available for groups of 9 to 99 students. It offers a savings of 40% over the Individual Plan. Any group of 100 or more students qualifies for the Academic Plan, which offers an 80% discount versus the Individual Plan. You can try it FREE before you decide to buy. For Academic Level pricing, you will need to contact your state’s Home Schooling Solutions Advisor for information. You can find the list of advisors here.
ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE WITH AMERICA’S MATH TEACHER:
I was provided access to America’s Math Teacher on August 3, 2010, and was excited to take a look. At first glance, the program seemed straightforward and comprehensive. Further review proved that to be true.
After reading about the program, I was excited to try it out with my two oldest children who are in 6th grade and 11th grade. My 6th grader has been learning math with Saxon 5/4, which we started in April. My 11th grader has been learning with Saxon Algebra II, after progressing through Saxon Algebra I. Prior to trying Saxon, both of my children were struggling with math. It is still a bit of chore for them; but, with Saxon, they have been progressing well. Neither of them is able to self-progress with Saxon; they both still need a lot of one-on-one assistance. Therefore, my husband teaches our daughter (16) and I teach our son (11). Our youngest (6) is the only one with a true knack for math, but I didn’t have any plans to use America’s Math Teacher with him, since it begins at the fourth grade level. I later discovered that I could even use some of the features with my 6-year old.
After getting an overall feel for America’s Math Teacher, I decided to try it out myself (before letting the kids try it). The first thing I tried was the Speed Drill in the Resources Section of the site. Speed Drill is a handy tool that allows the user to practice addition, subtraction, or multiplication. I found the drill itself to be fun and addictive, although it took me one failed try to figure out what I was doing. The Speed Drill graphic is similar to a graphic we use in Saxon, which led to some confusion at first. As soon as I realized the correct way of using Speed Drill, I had no problem following the graphic. In fact, I liked that the graphic selector randomly selects which outer number is to be added to the center number. It kept my attention! Because I received a “score” at the end of each round, I felt challenged to beat that score. I played several times in a row, but found the effort of repeating Speed Drill cumbersome. In my opinion, the interface should be enhanced so that the user can automatically choose to repeat the previously selected operator (addition, subtraction, or multiplication); OR to opt out of default and select a new operator. As it is now, the user has to make repetitive choices to do the same thing over again. It would be more appealing to eliminate this tediousness, so that the user can concentrate on the actual drills. It is also worth noting that the subtraction speed drill includes negative numbers, which would not be useful to the student who has not learned about them.
After “playing” with Speed Drill, I took a look at the Printed Exercises section of the site. This section contains some free exercises for non-subscribers to try. And, of course, it also contains the printable exercises that correspond with the four courses: Course 1, Course 2, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra 1. Each course section contains downloadable PDF files, which can then be printed. I quickly began the “arduous” task of downloading files and was delighted to discover that they downloaded very quickly. When selected, each file pops up in a separate page with its own download link. Easy! (For the record, this is an improvement to the site that has occurred since I began writing the first draft of this review! Because of site improvements, I find myself editing as I proofread the final review!)
Since my daughter is already working through Saxon Algebra II, I ended up deciding not to use America’s Math Teacher with her. However, I can see that, once included, the Algebra II videos and lessons would be helpful to her. She really likes one-on-one “tutoring” with her father and I believe the AMT video lessons would achieve the same thing for her.
My 11-year old has viewed several of the video lessons in Course 1 and completed the corresponding printable exercises. The videos are simple and straightforward with nothing to distract the viewer. Rick Fisher has a straightforward, repetitive style that helps cement the concept in the viewer’s mind. Of course, the video can be paused or repeated to facilitate comprehension. Fisher also offers helpful tips that make the math seem easy. My son is still struggling with memorizing his times tables, yet he had no trouble understanding the video that introduced multiple digit multiplication. In fact, Fisher suggests that the student, if he has not mastered his multiplication tables, should keep a times table sheet near him so that he can utilize it. In my opinion, this is helpful because it allows the student to proceed into higher order math skills without getting stuck in easier math just because he can’t remember the product of eight times seven.
Both of my boys enjoy using the Speed Drill. Yes, I said BOTH! Even my 6-year old uses the Speed Drill to practice addition and subtraction. Both boys get excited as they anticipate the next number that will pop up. They also enjoy trying to calculate and enter the answers as fast as they can. The first time I introduced it to my older son, the younger one came over to see what we were doing. I was sitting in a recliner with the laptop in my lap and my older son on the right side. The younger one came over and sat on my left side to watch. Capitalizing on his interest, I decided to turn it into a game. We were practicing addition; so I told them that if 5 or less popped up, the younger would do it; if 6 or more popped up, the older would do it. We’d all get excited to see which number would come up. (Of course, I threw in plenty of enthusiasm by exclaiming each time, “Who’s it gonna be this time?”) They enjoyed “competing” against each other, which made the speed drill even more compelling. On a different day, I sat down with my younger son to spend more time on speed drill. We covered addition again, but the program seemed to “remember” that my older son was able to complete more advanced numbers because it kept popping up 8+ and 9+ for my younger son. He actually did quite well with some of those problems, though, so it wasn’t really a waste of time.
Overall, I am impressed with America’s Math Teacher. It is simple and straightforward with great features for teaching math. However, as frugal homeschoolers, the cost is prohibitive for us. We’ve already purchased our math curriculum for this year and cannot justify the additional expense of subscribing to America’s Math Teacher. I will miss having it, though, when my review subscription runs out. I will definitely consider subscribing next year when we are in need of the next level math course for our 11-year old or the year after when our 6 year old is ready for fourth grade math.
Meanwhile, I hope to see some improvement to the site’s features, such as user accounts, so that I could keep each child’s Speed Drill scores separate from the other’s. I also plan to take a longer look at some of Fisher’s other math resources, available at MathEssentials.net. Resources include a variety of DVDs and books in the Mastering Essentials Math Skills series, such as Book One Grades 4/5 DVD and Book for $30.95. Or, purchased separately, the book is $15.95. Bundle pricing and bulk pricing are also available.