What do you get when you cross former Microsoft executives with some dedicated math educators? A state-of-the-art online math curriculum ($13/month at www.dreambox.com). We tried the free two-week trial option and found the first 20 or so of the 350 activities to be well-designed and engaging. The lessons are designed to function as a stand alone math curriculum, say for a home school situation, or they could supplement an existing school curriculum. Because the lessons are designed and delivered in Flash, you can run them from from any Macintosh or Windows browser. No disks, downloads or installations required.
First, a parent or teacher needs to make an account. Next, children log in with their screen name and password. There's the one-time process of choosing an avatar (there is one in a wheelchair), followed by a tutorial on how to use the mouse. From there, it's on to a cartoon-like world, made of four themes: Pirates, Dinosaurs, Pets, or Pixies. Progress is monitored by a management system that tracks a child's progress and controls the difficulty, hints, pace, and sequence of the lessons. Adults can log in at any time to check a child's progress; an email reporting option is also available.
The best part of this curriculum is the way the activities are designed. Rather than just click right answers, children are often asked to build answers, perhaps estimating how many sheep will fit in a pen (calculating area) or dragging and dropping markers onto a base-ten grid to match a quantity. Wrong answers are presented with more concrete representations of the answer, in the form of a number line or set of objects, for example. As they work through an exercise, children can see how many problems remain. In one game, each problem causes a dinosaur's neck to stretch. So children naturally want to see what happens when it reaches all the way across the screen. Finally we liked how it is possible to skip over the instructions, or replay them if needed. The choice is yours. Completing games earns coins, which can be used at a carnival arcade, with games like skeet ball where you can add up your points. Weaknesses include a clunky drawing activity, and some gender confusion in the record keeping system, which assumes that every child is a "he." All in all, this is a welcome addition to the world of technology based math curriculum, for parents and schools alike. Note that the price listed is for one month, for one family. Call about bulk-rate subscriptions.
Details: DreamBox Learning, Inc., www.dreambox.com. Price: $13/month and up (plus free trial). Ages: 5-7. Platform: Internet service. Teaches/Purpose: math. Rating (1 to 5 stars): 4.8 stars. Entry date: 4/2/2008. [WB]
Reprinted by permission