As I mentioned in a previous post, we have been using ALEKS, a wonderful online math tutor. The children have learned a huge amount in our free one month trial, and we are now familiar enough with ALEKS to be able to give you a thorough review.
ALEKS is an online system for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces. That pretty well expresses what the system does. It assesses the student, determines what he is ready to learn, teaches him discrete bits of knowledge at a time, and reassesses him. The genius of ALEKS is in breaking an entire course down into individual concepts and presenting a menu of concepts that the student is ready to learn, according to the assessment.
(Note that some of this information is repeated from the ALEKS preview I posted a while ago.)
ALEKS offers courses from grade 3 to university level. The web site has course recommendations for different grade levels, depending on the student’s current level. To see the list of available courses, as well as a detailed outline of each course, look here.
A new student begins with a tiny tutorial on using ALEKS, and then is given an assessment to determine what he already knows. After the assessment, the student is presented with his pie. The pie is a circle of colourful segments, each representing a topic in the course. Concepts the student has mastered are brightly coloured in each pie segment, and the goal is to get each segment to be completely bright. The student may choose which pie segment to work on, as well as which concept within the pie segment. (Note that ALEKS only offers concepts a student is ready for. This ensures a high success rate for each concept attempted, leading to a confident, successful learner.) Step by step the student works through the course until it is completed.
When the student works with ALEKS, he reads the question, studies the explanation if necessary, enters the answer, and gets instant feedback on whether or not his answer was correct. If it was wrong, he is given a detailed answer. After some successful practice, he may add the concept to his pie and choose the next concept to study. The next day he’ll be asked to review the concepts he learned the previous day.
That little pie, slowly getting brighter, is a wonderful incentive for my children. They are learning so much, in such an organized way, and with lots of review.
After a certain amount of progress, ALEKS reassesses the child. It is possible to lose or gain pie pieces in an assessment, and my children quickly learned to be very, very careful when taking one. The parent can also request an assessment whenever it is suitable. Parents can also request quizzes, but these do not affect the student’s pie.
Another feature for the younger years is the Quick Tables program which covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and has games for rewards. Playing time, length of games, number of games per day, and required response time can be adjusted by parents. Assessments and reports are also available for Quick Tables.
The parent can keep on top of things without investing huge amounts of time, because every week ALEKS sends out a report on what the children have done. These reports get sent to your inbox weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly on whatever day of the week you wish, and you can also send them to another email. Each report tells how many hours the student spent that week, which topics were mastered, and how much progress has been made on the pie.
You can also go into your master account and see a detailed history of what your child has done. You can look at his pie, see what percentage of the concepts he knew at each assessment, and see how much he has progressed since then. You can find out how many hours were spent in total as well as the average number of hours per week. You can even see how many minutes were spent on any given day, what topics were attempted, and what topics were mastered that day. What’s more, you can access a list of topics the student has mastered over the duration of the course, the ones he has probably mastered, the ones he has probably not mastered, as well as those he is ready to learn next. Each topic contains a link to its description, and all of this information can be printed out.
During the learning sessions, the student can access his own report to see his progress and to get an estimate of how many concepts he is learning per hour. He will also see how many hours and weeks it will take to finish the course, at the current rate of learning.
ALEKS also shares more than 100 homeschooling families’ implementation strategies which detail how and why they used the program.
How We used ALEKS and What We Thought of It
We all signed up for a course, except for Miss 16 Year Old who eagerly took on three of them (I suppose being allowed to do that was a benefit of being a reviewer). Even I signed up. Miss 6 Year Old and I did not commit to a definite amount of time per day, but everyone else put in an hour or more every week day. These diligent ones learned a lot (an asterisk below shows which courses they completed) and will really benefit in the coming school year.
Mathematics Level 3
Miss 6 Year Old, who is halfway through grade 1 math, actually managed to get a few pie pieces. She says ALEKS is very hard. Note that it is not meant for anyone below grade 3; to succeed at ALEKS a student needs to read fluently and be able to add without using fingers. She tried Quick Tables instead and enjoyed it.
