Monday, August 25, 2014

UberSmart Math Facts {Crew Review}

Over the course of the years of reviewing homeschool and educational products, I have reviewed several programs that help students master their basic arithmetic facts.  This summer’s math fact program to review was UberSmart Software’s downloadable UberSmart Math Facts ($24.95).

Did you catch that bolded word – downloadable?  Yes, this is a program  that you purchase once and can load on as many computers as you own forever, and you never have to be connected to the internet.  I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times when I need a review program for Luke and Levi to work on that is not online!

UberSmart Math Facts was designed to really grow with your child (and your family;  you can have up to 8 students!).  It starts off with non-math skills and progresses to math fact mastery of all four operations, so definitely grades k- 6th can benefit, but if you have older students, the interface is not so little kid-ish (is that even a word?!) that it will revolting to your older pre-algebra and algebra+ students who still need a boost in the math fact memory department. It drills on:

Dot Cards (like adding domino faces)
Keyboard Entry (Ten-Key Numbers)
Flash Cards (add, subtract, multiplication, division)
~ Addition/Subtraction goes up through the 9s
~ Multiplication/Division has the option to set it to go up to 9's - 20's.

Technical Requirements:  UberSmart Math Facts only works on Windows Vista, 7 and 8.  Once it is downloaded, there is absolutely no internet connection required!

One other important thing to note when you are deciding where to install the program:  each install will have its own database of score reports for your child.  There is not a way to set up the program on each of your home computers and have your child’s scores stored in a single file that is shared by all devices.  Therefore, consider which PC-based devices your child uses most and install it there (you can read more about this and other FAQs on the UberSmart Math Facts website)

How It Works:
The entire program is fairly easy to use.  At a basic level, you enter your children’s names and you are ready to go:

You can adjust the time requirements that students have to answer the problems.  UberSmart recommends 4 seconds to respond for elementary students and 2 seconds with older students.  At least one of my kids freaks out with the time requirements, so I tend to be more lenient in the beginning.  For an thorough explanation of the “Mastery Factor” and “Beat the Clock Factor” you can click on the blue “?” box and it will take you to a manual.  Not only does it include an explanation for why  math fact memorization is important, but it will walk you through the program to help you use it as designed {I will note, however, that the the content still has “under construction” noted on it and is not complete).

One of the things that was helpful for our family is that you can adjust the times/ division table for your family.  Some math programs only assume math fact mastery up to 10, others up to 12, and in Classical Conversations, Luke is responsible for knowing some facts up to 15!  Luke’s, then, is set to 15 (yes, he is angry at me for that, lol!) and for now, Levi is at 12 (even though his math program only requires mastery up to 10s).  Next year, I’ll bump Levi up to x 15s.

I do want to point out that this program is designed to reinforce and drill taught math facts.  There is no teaching of math facts in this program, and it will frustrate you if you are looking for some teaching.
Next step is picking a starting point.  If your student is unfamiliar with a number pad, then this is a good place to start.  I have tried to teach the kids to keep their middle finger close to the “5” on the number pad, then learn by touch typing the location of the other numbers.  For this drill, all students have to do is type our the number on the screen:

You can start with Dot Cards (like dominoes) to provide a more visual approach to reinforcing math facts. Now, I did say that the program doesn’t ‘teach’ math facts, but it does, at this level and with the flashcards, help students to commit to memory the facts that they’ve learned through a math curriculum.
I did not feel compelled to use this tool, as my kids right now are at a point where they are just working on fact recall speed. 

Here’s what the practice section looks like with flashcards:

This next screen (below) shows what it looks like if you have forgotten the fact and press the blue “check” button.  It also looks like this after the time you’ve set has elapsed.  The second screenshot shows what it looks like if you get the problem wrong:

There are no buzzes or beeps that proclaim, “HEY, WORLD!  I got the problem wrong!”  Which is nice in my book.  When you finish, you get encouraging, but honest, messages:

Then, under the TEST tab, you can chose from “ASSESSMENT: or “MASTERY.” 

Assessment is a tool to measure baseline mathematical thinking skills. This is really something you would want to do at the very beginning with each of your students – but personally, I would only do it with students  It is comprised of several sections:
  1. An Untimed section of mathematical thinking skills: sequencing, reading dots on a card, greater than/ less than, While it is great that it is untimed, if you have a reluctant or slow reader, you will want to sit by and read it aurally to them;  outside of a tapping noise when you press a button, there is no auditory output from the program.
  2. Timed keyboarding skills: You just type in the numbers that pop up on the screen (single and double digit).
  3. Timed addition skills
  4. Timed Subtraction skills
  5. Timed Multiplication skills
  6. Timed Division skills
When this is complete, you get an assessment report for your student! Not only did it explain a student’s level of success with the program, but it also considered response time.  The report can be saved on your computer (rtf file) or can be printed out and added to your child’s portfolio.  What a great report to add to your child’s portfolio of work! 

The Mastery Tests are fact-by-fact assessments of your child’s recall of information.You can assess each fact family, or you can assess the entire math operation, as I’ve shown below:

It took about 5 minutes to go through all the math facts.  When you are working on the mastery test, you can see the math problem that is coming up.  I really relied on this to increase my speed, but for Levi, it was hard to get used to – he was concentrating so much on the center fact that the others were a little visually confusing to him. 

Finally, there is the competition tab.  Here, your scores for addition/ subtraction or multiplication/ division or all operations are compared to one of four groups of people:  elementary, middle and high school students as well as adults.  At this point, the programmers of this tool do not have a huge database to compare scores to….so as we were completing the review, we were adding to it!

My Thoughts and Recommendations:  I  think this is a great tool to add to the arsenal of math fact practice.  It’s simple interface isn’t gimmicky and should appeal to a broad age range.  My favorite feature is that it can be adjusted to encompass a wide variety of math fact families, which makes it a helpful add-on to nearly any math curriculum.

As far as my boys enjoying it…. well, it is summer and it is a math program, so it wasn’t their favorite. But, honestly that has nothing to do with the program.  It is a distraction-free program that I think works beautifully for it’s goals.   Levi had a hard time working through the assessments, because they do take a while to complete but that was my fault because initially I didn’t realize what was involved it the program, and he was happy to give it a whirl.  If I had to do it again, I would hold off on the assessment until Levi was a little older. On the other hand, Luke should be able to endure the assessment test on bi-annual basis – at the beginning of the school year and at the end. {I want to add that our desk top, which had all of Luke and Levi’s work on it, is dying a slow death right now;  I actually cannot get it to log on without having crazy screen graphics, so I had to go through and take screenshots of my work for this review.}
GREAT NEWS!  UberSmart Software is offering a 30% discount on UberSmart Math Facts through Sept. 30th!  Please use the code: v4 Early Bird.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

All prices are accurate as of blog posting.  

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