Thursday, August 27, 2009

TOS Review: Barnum Software/Quarter Mile Math

I started my homeschooling career with a distinct disadvantage in the math department. Me? Teach math? Good heavens, folks ... I spent the first semester of my freshman year in college in a class whose catalog description pretty much sums up what I was lacking in my understanding of general mathematics:

100 Intermediate Algebra

Credit does not apply toward graduation nor count in the student’s GPA.

Real numbers and their properties, linear equations, systems of equations, polynomials and functions, fractional expressions, exponents and roots, quadratic equations, graphing, inequalities.

You guessed it. The dreaded remedial math course. I was humiliated. Not to mentioned frustrated. Did you catch that line about how the credits weren't counted? Yet, I still had to pay for the class. Ugh. What a mess.

Surely, I thought as I contemplated my kindergarten-age daughter, I can do better. Somehow.

I latched on to the teaching theory that made the most sense to me at the time: concept-based mathematics. The idea behind this line of thought is that drills and memorization are nowhere near as important as understanding the process behind math and how it works. For example, if your child doesn't know that 5 x 5=25, that's o.k. As long as he understands that when he places five bundles of five sticks in a line, the total can be be represented by the number 25, you're gold.

It sounds great. And it works like a charm, in my experience, through the younger skill set. But unless you've coupled this kind of experiential approach with some good old facts practice, you run the risk of the whole mathematical universe crashing down on your kid like a house of cards. I'm not saying it will happen. I'm just saying it could. It happened to Jo. There are certain higher-level concepts that rely on basic computation skills, and facts memorization makes that kind of thing all the easier. Having seen Jo flounder in math due to a lack of a strong base in facts, I vowed never to make that mistake again.

Which means that in our house, we drill.

Yes. Drill. I know it's a bad word to some people, but to me, it's a necessary evil.

I've added a variety of tools to my arsenal of drill methods. Most of them are designed to be as fun as possible while still getting the job done. Games using cards, die, etc., are all in heavy rotation. But the biggest draw to keeping drill somewhat fresh with my kids has been computer offerings. (What is it about that screen?!)

Pretty much all drill programs, whether they are offered free or through purchase or subscription, whether they are downloadable or available on disc format, operate the same way: a problem flashes on the screen. Your child solves it as quickly as possible. Another problem pops up, and so on. The nuances are present in the graphics, the complexity of the storyline, and level and variety of skills covered.

Quarter Mile Math is one of the best paid options on the market. It's been around a while, and has achieved something of classic status with most homeschoolers. When a product has that kind of longevity and popularity within a specific market, you know there's something to it. And with Quarter Mile Math, there is.

First and foremost, the skills covered start with kindergarten and go all the way up to 9th grade. Bundles are available to make this a one-shot purchase, something that multi-age homeschoolers appreciate. But what kind of skills are they drilling exactly? How about letters and numbers for the little guys, basic addition through division facts for the middle ones and--for your older learners--estimation, decimals, integers, and equations? Kind of sounds like that college course description I referred to above, doesn't it?

Even the most incredible software isn't worth a dime if your kids won't play it, though. And this is where Quarter Mile Math shines. Using a very simple "racing" concept, the drills are played out through either wild horses running over a meadow or dragsters speeding down a strip. The format allows your kids to race against themselves, rotate and race one another or even subscribe to an online option that allows for tournaments. Logan (7) loves it because he is using the same "guys" to race as his older brother and sister; while his skill set is different, the fun graphics and sound effects are the same. Jo likes it because she adores horses, and anything that sounds like a stampede makes math more fun. And Atticus is pleased that he can constantly try to best himself.

Prices for this product vary depending on the bundle and options chosen. Since there are so many ways to purchase this product, I can see it being a good fit across the board. $19.95 buys online access to all three levels for a year for an entire family.

Barnum Software offers a free download sample as well as a homeschool page, which is something that endears them to me, personally. I love companies who allow their product to sell itself AND cater to homeschoolers. I call this one a winner!