Mathematics Level 4
Miss 9 Year Old says it is great and you learn a lot, but sometimes it is hard. She really needed to know her basic math tables better to continue with the course, so she switched to working mostly on Quick Tables. I should have encouraged her to use Quick Tables right from the start of our trial month.
*Middle School Math Course 3, PreAlgebra
After finishing a challenging grade 6 math program last year, Miss 11 Year Old said ALEKS was wonderful, as well as nice and easy. After learning 90% of the concepts in Middle School Math Course 3, she moved on to PreAlgebra and did very well. This was a great opportunity for her before starting a very challenging grade 7 math course.
*Algebra 1, Fundamentals of Accounting (Corporation), and Algebra 2
Master 14 Year Old reviewed a lot, learned a lot, and was relieved to be finished Algebra 1. After that that he tried Fundamentals of Accounting but found it very confusing. He was glad to switch to Algebra 2, for which he had been well-prepared by Algebra 1. He wishes he could do only ALEKS for math, replacing his normal program rather than just supplementing it.
*Fundamentals of Accounting (Sole Proprietorship), Chemistry, Algebra 2
Miss 16 Year Old found the accounting very interesting, although it baffled her completely at first. Although the Chemistry was difficult, she learned a lot from it. Algebra 2 she found easier. “It’s just math!” she said.
Since I have a lot of math to review before I can teach it again, I chose PreCalculus. The assessment brought home with brutal clarity just how much I had forgotten, but it was surprisingly easy to relearn concepts and quite exciting to get the pie pieces. Just like the children, I found myself working on one segment at a time, just for the thrill of trying to finish it. For me the hard thing was to find the time to do it, and I did not get nearly as far as I wanted to. Sigh!
Other Features of ALEKS
Miss 16 Year Old printed out a lot of ALEKS explanations and help sheets to study while not at the computer. These are linked to definitions of terms and concepts, so it is beneficial to study them while doing ALEKS, but the printouts are also helpful. The other children made notes in a little notebook, or on pieces of scrap paper. I also made notes of all the things I relearned.
Miss 16 Year Old also did some worksheets, and the answer keys were sent to my master account.
When we had some computer trouble on our end with Quick Tables, ALEKS customer support was able to solve the problem promptly.
I love the reporting that is available in ALEKS. It gives easy accountability, both with respect to the time spent as well as to the effort put in. If a student is skimping on time, it’s immediately obvious. If a student is putting in the time but not working, that is also immediately obvious.
Most of all, I love that this online tutor is so very, very patient! It can help two students at once, and it never gets tired, hungry, or busy. It knows and remembers each child’s abilities better than I could, and tailors the learning to their readiness. The amount of teaching that ALEKS has done for me is phenomenal, and our family will benefit for months. When a child needs ALEKS again, we’ll only need to pay ~$20 for a month of completely individualized, very knowledgeable, always available tutoring.
ALEKS is a very valuable addition to almost any math program. We do not use it as a stand alone program, although some do. I think I can guarantee that it will benefit your family, however you choose to use it. To maximize your child’s learning, it is worth your while to explore the website, take the tour, and view the videos. However, even if you just sign your child up for the free month and ensure he or she puts in the time, the benefits to your family will be great.
We plan to buy everyone in the family some ALEKS time next summer, and probably every summer after that. Doing it in the summer gives the children something interactive to do that builds confidence and skills and saves all sorts of effort and misery during the school year. If necessary we’ll buy any struggling child a month of ALEKS tutoring in the winter, too. If I see a less-busy time coming up, I may even treat myself to another month!
Purchase Info and More Reviews
I strongly encourage you to give ALEKS a try for two free months (not 1 month as it says on the button below). To register multiple children, carefully follow the instructions in the ALEKS FAQ section.
After your free trial, you will be able to buy ALEKS, with significant discounts for multiple months and more family members.
For more reviews of ALEKS, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.
Disclosure Policy As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I am receiving a free month of ALEKS to use and review—the same as the free month you are being offered here. I receive no compensation from either ALEKS or The Old Schoolhouse.