VideoText Algebra – A Complete Course(review)
We’ve made a huge change this year in our math curriculum choice for C – and so far, he’s absolutely loving it. When we first heard about VideoText Interactive years ago, I never seriously considered it. My kids young, and I wanted a complete series that could take them from elementary all the way through high school.
These days, I’m not quite as satisfied with our previous choice, at least in the realm of high school level math, and we’ve been exploring other options as they’ve come available through the Schoolhouse Review Crew. We started out the school year using VideoText Interactive’s Algebra – A Complete Course.
Algebra – A Complete Course is designed to cover all the middle and high school algebra the student will need, including Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 – and to do so in the course of just one year if necessary. (More on scheduling in a moment.)
There are two different delivery styles available for VideoText Algebra. One is a traditional curriculum with DVD ($529 complete) videos and printed student textbooks, answer keys, solution manuals, and quiz and test reproducibles. The second is an online resource ($299 complete), and the instructional videos, along with pdfs of all the text materials, are laid out in a easy to follow, logical order. It’s this second version, the online edition, that we’ve been using.
There isn’t much needed besides VideoText Algebra – paper, writing utensil, plus a printer if you intend to print the quizzes. (We are, for simplification’s sake, but it *would* be possible to make use it without printing if absolutely needed. Online access is an absolute necessity – while all the text materials may be saved to the computer and used offline, the only way to watch the videos is to be online and connected to the internet. (Yes, definitely more on this in a minute.) We used the online version, so while the material remains the same, I’ll be referring to the online course in practice.
There’s a very watchable answer to the question ‘is my child ready for VideoText Algebra?’ – but in summary;
- can add, subtract, multiply and divide with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals (basic arithmetic),
- knows a little bit about positive and negative numbers, at least enough to understand below zero on thermometer, or when playing a game, getting points and losing points,
- knows how to change fractions to decimals and decimals to fractions,
- understands a little about how percents relate to fractions and decimals,
If they have a basic understanding of these things – not perfect, but good working knowledge – then VideoText Interactive says they are ready for Algebra – The Complete Course. In our experience, that’s pretty spot on. C has not previously done any Pre-Algebra coursework, but he is excelling with VideoText Algebra.
Since Algebra – A Complete Course is just that – it includes everything that would be covered from Pre-Algebra through Algebra 1 and 2, qualifying your child to claim all three of those credits. An explanation of the reasoning behind VideoText’s sequencing method is available, along with a lesson by lesson diagram of covered topics.
Algebra – A Complete Course includes:
- 176 video lessons
- 360 pages of course notes
- 590 pages of student worktext
- solutions manuals
- lesson quizzes, unit texts, plus cumulative review tests, each with two variations, so that one may be used for review and further studying, if needed, and the second as the actual test.
The online version is fairly simple – with the videos and the text, and not much else. The coloring of text is used to indicate to the instructor what materials are and are not visible and accessible to the student, and the videos get straight to the point of instruction. While the kids mentioned the lack of “eye-candy”, they also conceded that it made for less distractions and allowed pages to load much faster than something that was graphic-intensive – overall, a worthwhile trade-off in our estimation.
The purchase allows the family to have one instructor login and up to two students – additional students may be added for $49.
Teacher prep, etc, is primarily limited to printing the quizzes ahead of time and correcting the lessons and quizzes. It is advised that the parent watch the videos with the student and help them remember to pause after a question is asked in the video – we quickly realized that this wasn’t the most practical for our lifestyle, and in all honestly, the only thing we seem to have lost by not following this method is the additional time consumption and irritation that it was creating. (As I work outside the house part-time, and the kids are rather good at managing their own time, it felt like micromanaging on the days I was even here and available to do it.)
VideoText Algebra works extremely well with the two students I’m using it with; both are good self-starters, and though the younger is on the easily-distracted side, the fact that he can choose which questions he’s completing, until he feels he understands the lesson, has made a huge difference in his ability to just get to the point and do his math. It’s been a pleasant surprise for me at just how well VideoText has been working for him.
Of course, he was emotionally invested in it long before we received the curriculum – prior to indicating our interest, we’d watched every video that was accessible to us for more information on the VideoText Interactive website, and as a guest login at VideoText Online. (The actual login location for lessons.)
