TOS Crew Review: Professor B Math

As I had mentioned back in May, I will be starting to review homeschool curricula as a member of The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) Crew. This has been an exciting adventure for me, and I have been having so much fun trying out new products. Now I know that not all of you who read this blog are homeschoolers. That's okay. Ideally, I'd like to have a separate blog or site for homeschooling, but as this is not the time nor season for me to do this, I will be putting everything on this site.

With that said, I do hope that by blogging about our homeschooling journey, you'll be able to catch a glimpse into how we seek to incorporate our discipleship into our home education as well. Even if you do not homeschool but would like to supplement your child's learning or strengthen their weak areas, I hope you will find resources that will help fit the bill.

So first up this summer: Professor B Math!

Company Information:

Professor Everard Barrett, aka Professor B, has done his research. Unlike many math programs where facts are presented in a haphazard manner, he has designed his math program to flow like a story. He writes, "mathematics is the academic area that studies structures for their own sake, and to build a structure, whether it be physical (like a building) or mental (like a story you know) you must connect the pieces (fragments) in a specific way."  The frustration that many of us (and our kids) may have felt in learning math may stem from merely trying to memorize math instead of understanding the connections.

He gives a great illustration to demonstrate how his program works: "If I say the words "woods", "wolf", "grandma", they are likely to immediately reactivate, after all these years, a structured dynamics of relationships entitled 'Little Red Riding Hood'. This is the genius in virtually all children for learning mathematics. Our methodology activates this universal genius for mastery learning of math by ensuring that children experience it the same way they experience stories: as connected and flowing. Similar to their experiences with stories, children will then learn and retain math without memorization or remediation: two of the major pillars of conventional mathematics education."

I was especially encouraged to see that Professor B's mission "is to serve our Heavenly Father. We pray that this endeavor will serve Him and glorify His name as it enables parents and teachers to activate His gifts for learning and nurture superior mathematical performance in children." Amen!

Our God is an orderly God. Studying math is an orderly process. Unfortunately, in our desire to "catch up" to other nations in test scores, we may have lost the big picture of math. If your child is frustrated with all the bits and pieces of math, is just trying to "memorize the steps" to do problems, or you simply want to get your preschoolers started off on the right track, I encourage you to read the History and Philosophy section of the website to determine if this is a good fit.

Product Reviewed: For this review, I was given a one-year e-learning subscription to all three levels of the Professor B program. (Other products in the store include the program and workbooks on CD-ROM and books on how to teach algebra. I do not know if the content is the same as the e-learning program, but in looking at the table of contents, they do look very similar.)

Price (as of July, 2012):

  • One level: $20 (month), $220 (for 12 months).
  • Two levels: $35 (month), $400 (for 12 months).
  • All three levels: $45 (month), $500 (for 12 months).
  • NOTE: If you purchase one level, you can add additional levels for a discount. Check the website for details and current pricing.
  • NEWSFLASH! (as of July 16, 2012): I just received this updated message from Professor B:

"We also have a new price change on our yearly subscription. Our program can now be purchased for $100 for 3 years access to each level. Our IT department is working on changing the site. However, if the customers call 678-765-6655 we will be able to take their order and honor the new price."

Age Range: as early as 3 years old (according to the FAQ) to 8th grade. Suggested breakdown: Level 1 (pre K-2nd grade), Level 2 (3rd through 5th), Level 3 (6th through 8th). To know which level to start at, the home page has a free placement test that you can use (lower right hand corner).

Parental Preparation: Look through the placement tests to determine where your child will start. Other than that, there is very little that needs to be done. You may wish to familiarize yourself with the first screen that describes how to move around through the program and play around with the navigation. (I say this because I didn't and had to eventually go back to it.)

How We Used It:

This program was designed to be a teaching program for a parent and child to use together. In each level, Professor "Bee" tells parents what to say, guiding the learning process. According to the website, lessons can take from 10-45 minutes a day. Each level covers three years of math instruction and if used regularly, should take about 10 months to complete.

