In the information age, people have more opportunities than ever to learn. When it comes to math resources, there are innumerable offerings online. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of abysmally bad math resources online. I’m not sure why this is, but unintuitive user interfaces, broken web sites, and poor graphics and sound are incredibly common.
The following selections have been chosen based on the premise that the best resources are not age-dependent, and on the belief that material should be engaging to people of all ages. Lower level material should not be condescending to novice students, and the best programs allow students to accelerate at their own pace.
The absolute top item on my list is Khan Academy. I continue to be shocked at how many people remain unaware of this excellent and completely free resource. Khan Academy is a beautifully-designed site founded by brilliant and clear-spoken Salman Khan. He may well be remembered by history as one of the greatest education reformers of the 21st century, and is adored by nerdy moms everywhere.
While offering instructional videos in a variety of subjects, math remains the site’s foundation. Crystal-clear videos on every topic from basic arithmetic to college-level mathematics make learning a breeze. You will be hard-pressed to find a math tutor with greater clarity. Even for the squirmy child who requires more step-by-step hand-holding, most parents will find that Khan Academy’s videos quickly refresh lost knowledge without the inane graphics and sound that make one want to gouge their eyes out. The site’s accessibility to all ages means it can be used alongside children, useful for those who may be unable to afford expensive tutoring.
The opportunity for online practice is also available, and coach and child accounts enable parents to track their child’s progress.
Also, be sure to check out videos by Vi Hart, Khan Academy’s self-proclaimed mathemusician whose videos capture the beauty and elegance of math.
A note about IXL: Many public school districts use a similar site called IXL for at-home math practice. While not terrible, in my opinion it is in every aspect clearly inferior to Khan Academy. Khan Academy is free, and IXL is $10 a month. Why school districts would use an inferior commercial site for something an incredible non-profit site does for free is a subject for an entirely different article.
Dragon Box Algebra
Dragon Box is hands-down the best math education app I have ever laid eyes on. While I give Khan Academy my number one spot for its breadth and depth of content, Dragon Box hits basic algebra with such intuitive clarity that it will actually resonate with some of us nerds on an emotional level.
Developed in Norway, this app crystallizes the essence of algebra into intuitive gameplay that is accessible to typical children as young as five. The game presents the player with symbolic icons that must be manipulated until the ‘box’ is isolated. These icons are whimsical graphics at first and use such clever devices as day and night cards that adults will immediately recognize as representing positive and negative numbers. Through the course of play, these icons are gradually replaced with numbers and variables. By the end of the game, players are presented with complete algebraic expressions. The rules of variable manipulation are discovered through experimentation, and higher star ratings are obtained by manipulating variables more efficiently to isolate the ‘box’ in fewer steps.
A whimsical but unobtrusive story line, involving hatching dragon eggs, is unlocked through play.
I can’t praise this app enough. I recommend the version for ages 12+, which includes all the content. Don’t look for savings by getting the 5+ version, as you will want all the content sooner or later. While expensive for an app at $9.99, this one is worth it. Trust me. And hope that Jean-Baptiste Huynh remains active in producing educational products of this quality for years to come.
Math Mammoth is a complete math curriculum that takes us back to a more traditional form of education, as the content is downloaded, printed, and used pencil-and-paper style.
Created by math educator Maria Miller, my assessment is that this curriculum is best suited for the accelerated, self-driven math student. Accelerated math students may find the pacing of classroom math instruction tedious. Even having control over video instruction is not sufficient for the student who really wants to get ahead. This curriculum is written to the student and is very high concept and intensive. Extra problems in each lesson’s “Puzzle Corner” allows for even further challenge.
The curriculum is also suitable for non-accelerated math students, but if students are not self-driven, this curriculum will require a higher level of parent/teacher involvement. The curriculum is also mastery-based and does not spiral, so children who require a great deal of repetition to learn will not find this curriculum ideal.
At $37.50 for a full year of study or $18.75 for a semester, I haven’t found another complete curriculum of this quality and value. This can be used as a complete curriculum by a homeschooled student, or is a great way to accelerate the gifted math student that is not getting what they need at school. It is highly suited for self-pacing through middle grade math.
XtraMath.org is simply a math fact mastery tool. It quizzes students on the four basic operations. Virtual flash cards, if you will.
There are a number of apps and web sites that achieve the same thing, and we’ve tried many. XtraMath remains my top choice for being consistent, effective, user-friendly, and FREE. Parents can select the operation or operations and speed. The primary advantage of XtraMath over timed school tests is that it offers a time limit for each math fact. A typical timed test at school challenges the student to complete a certain number of problems in a certain amount of time. Such a test’s results may not reflect the fact that a student, while able to rattle off certain facts twice as fast as expected, is taking twice as long with others.
In addition to setting a time limit to each fact, XtraMath keeps track of the student’s progress, and will more heavily quiz the student in weaker areas. There are no noises, gimmicks, or games, but the interface is friendly and the site works relatively consistently.
The one snafu with this or any computer-based fact quizzing software is that younger children may lack the keyboard skills necessary to consistently input answers quickly and correctly, even when they know the answer. I’d still recommend this site just to have the advantage of progress tracking. For kids who fumble at the keyboard, they can verbally respond and a parent can input the answer.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the quality math resources available online; these are just four that have become staples in the Nerdy Mom’s household.
Do you have a favorite math resource? Share in the comments section below!