Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Homeschool Review: Mad Dog Math

One of the growing experiences for us this year, as we've reviewed products for the TOS Crew has been reviewing products that are much more "school-like" than our typical approach to learning. While I wouldn't want to switch to a "school at home" approach by any means, I think it's been good for the girls to stretch their comfort zone and try new things.

Mad Dog Math falls into that "new things" category for us. We typically take a very "unschool" approach to our math. So a program for doing math drills isn't something Sassy and MiniMe are used to using.

We received the downloadable, "at home" version of this product (price ranges from $19.99 to 39.99 depending on how long you want a license for). It's a simple math drill program that allows the child to do progressively more difficult "worksheets" on the computer. I downloaded the program onto each of the girls' netbooks and set them up, and pretty much turned them loose. I ask that they do 2 "pages" each day that we do school.

One nice thing, it doesn't require any real "teacher preparation" or supervision. On the downside, since we each have our own computer, I can't really "check their progress" when I think about it at odd times while I'm nursing the baby or whatever, since I have to go to their computer to check it. This wouldn't be an issue if you all share a computer obviously. 

This program is designed for K-5th grade, as well as remedial middle school and high school. This is probably accurate. The child needs to know at least 0-6 addition to start with this program, so under K, or in some cases, including K, isn't likely to be ready for it. I can't speak to upper limits, it seems to me that an older child would get pretty bored with the repetition pretty quickly, I know I did when I did some to see how it all works, but then again, I'm not "remedial", so perhaps if they've struggled with math, they won't mind the repetition if it helps them understand the math facts? The practical upper limit of this program would be mastery of basic math facts.

This is a straight forward math drill program, I would expect it to work best for a learning style leaning more toward a school at home approach, there's no "game" that the math is hidden in, which would be more likely to appeal to those leaning more toward unschooling. I would expect it to work best for visual learners, but a kinesthetic learner might prefer it to pencil and paper worksheets because of the computer? Not really sure about that.

If I were looking for a straight forward math drill program this would be high on my list. It's divided into short segments. The "math families" are designed better than some worksheets and such that I've seen, where the "3 family" includes up through 3+12, here, the 0-6 section will ONLY involve the numbers 0-6, the highest answer will be 6. That makes more sense to me. On the other hand, the "addition" in this program is set up as 5+___ = 3 and the child would need to fill in the 2. Maybe I'm weird (ok, we all know I'm weird, but bear with me here . . .) but the way MY brain works, that's subtraction. When I see that I automatically switch it in my mind and say 5-3=2. So, to me both addition & subtraction in this program drill subtraction. And if I'd had to explain it to my children, I'd have told them to make that conversion in their mind, they didn't ask, so I don't know if they made the conversion the way I do, or not. I'm sure different people process math differently, but that is a consideration.

Things I'd change: 

As far as I can tell, the program doesn't "advance" automatically. The child (or parent) has to decide "I've done enough 0-6 addition, I'm ready to move on to 0-6 subtraction". I'd like to see it set up so that there's at least an option the parent can set that says "after the child had successfully answered x problems, advance them to the next section"

The program does not save the "login" information. In order for the program to record your progress you have to remember to login every time you use it. The program can be used without logging in. It seems more logical to me for the program to open a login screen at start-up, perhaps with the option to opt out if you, for some reason, want to do the problems without logging in.

Similar to the logging in, the program allows you to do math problems without hitting "time me", but if you don't hit "time me" than the program doesn't time the page. I have to admit this was something that *I* struggled with. I would hit "fetch" to get new problems, and then I'd start doing the problems, only to get to the bottom of the page and realize I hadn't hit "time me", so it didn't "count".

One other comment that I feel compelled to make. This program operates under the same assumption that my high school math operated under, the assumption that hated of "math" stems from not understanding math. Apparently my children and I, who understand math easily, and use math easily in daily life, but find MATH DRILLS boring and therefore, don't like them, are in the minority? I don't know. I just remember my math teacher saying, more than once, that "if you understand math, you'll like it" and me looking at him and saying . . . uhh . .. nope, still not a fan! (he did, eventually learn, when I was in the class, to tack on "unless you're LaRee", and we had a good relationship overall, I think I was like a math problem he couldn't quite crack, an interesting challenge LOL). And, as I read through the Mad Dog website, I came across that same idea, "Where students once said, “Math is hard; I hate math!”, they now say, “Math is easy; math is fun!” I don't understand this, to me this is like saying that you could change someone from saying ""making a pie is hard, I can't stand the taste of pie crust" but, by teaching them an easy way to make pie, they would then say "making a pie is easy, I LOVE the taste of pie crust". Finding an easy way to make a pie, wouldn't change my dislike of pie crust (as evidenced by the fact that I can buy frozen pie crust & just throw the fruit in it & bake it). AND, I've never found math difficult, but I don't find sitting here doing seemingly endless math drills to be fun, if anything I find them EXTRA boring because they are easy. . . SO . . . while this is a common assumption in the education world, I disagree with it.

Not surprisingly, my children who've never sat and done math worksheets, were less than thrilled with this one. They did it willingly enough because it was quick and easy and they could check it off their list and move on with their day, but when I sat down to write this review and asked them what they thought, they said "boring". I did ask them "if you had the choice between Mad Dog Math or regular paper math worksheets, which would you choose?" and they said Mad Dog Math. So, if you're looking for a way to do math drills anyway, this is probably a good option. Personally, for K-5, I suggest teaching math through life - cooking, etc. And skip the math drills, but that's just me!

Disclaimer: In exchange for writing this review, I received a 4 month license for this program for my family's use. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

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