There are two recommended paths to take through VideoText Algebra. One is for those who desire to complete the curriculum in just one year’s time. Students doing this will do a lesson on the first day, then on every following day, they will start out by taking a quiz (if there is one) for the previous lesson, then doing the new day’s lesson, then by correcting any mistakes and repeating with additional questions if needed. It’s up to the parent to determine how many problems to assign – we’ve defaulted to the odds, though I’ve encouraged them to be flexible depending on the lesson. If doing just the odds might miss a particular question type, we consider it perfectly ok for them to adapt the assignment to make sure they try all the possibilities.
On the other hand, students that have the time to do the course over a two-year span will do just one lesson or quiz or test per day – this is the pattern that C is currently following, and it seems to be just the perfect amount for him. Long enough to teach him something, but short enough that he can stay well-focused through the entire thing.
With M, on the other hand, we’ve adapted things a bit. Since he’s primarily going through it to reinforce his Algebra skills, and much of it he knows, it’s been far more effective – and less repetitive – for him to watch the videos, and then just do the quizzes. It’s just enough to refresh his knowledge but not drag things out too long. We fully expect him to be done in early December, and we’re anxiously [at least, on my part] hoping to find the cash to get him the follow-up Geometry course.
What the kids think about VideoText Algebra (direct quotes from, edited very lightly for clarity):
M is 12th grade, C is 8th grade –
M: I like that it gives you options to do a portion of the total problems, and if you get those right, you can move on, instead of having to do all the problems given.
M: The guy in the video is easy to listen to and VideoText teaches well, even though it’s probably scripted. He demonstrates some of the problems in ways I hadn’t seen before that make it easier to work out the problem. It showed me ways to approach the material that I hadn’t been taught before. I like it better than other math programs I’ve used. Others might be more nice to look at (their software) but the quality of the VideoText content is superior.
They’re living up to what they said, in their introductory videos – they tell you why you’re supposed to do problems in a certain way and make you think, instead of just telling you do it like this, with no explanation given.
C: I like how they ‘sorted out’ everything that students need to learn into the most basic level, so that learning one to solve ‘one type’ of problem takes at least a couple of lessons. It makes the lesson focused on that one thing, so that you can basically squeeze every bit of information out of it, so you can be ready for things like it in the future.
C: It takes your notes for you. (This is a reference to VideoText assertion that while the student is watching the videos, they should NOT be taking notes – that taking notes is distracts the mind for giving 100% to the video, and therefore, they make the course notes available in pdf format. Mine have been using this primarily for reference if they have a question; they haven’t felt a need to be printing these out.)
C: I like how most of the lessons [so far] have a quiz all to themselves. It makes it easier to review what I need to know, and not understanding something on the first lesson, and then many lessons later, finally have a quiz on it. It lets me make sure I have learned it – that one thing – completely so that I don’t mess up with it later in life.
M: I like that you don’t have to download and install a bunch of crap to get it
C: It’s really easy to find your way through the lessons, what you’re supposed to do next and how you’re supposed to do it.
C: The instructors explains the concepts really well. First it shows a shows a list of the lessons in the unit, with the lesson you’re on highlighted, then it shows just the name of that lesson. After that, it displays and reads the objective of that lesson for you. Then it goes to video of the instructor, talking about what you’re learning in that lesson. Next it swaps back and forth between the instructor, the instructor with a small blue/blackboard that displays the problem being read out digitally, and a full-screen blue/blackboard. The audio is good quality with no background noise.
M: Something I don’t like is the intro at the start of every single video that shows the lesson name and the objective. It’s annoying and time-consuming to sit through over and over again, because it says the objective to the right of the video, and I already know what lesson I’m on. It’s a waste of time. After the first couple of lessons, you’ve already seen it, and it bores you before the video even starts, so it’s harder to re-focus on the video. It sets the tone to the rest of the video, making you more likely to feel bored throughout it. So I skip it.
C: I use the intro video time to write down the first problem numbers.
C: It makes me feel confident because I’m reviewing what I’ve already learned and it makes sense to me – it makes me feel like if I can do this now, I’ll be able to do the rest of it later.
