I’ve finally accepted that my children would do better if I’m NOT the one to teach them math. I don’t have patience when they get distracted, which is often (especially when I have other children who also need attention), or when they take FOREVER to answer each question. And since the math curriculum I chose for this year (which has been AMAZING at filling in holes) is mostly one-on-one and interactive/verbal answers with few worksheets, it’s been a hard go for me.
So the question now is: what do I do instead? Math isn’t something that I’m going to let be brushed aside and let them learn it when they learn it. I want them to have basic mastery appropriate for their maturity level (notice I did NOT say “age”), and to be able to move as they’re ready to, or stay on the same concept for a week if that’s what they need. Doing one-on-one, I have the “customization” for that, but, once again, it isn’t working.
The two “main” online/CD programs I’ve heard of are CTC Math and Teaching Textbooks. In order to compare them and try to make my decision, I’ve tried find reviews of each individually as well as posts that compare and contrast them. And since I STILL had questions after doing that, I signed up for a “free trial” of each program. CTC Math’s free trial gives you access to the FIRST lesson in each topic for each grade level across the board. Teaching Textbooks’ free trial requires you to choose what grades you want to review (as many as you want) and gives you access to the first 15 lessons of each grade.
CTC Math (https://www.ctcmath.com/)
CTC Math is online ONLY, meaning if the internet is down, you’re not doing math. It’s originally an Australian company that has expanded to the United States, hence all the instruction videos have an Australian accent. You can purchase an individual or a family subscription, and they offer a significant discount for homeschoolers, which is very nice. Under the family account you can register up to 10 students, which is convenient given that the owner/founder/teacher of CTC Math has 10 children of his own. You can pay “per month” or “annually” at a discount, which is nice. Each registered student has FULL access to ALL years of instruction (Kindergarten through Calculus), allowing you to customize as fits your students, and allowing them to move on when they’re ready whether it takes 2 years or 2 months to complete one “year” of curriculum. This is a HUGE “plus” in my books. You can even “mix and match”, assigning lessons from different grade levels if, for example, your child struggles with geometry concepts but excels in the traditional number problems.
This is a “mastery method” system, so there is NO “set order” to go through each year. In a lot of ways this can be seen as a “downside”, especially as someone who wants someone else to do the work of telling me “have them do A, then B, then C.” But the lack of “set order” also is what gives the flexibility to see where students are currently able to perform and help them move on at their individual levels. If they know it, they move on. There’s no “review” every lesson to make sure they “really” know it. So that one is a mixed bag in my mind.
Each “year” is divided into several different topics, and each topic has diagnostic tests attached that allow you to do a “pre-test” for current mastery before starting, and a “post test” when they’re done. The diagnostic tests also look like they’d be amazing for helping to assess current levels BEFORE deciding what lessons to assign. Also you have the choice of assigning “Weekly Revision Tasks” which are comprehensive reviews of everything that is covered (I’m not clear on whether it’s covered up to that point in time, or covered during that school grade, I’m going off of what I can find in the “free trial”). It appears that the “Weekly Revision Tasks” are a NEW thing for the website (considering there’s currently a red “NEW” next to it in the drop-down box), and this is one thing I REALLY like. This option actually resolves the issue of “mastery” in my mind, because this way I’ll be able to assess if they STILL know the information a week or two after they’ve “mastered” it and moved on.
The lessons in CTC Math are straight lectures, with no interaction. They can be paused, fast forwarded, rewound, and replayed as often as you like. Each video appears to be somewhere between 2 and 7 minutes long (I didn’t see ANY longer than about 4 minutes in my click-through of grades 3-5). After completing the video, the students click over to the “assignment” page where they have a worksheet to complete. For the younger grades, it looks like it’s all online, but for the older grades you can view or print a PDF of the worksheet. It is HIGHLY recommended that students work out the problems on the worksheet or in a math journal, with paper and pencil, the “old fashioned” way. I REALLY like that for the higher-level skills like 3 digit multiplication, long division, and even multi-digit addition and subtraction. I appreciate that there is an emphasis placed on traditional paper and pencil even with the online program. Once all the answers are figured out, the student enters them into the form online, and they are graded IMMEDIATELY. Any problem answered “wrong” is highlighted, and you have the option to “try again” however many times you want to (from the looks of it). If you really can’t figure it out, you can click “view solution” and there’s a detailed explanation sheet showing how each problem on the “worksheet” is calculated. The score is saved and available for view on both the student reports and through the parent portal pages. The student is NOT allowed to move past the lesson until they’ve reached the “minimum required” mastery, as set by the parent/teacher (and defaults to 80% but can be easily changed).
