Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Algebra Tutor DVD

Algebra TutorThis is not our first review of DVD’s from ScienceandMath.comIn 2010 we used The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor and in 2012 we used  Amazing Science.   Now, another two years later we are viewing Algebra 1 Tutor: Volume 1 with its companion Fractions Thru Algebra Companion Worksheet CD.

Before we begin, let me be candid that math comes very easy to my son—and he loves doing it.  He’s only 11 (so he would be in 5th grade in a regular school setting), but he’s already doing algebra work.  Watching someone do math is entertainment in our house – yes, he pulls out math videos to watch during free time.  I know a lot of you reading this post will be desperate to find something to help math concepts sink into your kids’ heads and wondering whether or not they will even be willing to sit down and watch 7+ hours of math tutorials.  I will try to cover your concerns in my comments, just understand that’s not how we approached the DVD’s in our home.


The Algebra 1 Tutor ($26.99 DVD, $23.99 download) is geared towards  7th grade and up, but you’ll know if your child is ready for upper level math at a younger age.  I would even venture to say that the first DVD (and part of the second) could be labeled Pre-Algebra.  The three DVD’s and their topics are:

Algebra TutorDisk 1
Sect 1 - Real Numbers And Their Graphs (53:33): Math terms  are defined and examples given for Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational Numbers, Irrational Numbers, Real Numbers, Prime Numbers, Even and Odd, symbols (=, <, >) and variables.  The final 13 minutes cover marking number lines.
Sect 2 - Review of Fractions (52:44):  After explaining how to simplify fractions, sample after sample is given on how to Multiply, Divide, Add & Subtract fractions.  The final 8 minutes deals with mixed and improper fractions.
Sect 3 - Exponents and Order of Operations [View a Sample] (39:40):  The concepts of Exponents and Factors are explained and then many mathematical expressions are solved while covering the order of operations.

Disk 2
Sect 4 - Adding and Subtracting Real Numbers (1:05:11): A brief listing of the rules of signs when adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers and then example after example getting progressively harder.
Sect 5 - Multiplying and Dividing Real Numbers (36:56): The rules of signs for multiplying and dividing positive numbers and negative numbers and then examples.
Sect 6 - Algebraic Expressions

Disk 3
Sect 7 - Properties of Real Numbers (39:40):  Properties covered are Closure, Commutative, Associative and Distributive
Sect 8 - Introduction to Equations [
View a Sample] (42:09): In the  first third of this section, the speaker writes equations and gives a value for the variable, then he plugs in the number to see if the equation is true or false.  The last two thirds of the section involves the traditional solving for “X” you expect in algebra.
Sect 9 - Solving More Equations (35:27):  More solving for the unknown, but these problems require more than one step to isolate the variable.
Sect 10 - Simplifying Expressions to Solve Equations (47:34):
After a long explanation that simplification can only occur if the terms in the expression have the same variable, the speaker proceeds to simplify and use distribution in increasingly harder algebraic expressions.

 I received a download version ($21.99) of the Companion Worksheets but the website also sells a CD for $24.99.  The PDF files are organized and labeled to correspond with the sections or the DVD.  For example Section 2 on Fractions has three Worksheet files Labeled 2a-2c.  I printed out the pages of problems but let my son look on the computer screen to view the solution pages.


How I used with my son:

Most of the concepts except the very advanced equations on Disk 3 were just review for my Schnickelfritz.  I let him watch the sections in any order he pleased.  I would pause the DVD after each problem had been written on the white board and ask him to solve it.  Any hesitation or wrong answer and we would have to watch the speaker work through the problem. (Of course this means I have to be quick to solve the problems too—but math is also my strong suit).  Otherwise he was allowed to fast forward  to the next problemWe could still watch the the speaker write out the solution, but we skipped over a lot of his reiteration.   If you have a student that struggles with a concept, he or she may benefit from hearing facts repeated or explained in several different ways—one of them may just penetrate to the brain.  The day after finishing the section on the video, Fritz would work through the problems in the corresponding Companion Worksheet.


What We Liked:

  • The student is urged to to write out step by step solutions to the problems and not skip steps or solve them in his head.  My Schnickelfritz  is always trying to work problems in his head as he’s loathe to put pencil to paper, but then he can’t review and find errors.
  • There are dozens of examples of solving problems—starting with simple equations you might see in second grade and getting increasingly harder (adding parentheses and order of operations) and finally proceeding to the introduction of variables (making it look like an algebra problem).  It’s done in baby steps, just introducing one new concept at a time to help struggling students feel comfortable.
  • The Worksheet solution pages are divided into to sides—one side shows step by step how to solve the problem and the other side gives more detail about what is being done or explains why the step is necessary.  If you’re student got the wrong answer let them read the solution for themselves to see why or where they went wrong.

Algerba Tutor Worksheet solution


What we’d like to change:

  • I understand that the speaker was often trying to make learning as simple as possible for struggling learners, but definitions need to be accurate and an explanation of “why” is as important as showing “how”
  1. The definition for a fraction was “to mathematically express something less than one.”  In reality, that should be something less than “one whole unit.”  The number (–15) is less than one but it isn’t a fraction.  I’m being nit-picky, but  this is directed at kids already struggling with math.
  2. In one addition problem the speaker says “We have to start inside the parentheses or we’ll get the wrong answer.”  It would have been more accurate to say we need to get in the habit of working in the parentheses first because the sample problem he was working on was a perfect example of the associative property of addition and would work out no matter which way we solved it.
  3. The teaching of dividing fractions follows the old school rhyme “Don’t ask why, just flip and multiply.”  It’s fine to solve problems this way but there should be an explanation as to why this works.
  • I wish the sections were further divided into subsections.  My son isn’t used to 50+ minutes of math lesson at a time.  Sub-chapters would make it easier for us to find our place the following day.  You may also find that your student only needs review of the term Prime in the middle of the 53 minutes of Real Numbers and it would require a lot of fast scanning to get to it. 
  • Inclusion of Subtitles for the hearing impaired.  The speaker does a lot of writing on the white board and you can’t read lips looking at the back of his head. (To be fair, a lot of homeschool DVD’s don’t include closed captions—not just this title).

The Final Word

If you have a visual learner that benefits from watching example after example of math problems being solved then this DVD set may be beneficial.  The price works out to less than $4 per hour and you’ll never find a tutor for that rate.  

You may click the links to read my review of The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor or Amazing Science or click the graphic below to see what others think of the DVD’s.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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