Monday, January 07, 2013

Tips for Using Thinkwell Math High School Programs

I am sharing some tips based on our homeschooling trial and error and past mistakes I have made in overseeing my son's use of the online math programs offered by Thinkwell.

1. Be sure to set the accounts up correctly. I am still messing this up. The account needs to be established under the parent's email as teacher then the teacher assigns the course to the student. Before you do this, investigate how to do this. Since I keep messing this up, I can't advise on the right procedures, and I can't find it explained on the site either. I wish I knew so I could save you the hassle this has caused us.

2. Use the lesson plan (located in the RESOURCES section). This is a PDF that you can save to your hard drive and can print out. New this year, Thinkwell has homeschool lesson plans, so if you are an established Thinkwell user and are confused by this, now you know why, it's new. Before you say these are silly, hear me out.

a. The lesson plans clearly map out what lesson to do and what to do in the proper order. By using these the student will NOT mess up and fail to do the worksheets you must print off on paper and correct yourself, if your course has those (see #3).

(My son was navigating his way through the course and left half the work off. I discovered this months later. Thinking of this still makes me twitch.)

Print two copies of the lesson plan.

The lesson plan has assignments for doing the practice test and the chapter test, which is great so your student does not skip them like my son did.

There are empty boxes that you can place a check mark when finished and I advise to put the date of completion there as well. The test box area can hold the score.

b. Three hold punch these sheets and place in a three ring binder for your student. They are to check off their own sheets. Monitor these daily to make sure they are actually doing the work.

c. Three hole punch the second set for your teacher records. Copy from your student's sheets to document the dates they completed the work.

3. The 2012 version of Pre-Algebra does not have "topic worksheets" but Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry do.

The online exercises are short and to truly learn and master the content these worksheets should be done. To review some general information about Thinkwell, the online work is student-paced and online-graded automatically. The "topic worksheet" is to be printed by the parent, answer keys viewed online or printed off, then graded by the parent. The graded "topic worksheet" work should be reviewed by the student before the chapter pre-test and the final chapter test are taken so they can re-learn the content they did not understand (which they thought they understood).

The "topic worksheet" is available inside the lesson itself such as Algebra 1.2.2 -- see bottom "additional materials for this topic".

4. Do not skip the "chapter practice test". The practice test is a check to see what is not being understood and should be used as a study tool to re-learn the material before the actual test is taken.

5. Review and Study.

My sons had to be taught that students should actually review and study for a math test. This was news to them. Since they'd never been in regular school, they did not know this. This is a shift from easier arithmetic lessons such as doing addition, multiplication, and division where my sons did not need to study. Algebra and geometry are completely different, more complex, and studying or reviewing material is normal, right and good.

6. Make sure your student is doing the chapter tests. Be sure they are not just watching the videos, doing the online exercises and moving on without being tested.

7. Thinkwell does not allow homeschool accounts to take the chapter test more than once. If you disagree with this as I do, send them a complaint / suggestion.

My younger son blasted through some tests and failed and I wanted him to re-learn all the material and re-take the tests, but the test scores are locked and permanent. I am trying to figure out a work-around. Our goal is true learning and I honestly want him re-tested on the material he has re-learned.

8. Use a spiral notebook for math documentation. Use a new page for each day. Date at the top, with the student name. Write the lesson number i.e. 1.2.1. Write the topic name. Write out all the math problems shown in the video.

The student can look back on this work to review content learned in that chapter without having to re-watch the video lecture in its entirety.

This provides a written record of the student's work.

This helps the student not fib to the parent about what work was actually done on that day.

9. The transcript for the video lectures is on the website. This can be read online or printed off and kept in a binder to document the scope and sequence for the course, or for study material before testing. It's optional. I just wanted you to realize it is there.


I will withhold all the errors I've made in administering this program to my kids. I trusted them far too much and supervised them too little. I had been used to a different computer based program where it was impossible for the student to skip portions or sneak or abuse the system. Thinkwell can be accidentially under-utilized as well as intentionally "neglected". You can't cheat the system, but kid can either mistakenly or intentionally skip over work or skip the tests. Only a hawk-like parent would catch this. I have not always been that type of parent, because I thought the program was fail-safe, but it is not.

As a result of the errors my children and I made, they have not done as well as I would have liked and they had to go back and re-learn concepts that they thought they learned but actually had blown through quickly and forgotten. They are doing double learning which is taking a lot more time than it ever should have.

Despite our challenges, we all like Thinkwell math. I have finally figured out the error of MY WAYS and am reteaching my old dogs new tricks, and hope this helps you not make some of the errors I've made.

Disclosure: I was not paid with money, services, or products, to blog about Thinkwell.


coastalmama said...

your latest post sounds like a great break through. I applaud your gritty determination and commitment to your self and family.Thanks heaps for this post so good to read so gritty,meaty information about thinkwell.
Emily(in New Zealand)

Nita said...

I'm glad for this review and tips. We are starting with Thinkwell Geometry since my daughter was really impressed with his lectures over all the others.

wellredgal said...

This review (and tips!), in large part, helped to sell me on Thinkwell, as my main concern was that many of the exercises that I saw in the free trial were really easy for a bright student to think around without actually understanding the material. Using the worksheets, both topical and sub-chapter (I think I like those even better), will help me know that they really are learning the material.

I do want to know whether or not you ever figured out how to properly set up the account?

Thanks again for this post!

ChristineMM said...

Wellredgal, So glad that my post helped, that's why I published it! Hooray.

For the courses that I set up wrong, I could never access as the teacher.

I spoke to them on the phone & they said I did it wrong.

It has to do with what email account you buy it through then how you set it up. I did it correctly once and wrong the rest of the time. I cannot recall how to do it correctly. If you call them on the phone they can tell you the correct way to do it.

They answer their phones and are nice and professional also.

Jennifer Johnson said...

Hmm.. VERY interesting post. I've been looking carefully at Thinkwell for my daughter entering 7th grade. She's been using TT (finished TT7 this year) but struggles some and I know TT is on the weaker end. One of the reasons we used TT is I felt she needed something on the "gentler" end to keep her confidence from going into the pot. But entering 7th grade, she is really ready to be challenged and address her weaknesses, but I still want something with a strong CLEAR lecture component (though I am comfortable at math, I'm not good at clearly explaining it her, I've found.)

Thinkwell looked great BUT I gave pause because I read some reviews saying it didn't offer enough practice and that it was too easy to miss key concepts. this post makes me think if I use it given these guidelines those criticisms may not be true?

I was thinking of having her do their Grade 7 this year (to me it looks like Grade 7 & 8 is extended prealgebra that will still prep her for Algebra in 9th grade, and that ThinkWell Prealgebra is just a condensed course for either acceleration or review. Would you say that's correct?)

ChristineMM said...

Hi, We usesd TT 5-7 then I looked carefully side by side with 7, pre-alg & alg I
The first third is reviw from last year.
The new lesson material was about 3 problems only in the daily work. The other 85% of that practice was old material.
My criticism with TT is that not enough practice is done with the brand new concept thus it does not cement into the mind. And that they can guess or get those 3 wrong and still get an A grade on the assignment by demonstrating the mastery of old material. thus you do not know that they do not get the new stuff.

In the 1980s pre-alg was inside of grade 8 math then grade 9 was alg I. Or one year ealier for an advanced math track.

Now they call them different courses.