Hot Numbers for Middle School Math: Guiding Students from Percentages to Probability, These Full-Featured Digital Math Curricula Offer Alternatives to Traditional Textbook Teaching. (Picks of the Month)

Article excerpt

From calculators to skill-building software programs, computer-based technologies have long been popular additions to the math classroom. Today, both Web- and software-based programs give students and teachers access to entire math curricula at school or at home, with the best of these now offering tutorials, quiz and computation tools, as well as opportunities for exploring math in real-world contexts.

We looked at a dozen popular math offerings and selected five of our favorite middle school titles, evaluating each by the breadth of its curriculum, ease of use, and support materials. Additionally, we considered how each optimizes interactive multimedia to illustrate challenging concepts by integrating such features as onscreen manipulatives, video, and audio.

All of the programs reviewed here can help teachers organize instruction, effectively sequence content delivery, and customize assignments, pacing, and feedback for individual students. Each offers standards-based curriculum and instruction, extension and enrichment activities, and interactive assessment features. Four of the five programs deliver comprehensive curricula that instructors can use to either supplement or replace a regular textbook. The fifth, Wildridge Software's Math & Music, departs from the traditional curriculum by offering an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the relationship between mathematics and music. All deserve serious consideration by educators looking to enrich traditional classroom media with technology-based instruction.

BoxerMath: Secondary Math

(Boxer Learning)

BoxerMath's Secondary Math series delivers an online math curriculum for grades 6-12. We looked at Introductory Algebra, one of several courses in the series, which also includes Intermediate Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Like all the courses available in this robust series, Introductory Algebra offers interactive tutorial lessons on a range of grade-appropriate mathematics topics, tests, and exploratory cross-disciplinary activities.

Students begin by entering the Tutorial Center, where they'll find lessons accompanied by step-by-step audio instructions and interactive graphics, such as exploring integers on a scrolling number line, that help keep them on task. In Lesson 4, for example, Density with Basic Algebra, over a hundred multimedia-enhanced pages gradually walk kids through basic to advanced problems. The Gasoline Problem starts off slowly by asking students to calculate the answer to a simple question: "After putting five gallons of gas into your car, the tank was full. If the tank holds 13 gallons, how much gas was in it before the fill-up?" Using an interactive scale and a numerical translation of the word problem, kids work through a solution.

To practice skills learned in the Tutorial section, kids click on the Gymnasium, where they work out their math skills with additional randomly selected practice activities and tests generated from a database of problems, which are then automatically scored.

An added component is Newton's Workshop, where middle-schoolers explore cross-curricular math experiments and computation tools, such as dynamic number and algebra engines that let them factor polynomials and multiply linear fractions.

For example, in Pythagoras and the Sounds of Fractions, students read about Pythagoras' discovery of the ratios of pitch, and then click on images of hammers and anvils to hear pitch ranges and determine the mathematical relationship between them.

Destination Math

(Riverdeep Interactive)

Destination Math contains seven math courses, spanning the entire K-12 curriculum. We looked at Course IV in Basic Mathematics and pre-algebra topics in Course V you'd expect to find in the middle school math curriculum. A well-designed interface lets students access any lesson module with ease, and a math glossary and on-screen calculator are always available for help. …