Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review: Teaching Textbooks Math 7

Teaching Textbooks, Math 7 by Greg Sabouri and Shawn Sabouri
2006, Teaching Textbooks, 588 page workbook, spiral bound softcover
plus answer key and 4 CD set

Suggested grade: 6-7
Price for all the books and CDs: $169.90
Books and CD set can be purchased separately.

My son began this school year with Saxon's Math 76. It was his third year of using Saxon, and while the first year had helped a lot with his accuracy and consistency, he was starting to "burn out" on it. Math 76 wasn't working so well for him (perhaps just his learning style) so I began looking around for something else. Then I heard that Teaching Textbooks had just come out with Math 7. After some investigation, we got the CDs (the book wasn't yet available, but TT offered free PDF downloads to customers) and my son started on it.

From the Product Description on the Teaching Textbooks website:
The Math 7 Teaching Textbook™ . . . features automated grading, step-by-step audiovisual solutions, and lectures that contain lively animation and sound effects. Math 7 covers all of basic arithmetic, including fractions, decimals, and percents. The program also teaches a fair amount of geometry (e.g. how to find the area of a circle). Other topics include statistics and probability, simple graphing concepts, equations, and inequalities. There are even several chapters dedicated to math in the real world.

The CDs are available for Windows or Mac, but not Linux. Each "chapter" presents a topic, broken into several "lessons" and with a unit test at the end. Each lesson begins with a lecture, which is presented in audio with accompanying text displays. The student may be invited to fill in the answer to a sample problem after being shown an example. After the lecture, there are usually five practice problems on the new topic and twenty mixed practice problems covering both old and new topics. The problems are often amusing and the presentation is clear and easy for the student to follow. I've also been pleased to see "real life" topics such as taxes and stock listings included in the lessons.

The program automatically checks the answers and offers a second chance for arithmetic (not multiple choice or true / false) problems. It then computes a percentage correct for the lesson as a whole, not including the 5 practice problems. Solutions are included for all the problems, so if the student misses it, he can see how it should be done. The automatic grading aspect is a big help, with one caveat, below.

TT recommends using the following procedure:
- view CD lecture
- review lecture info in workbook
- work out problems in book
- enter answers into computer for checking / grading

However, for the most part, we have just used the CDs and my son has worked the problems on scratch paper. He has liked this program (no pun intended) much better than the equivalent Saxon 76.

Occasionally, when reviewing with my son, I have found that he can use their "method" to do something, such as finding the lowest common denominator, but does not understand why the method works. So he became confused, for example, when he went on to multiplying fractions. (In one case, you cancel the excess matching factors, while in the other, you cancel both matching factors. Understanding why you cancel avoids this kind of confusion.) It isn't clear to me whether this is a student issue or a program issue.

One other item I should mention is that the workbook lacks an index, making it tedious to find a particular concept quickly.

TT advertises their product as not needing any parental assistance, e.g. from their FAQ page:
Q7. Can students work through the program completely on their own with no help from Mom or Dad?

A. Of course! That’s the whole idea behind the Teaching Textbook™.
However, in our use of the CDs we have come across several arithmetic errors. Even for a first edition, the error rate is significant. In 40 lessons, we have counted about two dozen errors, for an average of an error about every other lesson. Some of them are confusing, e.g. audio and display of the problem are different, and some result in correct answers being marked as wrong. TT's response on this is that there is no way to override the scoring, but they did have some good news for me:
We are aware of the arithmetic errors in this first production run and are in the process of correcting them. We will give you the opportunity to exchange your discs for a new set free of charge, once the corrections have been made.

Also, and more importantly, the definition of the associative property as given for both addition and multiplication is wrong. The property described in the book / CD as the "associative property" is actually a combintation of the associative and the commutative properties. Please see my post on Unity of Truth for more details and the correct definitions of the properties.

I find this sort of error to be troubling as I imagine many students and parents would not catch it, especially as the product is billed as self-teaching. TT's response to this concern was less than satisfactory. They wrote:
As for the properties, we have rigorous definitions of the commutative and associative properties in Pre-Alg. and other books. At the Math 7 stage, we feel it is more important for the student to acquire a general understanding of the underlying concepts rather than overwhelm them with technical definitions. That's why we didn't draw a precise distinction between these properties.
I find this surprising as many state standards consider the associative property to be an elementary-school level concept (for example second grade in California). Further, when I checked the Algebra 1 book, I found that the same error is repeated, and in fact expanded on, there. I quote:
You already know the rule that two numbers can be added in any order (the commutative property of addition). Well, it turns out that this rule can actually be extended to longer strings of numbers. ... So our new rule is that a string of numbers (however many) can be added in any order. The technical name for this rule is the associative property of addition.
The book then lists the equation correctly, but then goes on to say things like:
That means the expression 3 + x + 4 + 1 can be rearranged any way you want and its value won't change. So 3 + x + 4 + 1 and x + 3 + 4 + 1 and 1 + 4 + 3 + x are all equivalent.
This, unfortunately, is wrong. The associative property is not the commutative property "extended to longer strings of numbers." It is a completely separate and independent property. Nor is it the rule "that a string of numbers (however many) can be added in any order," although it is one of the properties that makes that rule possible.

The example quoted above shows this confusion concretely by moving the operands around. This is possible only with the commutative property. The associative property does not allow rearranging of operands. Please see here for more on the commutative and associative properties.

Though these problems have been disappointing, overall, I would still recommend this program.


Mama H said...

Thanks so much for your review of this math curriculum. My son is in the fourth grade and we have gone through half of the Saxon math 7/6 this year. Then I found this online and he is sooo excited about it. He has burned out on Saxon. I am going to get him level 7 and my fourth grader level 5 in the teaching textbooks for next year. I am looking forward to math now too. I still have a second grade daughter that I will continue to use saxon math with until we reach grade 5 (I think.) Your review was very helpful. Maybe in the edition I will buy some of the quirks will be worked out.

Ben in Seattle said...

Thanks for the review. Just to let you know, all the Teaching Textbooks CDs seem to work fine in Linux, if you have WINE installed. WINE, which lets Windows programs run, is a standard package in all GNU/Linux distributions for the PC.


ScienceMom said...

Mama H - Thanks for your comment! It's good to hear that we're helping people.

Ben - thanks for the info on running TT via Wine under Linux. I will definitely give that a try!