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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ALEKS review

You know how sometimes you are vaguely familiar with something because you've seen it advertised a lot, but you don't really know about it?
That's how ALEKS was for me. As a company who advertises with The Old Schoolhouse magazine, I had seen their ads and gotten e-mail offers of a free month's trial, but always passed it by after a casual glance because we love our math curriculum. But the TOS Crew was asked to review ALEKS for our blog readers and homeschool groups, so there was no passing it by this time. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
ALEKS, according to their website,
is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. ALEKS courses are very complete in their topic coverage and ALEKS avoids multiple choice questions. A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking. ALEKS also provides the advantages of one-on-one instruction, 24/7, from virtually any web-based computer for a fraction of the cost of a human tutor.

I want to fully admit right now, I was NOT excited to review this because we LOVE our math (Right Start), but it does not follow the traditional scope and sequence. Couple that with the fact that my children are behind in math because of my oldest son's Processing issues, and you get a Mamma who was concerned that this traditionally structured, but computer based, approach would not work for us. I was not sure my kids would even be able to answer any of the questions in the 3rd grade level (the lowest level ALEKS offers).
It turned out that I was partially correct. On her assessment, my daughter (who would legally be in 3rd grade this year) got 15 out of 111 correct. Her older brother (5th grade) got 22 out of 111. Both took the 3rd grade assessment. My daughter found the assessment "boring", but then it's not like an assessment is exciting and she's not my computer obsessed child anyway. My son found the assessment tedious, and I think because there was so much he did not know how to do that he did not really try to do the ones he could do. To have the chance to give it a fair evaluation, I enrolled myself in high school geometry-a course I have not been exposed to since, well, 9th grade. Needless to say there was quite a bit I had forgotten how to do, and I scored an embarrassing 61 of 211!
But here's where the surprise comes in. I really enjoyed ALEKS. After the initial assessment, you see a pie graph that breaks out the areas you need to work on (see the example below from the ALEKS website).

The dark areas within the pie tell what you got right and the lighter areas show how much you have to work on. As you roll slowly over each section with the mouse, the individual topics of study available to you come up, and from there you pick one to work on. When you click on a topic to work on, an example comes up, and you can chose to practice solving the problem OR click "explain" to see an explanation of how to solve the problem. How well you do answering the first question determines how many questions like that you have to do (the more mistakes you make the more practice it gives you). Explanations are always available for each problem. Once you have learned a concept, you can chose to practice it more OR go back to the main menu to pick something else to work on. I want to mention that unlike most math drills or software, this is NOT multiple choice. You must actually be able to enter the correct answer. Guessing won't get you anywhere but more practice.
My son LOVES ALEKS. He actually said today that he would prefer to do this instead of our current curriculum, which he truly loves too. He's very computer oriented, and he liked sitting at the computer to get his math done. He has learned things that we have not gone over before, and learned them quickly. Each time you log in you review, so he gets a chance to see if the mastery was real or not.
I really enjoyed it too both as a student and a parent of a student. I'd love to complete the geometry course just because I am a nerd :-). As the parent, I think a big selling point is the reports you are able to get from ALEKS. When you enroll a student, you are given a master log-in where you can go to check their progress. The reports are detailed, telling how long they spent learning, what they still have to cover, and how long it will likely take them to complete the course based on their current speed, just to name a few things. I think it's the most comprehensive report for a computer learning program I've ever seen. And impressively, they offer courses for 3rd grade all the way through high school, including AP review, college prep classes, and business math classes. They also have chemistry. And 3-11 grade are all bilingual. WOW!
One "con" I found is that you can actually fake out the system, at least for the short haul. My son does not know all his times tables, but he was able to skip count, making it appear that he was multiplying when he really wasn't. And the computer "bought" it because it wasn't sitting there next to him watching him do it. I am sure eventually the work would go beyond his ability to fool the computer and he would get stuck since a basic knowledge of times tables is assumed. Another "con" would be that ALEKS would really work best with visual learners who can read a text book and learn. This is because the explanations for the concepts are all presented on the computer screen and must be read by and then understood by the student-especially if they are working independently. They can frequently ask the computer to explain it another way, but I was summoned several times with, "MOM, how do I..." as they struggled to understand the explanations. For me, using this to review material I learned 2 decades ago, the explanations were PERFECT. I could look at them, see what to do, and then do it without difficulty, so learning styles would be key here if you were looking to use this as your actual curriculum and not just for review.
The bottom line is that all in all I was incredibly impressed with ALEKS. The artificial intelligence is really cool and makes the learning a much more personal experience than any textbook could be. I am not sure this would work for everyone though because it is very dependent on the learner being able to read and understand the instruction, so if your child understands better when they hear instruction or experience it, this would not be a good fit. ALEKS is $19.95 a month with discounts for multiple children and for paying for 6 or 12 months at a time. At that price, it is WAY cheaper than any tutor, and I think drill, review, and remedial instruction are probably the strongest uses for this program. ALEKS has been kind enough to offer a FREE one month trial for all my review readers. Go HERE to sign up. The one month free trial is a no-lose situation, and I bet you may just decide to continue on!
To see what other TOS Crew members have said, go HERE.
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Anonymous said...

Now enroll yourself in the Chem course. That's super fun when in college and trying to balance 5 other classes and maintaining a social life. A friend and I generally spend 20+ hours doing our given homework in a week.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. At first, I liked it because it graded us on what we were able to complete...but the problem is that it's nearly impossible to complete our assignments because they're full of material that we really don't need to learn. However, if you get one need to "learn" everything over again. It's more exasperating than helpful, and it's really wearing on my love for chemistry. Yet another failed attempt to make Gen Chem more accessible to the average college student-- or, perhaps, a thinly veiled attempt to make premedical and science students more miserable than most already are!!


Anonymous said...

I've never, ever enjoyed my Aleks experiences. The bulk of the material is fairly easy to learn but towards the end the system becomes rebellious and refuses to accept reasonable answers.

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