Here, I interrupted for a bit, asking them how they felt about using the embedded PDF files, and if they were able to see them pretty well. M answered that the PDFs were crashing Firefox on one of his computers, so he just used Chrome instead – but we promptly determined that was caused by a plug-in M forgot to update on his new computer – not caused by VideoText. So, as long as everything is up-to-date, there are no worries in that regard.
My query about the PDFs – while the student ones are just fine, in the answer keys, some of them are TINY at 100% on screen. I have to really enlarge them to make them readable, which pushes part of the page off one side or another. At some point, these pdfs could really use an update, text-formatting wise.
Another wishful thinking: It’d be nice if the videos were downloadable in AVI or something usable by the kids’ laptops and/or tablets offline – though we’re at home where the internet is at least once a day, we do spend a lot of time on the go that we’re not near internet, and it would be absolutely wonderful if we could take the videos with us. Portable is good when it comes to homeschooling, and since all the texts are downloadable, if the videos could go, all they’d need is the tablet and their math notebook.
Also, we live in an area where power (and therefore the internet) can be hit and miss at times during the winter – or even during a rain or windstorm – the ability to continue to work when we have laptop battery but no internet access… this would be a *huge* positive for our family.
A mom-only annoyance – to get each quiz on it’s own sheet of paper, and not accidentally have part of a quiz on the back of a different single-page quiz, I have to open and print each quiz individually. I would love to be able to print all the ‘A’ quizzes for a unit at once, without being messing up the one-quiz-per-page I prefer.
Another thought, in regard to quizzes – I totally understand why the quiz & test answer keys are parent-only, but why do the [blank] quizzes need to be? If a student is old enough to be doing Algebra, they’re old enough to be able to print their own quiz without having to come to me to do it for them.
It also surprised me that the solutions manual for the lessons is visible to the students; it’s worked out for the best in our case. M is able to review and try questions and see solutions as he needs them, before doing each quiz (since at this point, he’s just watching videos and doing quizzes, not every lesson), but I wouldn’t have deliberately chosen to give C access to the answers. While C has been almost ridiculously honest about not peeking in there, some families might have a challenge with that. The opportunity for the parent to choose whether or not quizzes and the solution manual for the lessons are visible to the student would be nice.
At once point, the kids (almost jokingly) said add more eye candy – though conceding it might be a distraction. (I definitely prefer utility over
prettiness – I have enough websites I deal with that take forever to load due to their images.)
M mentioned that it’d be cool if you could just input your answers on the questions that you chose to do. If it self-graded – wow, that would mean he wouldn’t have to wait for mom to get home to correct things! (He’s describing another online math program that does a lot in that regard, even with very visual answers.)
M also said he was surprised by one thing about VideoText Algebra: I was surprised because it taught me how to work out some problems that I already knew how to but did it in a way so that I better understood how to do the problem, thus was able to do it faster since I understood it better. And for some of the things I remember doing before, but didn’t remember how to do – it easily refreshed my memory so I could complete them with ease.
All in all, would we recommend VideoText Algebra?
The real answer, from both M & C: Yes, we would highly recommend it – it gets straight to the point, teaches well, and “requires cookies”… which in this house, could mean either must have cookies to eat, or must have Cookies the cat. Which, varies dependent on the child and how hungry they are at the time.
[Tongue-in-cheek answer from M: No, because that would increase the bandwidth, crash the site, and then I wouldn’t be able to use it. Plus, I have to bring my own Cookies.]
All in all, a resounding yes.
One last thought, on pricing: This is quality stuff. It’s worth the price. However… it’s pricy. While the physical version can be purchased one individual module at a time, at this time, the online version cannot. I would (absolutely) love and make good use of the ability to either purchase the online edition as needed by module, or to purchase by subscription – anything to make the price spread out over smaller increments then a longer length of time, making it more affordable for homeschool families.
A second product – Geometry: A Complete Course With Trigonometry – is also available from VideoText Interactive. With 176 video lessons spread over eight units, Geometry provides credits for Geometry, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calulus. The online version of Geometry (similar to what we used for Algebra) is $299, while a complete set of the physical edition on DVD is $529.