Algebra is a progressive discipline—while you can simply memorize a bunch of rules and steps to follow (the way it is usually taught), since each new concept builds on what has come before it makes a lot more sense to learn the mechanics of the concepts themselves and thus build your knowledge intuitively. Thomas Clark wrote and designed VideoText Interactive Algebra with the second approach in mind. Students learn why specific functions result in specific solutions; instruction follows a logical progression, and students are not taught the typical shortcuts or tricks for getting the right answer. By solving each problem in a straightforward, logical manner students gain an understanding of mathematical concepts that will help them improve their analytical thinking skills.
How Do These Work?
There are six modules (A-F) and ten units. Each unit is further divided into parts that deal with specific aspects of the unit topic, and each unit part contains several lessons. 176 5-10 minute lessons provide enough material for one or two years of study. Kids watch a video lesson and complete the appropriate problem set; Clark suggests you pause the video frequently to discuss important elements with your kids and make sure they're grasping the content. If you do this, lessons can take 15-20 minutes to complete.
Each module includes three DVDs (or VHS, only two for Module F), course notes, student worktext, solutions manual, progress tests and instructor's guide. The course notes include everything covered in the video lessons, but most of it won't make sense unless you've watched the lesson already. It is simply designed to supplement and for use as a ready reference. Students should not take notes while watching the lesson so they can watch without distraction, and these notes save them from having to watch twice. These notes aren't a teacher's guide, either—all instruction is done in the videos, so you don't need to worry about lesson planning, presentation, etc.
The student worktext is non-consumable, so you can use it multiple times or with several students. Each lesson has a problem set of varying length (usually about 15-20 problems) relating to the material covered in that lesson. This is a mastery-oriented course; you won't find review of past concepts in the problem sets, except as each new principle builds on past ones. Students should complete a few problems, then check their work. If they get them right they can move on to the rest of the exercises, but if they get them wrong they should stop immediately to find out what they're doing wrong. Complete worked solutions for every problem set exercise are included in the solutions manual for students to check their work against.
The progress tests booklet is reproducible and contains review quizzes for each lesson (sometimes more than one lesson is covered in a quiz), as well as unit review tests. There are two versions of each quiz and test so you can use one as a pre-test and the other as a final review. Don't give the quiz on the same day students complete the lesson; wait a day or two so you can be sure they've actually retained the material. The instructor's guide is simply worked solutions for all test and quiz problems. There is also a complete course overview in the front that is useful for planning.
A variety of teachers (including the author) present the material on the videos. Each is easy to watch and listen to, and engaging in their own way. Digital slides provide examples and important information, and animations and short video clips make the material more interesting. Because the lessons are short, students have to retain less at a time and therefore a math lesson isn't quite so scary a prospect. As a full algebra course this is ideal for students grades 8-9, though it would work just as well as a remedial course for older students or for younger students who need more of a challenge. The course begins with review of basic arithmetic principles, and as long as the student knows about fractions and decimals he should be prepared to tackle algebra.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is an excellent algebra course. It's the closest thing to being in a class many homeschoolers will ever experience, and as algebra can be a difficult subject to teach, having qualified math teachers presenting the material can be invaluable for many parents. (There is also a geometry course available.)
One complaint we've heard is that, due to the non-sequential instructional arc, students who don't complete the course won't learn the content sufficiently to retain it or hold it all together. At the same time, we've heard of students having great success in the program after completing only two or three modules.
After completing this algebra program, students should be ready for geometry or advanced math. A good choice from here would probably be Ask Dr. Callahan's college algebra video course and student text. Dr. Joan Cotter promotes VideoText as a follow-up to her RightStart math series, claiming it follows a similar approach.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews
here.
Did you find this review helpful?