Teaching Textbooks vs. CTC Math INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

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).

Summary

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.

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Autism and Twins

Autism. That one word can really throw people. It’s a simple word, that means a lot. A person doesn’t “have” autism, they ARE autistic. When you have something, it can be set down or removed (even if it takes a while to get there). When you are something, it is part of you, and admitting to that doesn’t lessen you as a person.

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Erik has autism. We’ve known that for just over 3 years now. But I had inklings of something going on before he was 18 months. He was a late crawler. He always had low muscle tone. He didn’t communicate with words, either verbal or ASL/sign language (which I attempted to teach him) until after he was 4 years old. He was a BRILLIANT toddler. When he was 18 months old, if he disappeared, 95% of the time I’d find him sitting by the bookshelf with a book in front of him, saying the letter names one by one out loud as he “read” the book to himself. At 2.5 years old, he was reading out loud simple books. By 4 he was reading out loud words like “catastrophe” and “dictionary”. But he STILL could not communicate verbally. Reading was decoding. It was a fun game to figure out what that code meant. It didn’t seem to communicate anything for him, but he loved it anyway.

Right after he turned 4 we got him evaluated, because I was struggling with the lack of communication and his daily (often 10 times a day) screaming meltdowns. I was at my wit’s end, and had no idea what else to do. I knew autism wasn’t a “death sentence”, but I also had NEVER been around anyone who was autistic, and who was proud of that. Those I knew of, their parents talked like it was a failing they had to work through, or they did everything they could to hide the fact. Looking back, it’s SO SAD! How many hundreds of people (probably more like thousands and tens of thousands) have had to hide who they really are because it’s not “socially acceptable” to be autistic? I’m trying to change that for my son.

Erik has some autistic tendencies, but not many. His main stim is sucking on his fingers. We’ve gotten him “chewelry” to help with that, but he still prefers his fingers. And you know what? So did I as a child. I sucked my thumb for ages. And the process to break that habit was traumatic for me. Unless I absolutely HAVE to remove that stim, I won’t. I do encourage him to use alternatives in places that it will be considered unsanitary to suck fingers, but other than that, this is who he is and I’m okay with that. He sometimes still has meltdowns, but not so much anymore. The main issue still is flying insects. The sound of a mosquito, bee, or even common house fly near his head is enough to drive him insane. We have SEVERAL fly swatters, in every single room of the house, and he’s dealing with them better. But it’s who he is, and if hearing the buzz is enough to push his brain over the edge into meltdown, the least I can do is try to alleviate that by chasing down an errant insect.

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It has to have been hard on Kent, watching Erik get so much attention for so long, while we tried to help him in his differences and delays. While Erik got to go to therapy twice a week, Kent had to stay home. And he was JEALOUS! Kent is a people person, and Erik is not. So for Erik to go out and Kent to have to stay home was a huge issue. Kent has ALWAYS had boundless energy. I’ve known for a VERY long time that Kent could be diagnosed with ADHD. People tried to tell me that he was just a “normal” kid, that I was seeing his energy emphasized because Erik was so low-key. Part of me wanted to believe them, but I also knew better.

As they got older, and Erik learned to deal with his differences more, I started noticing Kent’s difficulties. Reading has been a REAL struggle for him. He finally told me about 6 months ago that he could read just fine if the words would just quit turning around in his mind! LIGHTBULB! The child struggles with dyslexia! That helped SO much in understanding him and his difficulties with reading. I have NEVER pushed him to read more than he was comfortable with, but I was concerned that as much as he WANTED to learn to read, it was SO obviously difficult for him. I honestly didn’t change ANYTHING after that interchange and lightbulb moment, but something changed in him. He’s gone from not being able to read much at all to reading ABOVE grade level in 6 months.

Well, it wasn’t just the dyslexia. It wasn’t just the ADHD. I KNEW in my gut that there was something different about the way Kent’s brain worked. It was like Erik’s, but at the same time not. So I talked to our primary care doctor about getting a referral for assessment. Generally, recommendations for those referrals would come from a school teacher recognizing those issues, but I AM the school teacher, and I needed to know better what I am dealing with to be able to help him better. After a few issues with different providers and insurance issues, we finally got him in for evaluation.

