Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: CTC Math

For better or worse, math is one of those subjects you can never get away from.  It’s not like the lifecycle of a butterfly, which you can cover once and never study again (or maybe skip entirely). You start with counting blocks and continue throughout a student’s education. And for some mothers, this can be intimidating because it wasn’t their best subject.  When you can’t teach what you never learned yourself, what are you to do?  You may need to turn to outside help like CTC Math.   We’ve been reviewing their 12 Month Family Plan this summer.  While they have courses to cover everything from kindergarten math up to Calculus, Fritz has been trying to prevent the summer brain drain by going through their Algebra lessons. 

When you log on to CTC Math you may notice that you’re redirected to a website with an .au extension~~that stands for Australia!  Yes, when my son was watching his online lessons it sounded like he was being taught by the Man From Snowy River.  Who knows, he might have been more engaged just by listening to that accent.  I also noticed on login, that we were receiving the United States curriculum.  Although it didn’t affect anything we covered, I’m assuming that means some lessons would include American currency or units of measure, but also that there would be other curricula available if you lived in another part of the world.

The start-up screen gives the student access to all the levels on the left hand side of the screen.  You can narrow in on your course of study by choosing a stream and then topic (the gold bar in the topic shows the progress you’ve made in that section).

When you select a topic, you move to a new screen with the individual lessons.  If you’re not sure where to begin, there is a diagnostic test (gray bar at the top of the list).  You can get immediate feedback on what your student already knows and what should be reviewed (or learned for the first time).  I didn’t notice this test at first and had Fritz start at the beginning~~he really could have jumped ahead because he’s already mastered the order of operations. 

I find it interesting that the test had you type in the numbers (with fractions they give you two spaces to fill for numerator and denominator) because when it came time for the worksheets they use an entirely different format for submitting answers/grading.  I would print out a page for Fritz with problems to solve and at the bottom of the page was a list of possible answers with a letter assigned to each.  After completing the paper he’d return to the website where he’d click on Enter Results.  If he’d missed any, he could click on view solutions where he’d see the correct answers, but nothing on how that answer has reached.


I’m still on the fence about this “answer key” method.  Yes, it’s better than multiple choice where a student may have a one out of four or five chance to guess at the right answer.  As far as I can tell each of the answers is used only once so a kid could leave questions he was unsure of until the end to improve his odds of guessing correctly.  Of course since algebra involves letters and the worksheets don’t always use the same letter for the unknown, you could also eliminate some answers that way.  I did see some answers that were designed red herrings, that is, answers a student would get if they made a common mistake like switching positive to negative.  Still, if CTC has the capability to let students just type in answers I think that would be the best way to see what they know or don’t know.
To that end, I received a weekly report via email that showed Fritz’s progress.  It let me know how long he’d worked on math and his grades.  You may notice the small red dot on the report or the red line on the screenshot of the lesson topics.  On that particular day I’d called Fritz during math time to come see a mama fox and her kit running through our back yard. He missed seeing the pair and blamed it on math.  He had been entering his answers and when he returned to the computer he hit submit in a fit of anger.  When he’d calmed down he tried to return to the exercise and finish submitting his answers, but the damage was done. He’s initial score was 22 percent.  I’ve found no way for a parent to “reset” the system.  He could repeat the activity over and over and raise his score, but it’s weighted to the first submission and he’ll never get to 100.  So that day Fritz learned a life lesson (repercussions of acting in anger) as well as algebra~~Lesson learned.   I do think a parent reset might be a good feature to add, especially given that this program is delivered via the internet.  I don’t know what would happen to a students records if a storm or something else interrupted the connection during a lesson.
Still, I think we’ll keep using CTC through the summer.  The lessons are relatively short (around 5 minutes) and the teacher is pleasant to listen to.
CTCmath Review

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