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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Math Tutor DVDs Review

Across the board, math, and particularly upper level math, seems to be the one area that leaves many homeschool parents quaking in their boots. Most were not good in math themselves, or were good at it, but don't use any of that upper level math today, and wonder how they are going to explain to their children a concept they barely understand themselves. So the first time their child(ren) has a question that the parent can't easily answer, they panic and look for resources to help them teach the very information that intimidates them too.
Enter Math Tutor DVDs. They are produced by Jason Gibson, who is a real, honest to goodness, rocket scientist...or in this case, Space Shuttle Flight Controller. Clearly, he's smart. And he's a decent enough teacher too. But beyond that, he comes across as just an average guy with a passion for breaking down math into small pieces that you can understand. And that passion is what has inspired him to create these DVDs.
I want to preface this review with the disclaimer that Math Tutor's website has tons of positive feedback from many, many satisfied customers who all extol the virtues of Mr. Gibson's ability to take math and make it understandable for anyone. With that said, I need to be honest that the whole crew was sent the same two DVDs to review...The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor and The Algebra Two Tutor, but I for one don't have any students who are currently struggling in either area, so I really can't address how well these videos function in their primary objective, as a math tutor. I did watch them for myself, and the kids watched parts (they are 8 and 6 hours long respectively). So this review will be based on my impressions, not on my actual experience with using these DVDs as tutors.
Pros: For each subject, the DVDs are divided into different categories so that you can easily skip to the place where the skill your student is struggling with is addressed. For example, The Alegbra 2 one has a section for graphing equations, fractional exponents, the quadratic formula, etc. The sections mean you don't have to watch all 6-8 hours to find your answer. And since they are DVDs, you can watch an explanation or tow, and then pause the DVD in the next problem, solve it yourself, and use the DVDs to self correct your work. The videos are not flashy so there's nothing to distract learners, just a man (Mr. Gibson) and his white board and marker. And Mr. Gibson does have a knack for breaking down the concepts so they are easy to understand. I found the Algebra 2 one a nice review, and in fact I could see a great benefit to ordering these as the PARENT if you were good at math back in the day, but have forgotten a lot of it. They would make a great way to refresh and remember for YOU before you try to teach it to your child(ren).
Cons: They aren't flashy. Didn't I just say that was a pro? Well, it could be a con too. As in, they are a bit...dry (or to call it like you see it, "boring" as my child quipped). And from my personal observations, I think that especially on the Word Problem DVD, Mr. Gibson does too much talking without using the white board. Most of the people in the world are visual learners. SO WRITE...use the visual that is right behind you. Math isn't easily understood solely through listening, and I found myself wanting to write stuff FOR him because he spent too long speaking and not writing. And he speaks very casually. There are some fumbles in the DVD just as if he were in the room speaking this to you for the first time. It's quaint, but a bit distracting. Especially his big fumble on the Word Problem DVD where he is explaining how to distinguish problems that call for multiplying and he says, "11 + 7=17". Ummmm, nope,'s 18. And I think a simple addition mistake in a math tutor DVD is unacceptable. It's like having a spelling mistake in a Language Arts book. It would have been so easy to edit that out and reshoot it! Anyway, he also counts on his fingers, which obviously works for him and he's a rocket scientist, but many math curriculums frown on it. And he makes a mark like this "[" around the first number of his solution to every problem (as in, "12 pencils plus 8 pencils equals [20 pencils), but I don't know why? And if I don't know why, I'm sure the student wouldn't either.
So what's the bottom line? Well, tons of satisfied people can't be all wrong, but that doesn't mean it's alright either. The two DVDs I looked at are $26.99 each. There are 19 DVDs in all, some on advanced science topics like Physics. They range in price up to $40, but most are about $27. $27 for 6-8 hours of instruction is way cheaper than a real math tutor BUT, you may get what you pay for. If your student learns well from a non-interactive video, then this may indeed be the product for you. But if your student is struggling because they need one on one instruction, I'm not sure these DVDs would work for you. Personally, I enjoyed the concise trip down memory lane, and may indeed purchase them in the future to refresh my own memory, but I probably wouldn't buy them and expect my children to be able to glean much from them as they don't meet their learning style needs.
To see what other TOS Crew members had to say, go HERE.
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