For me, the pros are that you have access to all the K-12 curriculum for each student enrolled, and you can work “multiple grades” at the same time based on mastery, all for a single subscription price (I’m considering this for my family, with 4 elementary age students right now, along with a preschooler and toddler), and that the students DO NOT move on until mastery is achieved. The main con pointed out by my 10yo daughter is that the instruction videos are NOT interactive and honestly are slightly “dry” (in my opinion, though the Australian accent does add a level of interest) in delivering the information.
Teaching Textbooks (http://teachingtextbooks.com/Default.htm)
Teaching Textbooks is an American-based company that offers both online and CD-based curriculum. The 3.0 version is online only, and you buy a one year subscription for each student for each grade level you want to use. They do have a “large family discount plan” option that may (or may not, depending on grade level) be cheaper for you, that is structured for families with 4-8 students enrolled. Whether that would be a cheaper option for your circumstances would need to be calculated, since Math 3-5 is cheaper than higher levels. The 2.0 version is on CD, and they are indefinitely reusable, and can be resold. The difference in price between 2.0 and 3.0 is significant, reflecting the difference in the two mediums. The ONLY difference between 2.0 and 3.0 is supposed to be the online vs. CD aspect. They start at “Math 3” and move all the way through “Pre-calculus” (currently, I think they’re still working on expanding into calculus, since I seem to remember when I chatted with a rep at a homeschool conference in the vendor hall a few years ago that they only had up through Geometry at that point). Also, many reviewers have stated that “Math 3” is more in line with what they would consider 2nd grade work and so on from there staying “behind level” for a while, so that is something to consider in purchasing (and they have placement tests to help you choose what level you need).
This is a “spiral method” curriculum, in that there IS a set order of lessons. The student logs in (or puts in the CD) and does the lessons IN ORDER, starting at #1 and moving through the entire grade’s lessons. There are reviews and tests periodically, as well as the lesson spiral. This makes it REALLY easy for parents, in that you can say “go do your math” and they just need to go do the next lesson or test in the line. Scores are saved and viewable by parents at any time, in either the CD or the online version, but it’s been said that the online version is much easier to access the scores.
The lessons in Teaching Textbooks are VERY interactive presentations. The student is asked a question and the video pauses for the student to answer via typing the answer or clicking their response, and the video “adjusts” based on the correctness of the answer. I appreciate this part of their materials, since immediate interactive feedback is very useful in trying to master concepts like those in math. The lessons are much more fun and engaging than the CTC math lessons. Once the “presentation” is complete, students do a “worksheet” to practice what they’ve learned. The “worksheet” is on the computer, or the material MAY be printed (but this isn’t necessarily encouraged OR discouraged, just given as an option). If you choose to do the written worksheets, the answers still need to be transferred to the computer for scoring. If a problem is incorrect, they do have the chance to “try again” (at least once, I haven’t discovered if you can do it multiple times). You also have access to the full answers explained once the assignment is complete. It does NOT, however, appear that the student must meet any level of mastery before being allowed to continue to the next lesson. There are periodic quizzes, and parents are encouraged to review the results before the students move on, but there is nothing that “requires” this.
For me, the pros are the interactive nature of the lesson, giving immediate feedback on understanding, and the “fun” nature of the videos. The cons are the price (purchasing a single year a time for each student, or a family pass, but still only one grade per annual subscription, or CDs that cost a LOT more than the subscription but allow unlimited use) and the fact that it appears that the student CAN move on without achieving mastery unless the parent goes in and has them redo assignments (ie: it’s not built in to the software to stop them if they’re not achieving mastery of the material).
So there you go, based on what I have access to in my “free trial” versions of both Teaching Textbooks and CTC Math, as well as reviews I’ve read/watched for each program and both together. Please let me know if I have any details wrong, because I DO want to know! I hope this has been helpful to you!
Also, as a disclaimer, neither CTC Math or Teaching Textbooks even know I’m putting out this review. It’s entirely unbiased as I can be, given that I’m looking for MY specific circumstances, and I only have access to what everyone else does: the information on their websites, free trials that are clearly highlighted on their websites, and reviews I found by web searches.