The doctor that we met first was VERY respectful, gave Kent the respect he deserves as a child who knows how his own brain works, gave ME the respect as a parent/teacher to be able to articulate what my concerns were, and was very helpful in the intake appointment. As I knew all along, by the end of that first 90 minute appointment, the doctor diagnosed him with ADHD. He said there was absolutely NO point in subjecting Kent to the formal ADHD testing after his observation and the answers I gave to questions he asked. At the same time he recommended that Kent come back for autism specific testing as well as IQ and academic level testing, which I agreed to.

A colleague of the doctor did the testing, and she was SO good for Kent. She was respectful and he enjoyed the time he spent with her in the testing, so much so that he was disappointed when he was told we weren’t returning again. He spent two days with her, about 2.5 hours each day. She did an IQ test (WISC-V for those wondering), academic level testing (WRAT-4, which is how I know his reading is above level), the ADOS-2 test (a “gold standard” in autism testing, I’m told), the ABAS-3 test (ability to function in daily life activities, in relation to peers), and I filled out the ASRS DSM-5 questionnaire for things not easily testable in the office situation (like his refusal to eat 98% of food offered to him).

And then we got to wait. We had two weeks between the last testing day and when we returned for the results. All I can say about that time is that I’m SO GLAD we had a vacation already scheduled. It kept my mind off of wondering what the results would be, a little bit at least. Part of me was nervous they could come back and say it was all in MY head, that besides the ADHD he was an absolute normal child and I just needed to stop looking for issues since his twin had them. The other part of me was nervous that his differences would be diagnosed to be something much more complex than I could handle. And neither of those are good feelings!

When we went back for the results, Kent immediately asked to play with the LEGOs (he already had it in his head in the first 5 minutes it was going to be a very boring hour, and for him it was except for those LEGOs), and ignored us completey. The doctor beat around the bush for the first 10 minutes telling me about how his IQ is above those of his age range but that his academics don’t reflect him being as “ahead” as they would expect given his IQ and the fact that we homeschool. As he was trying to discuss nuances of what they found in the other testing, he finally just came out and said “I am diagnosing him with autism. He would probably be considered Aspergers on the scale.”

THANK YOU! It was SO much easier to process the information given after that point, because I wasn’t concerned anymore about being crazy or not being able to handle the diagnosis. In the end, he was diagnosed with autism and “ADHD, other: clinically significant ADHD symptoms in context of ASD” (which basically means that yes, he’s ADHD but that medication likely will NOT be a good fit for him). The rest of the information given was actually very informative, and I plan to use some of it in our homeschool. But to be honest, I had ALREADY figured out on my own those were things that Kent needed, and I already have the new curriculum that presents things “that way” on the shelves, and have had it there since BEFORE the initial intake interview. It was just really nice to have my gut feelings confirmed, and it will actually be beneficial (I feel) for him in the future to have the diagnosis on his record NOW.

This may seem like I’m downplaying the effects of these diagnoses to some people. Yes, having autistic twins can be difficult some days. But honestly, KNOWING why some days are difficult makes it so much easier to find the solution for that day, and help them through their hard times.

 

My twins don’t have autism; they are autistic. It’s not something they can set down and take a break from. They deal with their differences every single day of their lives. Some days they’re REALLY good at masking. In fact, most people who meet us have NO idea that they are autistic. Kent is the most social, happy-go-lucky child you’ll ever meet… until he’s done, in which case he’s DONE. Erik loves to be around people and show off his academic skills… until he doesn’t want to, and all he wants to do is go hide in a dark place (usually on his bed under a blanket, since we taught him that coping mechanism when we lived in a tiny apartment that didn’t have anywhere else private he could go).

Being diagnosed autistic isn’t a sad thing! It’s a description of how your brain works differently than what we consider “neurotypical”, which allows the autistic individual (as they get old enough to understand) and their parents to support them in their differences. CELEBRATE THEM!