Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Galaxy of Education

Math Galaxy is the latest math product that we've been privileged enough to review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew this year.  Since I wrote up the post for the Crew blog, and my brain isn't quite working today, I'm going to copy a bit of what I said there:

Math Galaxy includes three different types of products.

The main product type is a computer program (that works on both PCs and Macs) that gives you a choice of topics, and within each topic you can be guided step by step through the problem, or just give the final answer.

There are also games included in the program.  One has you competing against the computer (or another player) to build a bridge across a swamp.  Other games have you unscrambling words, or figuring out riddles.

The second product type is a worksheet generator.  It is a computer program that will create riddle worksheets.   The third product type is an ebook with already created riddle worksheets.  A sample riddle worksheet page is shown to the right.

The subjects covered include:
• Whole Numbers Fun, meant for grades 1-4
• Fractions Fun, meant for grade 5
• Decimals, Proportions, % Fun, meant for grade 6
• Word Problems Fun, which covers elementary and middle school math
• Pre-Algebra Fun, for middle school
•  Algebra Fundamentals, obviously, is for algebra students
The above subjects are each available in the computer program, but the worksheet generator and ebook options only include some of these topics at this time.

We tried most of the computer programs.  And they are a huge hit with my boys.  Thomas has been working in Whole Numbers Fun.  William is using both Fractions Fun and Word Problems Fun.  Connor is using Algebra Fundamentals, and he did test out the Pre-Algebra one just to see the differences.

The programs all work in basically the same manner.  There is a menu with a lot of different topics.  You choose a topic, then get another menu of subtopics.  At that point, you start doing some math -- and the sections have a basic tutorial component along with options to work problems.  When working problems, you can have the computer walk you through the problem step by step, or you can "just" give the final answer.

For instance, when dealing with adding 1/4 and 3/7, the step-by-step version will start by asking you to find a common denominator (28), then have you figure out the numerator for 1/4, then for 3/7, and then have you add the fractions together.  The "final answer" option would just be looking for 19/28 (if my math is right... I probably should check my work, huh?)

As you get answers correct, you earn robots.  Why robots?  Because in the Labyrinth game, you need to try to collect treasures with those robots.  Labyrinth isn't just a mindless computer game... in one level of it, you are trying to get your robot across a river by pushing rocks to form a bridge, all the while, avoiding little cartoon snakes that are slithering around.  You can only push one rock at a time, and you can use those rocks to trap the snakes too.  My guys spent a fair amount of their game time figuring out their next few moves.

So what did we think?

• The instruction provided in the tutorial part was solid.  It does require the child to be reading (or to be read to) as there is no option to have it read aloud.  That's a drawback with my younger kids who are more advanced in math than they are in reading.
• I like how they take you step by step through the problems.  That was especially nice for Connor, who can solve a lot of math problems just by looking at them, but doesn't necessarily know how he got the answer -- because he skips steps in his head.
• I love that I can have the kids work on a specific concept with a very patient tutor.  The computer doesn't get frustrated with them when they get it wrong, or can't figure out a step.
• I like that the "reward" of the labyrinth game is building logical thinking skills too.
• I love that between the six computer programs, they really are covering pretty much all of elementary and middle school math.  Not the very beginning stuff (counting, number recognition, etc.) but most everything else.
What I don't like:
• I don't see any straightforward way of keeping track of what areas a student has actually worked on.
• I'd love an option (especially on the Whole Numbers game) for audio.
• At \$29.95 each, it is a fair amount of money if you have kids at many of the levels.  If you only have kids at the lower elementary ages, getting one new program every year or two isn't so bad.
• We're using this on a Mac, so I don't know if it is different on a PC, but on the Mac the program is pretty sensitive to where it is saved, and I can't do something like open it up to play on it, then switch back over to write another paragraph of my blog post.
The other types of products that Math Galaxy has includes Worksheet Generators and Riddle ebooks.  I have to confess that I have not done much with these at this point. However, what I do really like is how incredibly easy it is to create a worksheet dealing with a specific topic.  And the riddles are very motivating for my boys too.  One downside though is that if they can figure out the riddle, they can use that to back into the right answers for the math problems.  When I do use these I will require the kids to show their work...

There are quite a few sample activities available at their website.  I'd encourage you to check it out.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Galaxy of Education at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive these downloads for free from the publisher.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.