Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review: Aleks Math Curriculum, a Very Complete Aproach to Math.

Math sans textbook? Could there be such a thing? Well, this is the computer age and as we move to a more “paperless” mode of operation in many realms of our lives (“so long” snail mail, “hello” making payments online!), it stands to reason that school subjects will do the same.

Enter Aleks Math. A complete math curriculum for ALL levels of math (including college level and business math) and not a single bulky textbook to be had! Aleks is a computer based program that uses an “artificial intelligence engine and adaptive questioning…” it “assesses a student's knowledge and delivers individualized instruction on the exact topics a student is most ready to learn. As a result, ALEKS targets gaps in student skills and enables immediate success in learning new material.” Aleks seems to have thought of everything. It is very user friendly and my kids really enjoyed it, much to my chagrin.

I am admittedly a textbook gal. Not because I like lugging around the textbooks but because the textbook is used much like a storybook; you start on the left side and keep going until you get to the right. Concepts are taught sequentially. I am told, “Here, do this.” Since math is really not my thing, I find security in the structure. Therefore, having a math curriculum completely online was pushing the envelope a bit, for me!

Well, since I am not the one actually doing the math, my computer-phobia is not the bottom line here. What did my kids think of Aleks? Other than the fact they had to do math during the summer (gasp!) in order to review the program; they loved it!

Beginning their math journey by taking an assessment test (which took around 30-45 minutes to complete), they enjoyed seeing their results in their own personal “pie”. Not the kind of “pi” that is divisible to the zillionth degree, but a colorful picture of a pie that represented what they know and what they need to know.

Each subject to be mastered for the year has a different portioned and colored “slice”. What they have mastered thus far is shown in a darker version of the color that slowly fills in the “slice” as they show understanding of the ideas. My kids (grades 6 and 9), really liked being able to choose the subject they were working on for the day. However, if they weren’t ready for a section, Aleks was smart enough to tell them they weren’t ready to work on that quite yet; there were other things to master first.

Furthermore, as the teacher I can easily look at their work and see what has been accomplished and what they need to concentrate on. Aleks also sends the teacher an email update on what each student is doing, how long they have worked and what they may need to focus on, among other summarized things.

Aleks is like having a tutor, trapped right their in your monitor! (That’s what I have secretly wanted to do to all of the brainy math-whiz sorts out there! Ha-ha!). Not sure what obtuse or acute means? Click on the word and an explanation, with examples, is given. Not sure how to use a particular formula? Click on the help button and watch a demonstration. Still can’t solve for the correct answer? Click on the “explain” button and see the entire problem worked for you. Afterward you can try and solve it yourself. Then keep working on similar ones to show mastery. A continual wrong answer will prompt a pop-up that says something like, “Let’s work on something else for awhile and come back to this later.” Which is a nice way of saying, “You are about to get really frustrated! Why don’t you take a break!”

This is math for the modern, computer savvy kids and, although “savvy” may be a stretch in describing my girls, they caught on quickly and really seem to really like it. At $179.95 per year with family discounts available, it is comparable to the cost of most math programs out there. Furthermore, you can get a free 48 hour trial through their website at www.aleks.com where you can also get a good feel for everything Aleks has to offer by clicking around on the bells and whistles that will help you get to know the plethora of material they offer. There’s even a special section dedicated to homeschoolers.

Personally, it was a bit too much information and too many choices for my non-math mind. I think because math doesn’t come naturally to me, it made me feel rather overwhelmed to have so many options. As I said, there is security in buying a book that says, “Start here” and then builds on each concept until you get to the end. However, that is a selfish reason not to consider using the Aleks program. Especially if your kids are motivated by doing math in such an innovative way! They are the ones that need to be excited to conquer math and do their work without pulling their/your hair out. I know that, though it may take me awhile to find my way around their website, eventually the familiarity and comfort level will change as I work the site regularly.

We already have our math program set for this year but Aleks is in strong contention for the year following. My kids have already expressed their desire to give Aleks a try and that ranks really high with this reviewer!

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.