I used this program with both my boys. I started my 4 year old at the very beginning at Level 1. He was able to go through the first lessons on number concepts for 1-3 pretty easily, but starting with number 4, he started getting a little confused. We did this every other day, alternating with another program. As he is not officially in school yet, I did not see the need to do it daily. As I will mention later, on the off days, we would reinforce the lesson in other ways.

With my 11-year-old, I used this program as a review and supplement to his regular math program, which he just finished. While he is a good math student, it seemed like he was "going through the math motions" with fractions, decimals and percents. I wasn't quite sure if he really understood the relationship between these concepts. Therefore, I used this program to try to help him to "connect the dots." We used the pdf worksheets that accompanied each lesson as necessary to reinforce what we learned. We did a few exercises a day until he was comfortable, and then stopped, even if he didn't finish the worksheet.  

What We Liked:

A major perk is that you do not need to be a math professional to teach math. This program makes it very easy. Anyone who is willing to sit with their child can teach them. I believe that this is the strength of the program: helping educators and parents communicate math concepts to children.

This was especially true for my preschooler. I spent some time on my own to figure out what the direction of the course was (I'm just like that). Once I could see where he was going, I was then able to direct Jonathan that way. I would reinforce the day's lesson in our spare moments, playing "Show Me __(number)____" or arranging objects or blocks in different ways (we even used cherry pits once!) to get him accustomed to seeing number values.

I liked the fact that as the parent, I could control the speed of the lesson. For my preschooler, there were times when he needed a little extra thinking time. In that time, I could explain the concept to him until he understood and was able to move on. For my 5th grader, we were able to jump ahead to the solution after he understood the process instead of going through every slide.

For my older son, I appreciated the thorough explanation of Highest Common Factor and Lowest Common Multiple, as well as the chart on how to tackle different types of fractional operations (Level 3). We copied these into his math notebook for future reference so he can apply them later on.

What We Would Improve:

This program is definitely not a game. It is a teaching program, and as such, does not include the bright colors and animation that draws kids. The animated "Professor Bee" doesn't even speak. (Explanation here.) Although I understood that, the kids did not always see it that way. After the first couple lessons, my preschooler did not want to do any more. I did have to explain to him that this was part of our school lessons for the day. It was more of an academic discipline for him rather than something he looked forward to. With that said, perhaps that is more of a statement on Jonathan than it is on the program.

For me, I had a hard time with the beginning lessons with Jonathan. Sometimes there were awkward finger representations that just looked a little culturally odd. I knew what it was trying to get at, but it just was a little strange. I'm not sure if I wanted him to demonstrate his newly learned skills to others! For Jonathan himself, getting his fingers to "match" the screen also was a little frustrating.

My older son found that it went a little too slow for him. I understand the importance of going through each step, but for him it got a little boring. While he appreciated the different explanations, the repetition got to be a little too much. As this was a supplement, I did not feel bad about cutting it short.

I also had a hard time remembering where we stopped each day with Matthew. Unless I wrote it down, I would have to spend a lot of time looking. I am wondering if a way to track student's progress, especially with multiple levels, would be a useful aid to parents using the program.

Overall Summary:

For the teacher, this is an excellent teaching program. Personally, I learned a lot and am looking forward to "connecting the pieces" myself so that I can better help my children, especially my youngest and Anah. It is very thorough and well done.

But for my children, I think I would probably use this as a supplement, not as the main curriculum. I may even take the methodology and use it with them apart from the on-screen program.

If your child is comfortable with math, this program may not be a good fit. However, if your child is really struggling with making sense of math or is just starting out, or if you have trouble making sense of math and want to be trained to help your kids, this program goes through each step gently and thoroughly.

Disclaimer: I was given a one-year e-learning subscription in exchange for my honest opinion. You can read more reviews on this and other products by clicking the banner below.