Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Math Galaxy by Galaxy of Education

Math. It is loved by some and loathed by others. Just today someone told me they didn't have a "math brain". Regardless, it is a subject that all students must learn and study. Those who seem to be wired to do math, still need to learn and practice, though they usually enjoy doing so! Those lacking the "math brain" may need some extra encouragement, but there is no reason why it can't be fun for them as well. Math is a subject of mastery, with each concept building upon the previous. To optimize learning, the student needs to be engaged during the learning and use concepts in a variety of ways in order to gain mastery.

It is this approach that Galaxy of Education, uses in its Math Galaxy software. Math Galaxy
is a series of math software available by topic. Topics, which range from K-12, start at the beginning with whole numbers and continue through algebra.

How is Math Galaxy different from other programs? From the website, under the About Us section that describes the philosophy of Galaxy of Education:

Math Galaxy starts from the beginning, with addition and multiplication tables and single-digit operations, but its main focus is on where children start having trouble with math: multi-step problem-solving. There are enough programs out there that teach number recognition and simple operations, with dancing bears and other frills, but stop short of where students start having trouble, making the leap from familiar and concrete experiences to abstract thinking...

...Unlike most math software, it goes beyond simple games, low-level operations or rule memorization to link familiar and concrete experiences to higher-level processes... Our goal is to provide students a foundation for analytical thinking in the modern world and for higher-level math and science.
There are three different types of products available through Galaxy of Education.

  • Software, for Mac and PC, that covers a particular math topic
  • Worksheet Generators
  • e-books with printable math riddles and worksheets
There are six different software programs covering a variety of topics and levels. Each costs $29.95 and is supplied on CD.

Math Galaxy Whole Numbers Fun - (grades 1-4) With 16 topics total, covers all of whole number operations, including time, money, length, area, volume, pictographs, bar graphs and probability.

Math Galaxy Fractions Fun - (grade 5) Over 14 topics covering equivalent fractions, comparing fractions, reducing fractions, improper fractions, prime factors, greatest common factor, LCM, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, word problems, plus geometry, graphs and probability.

Math Galaxy Decimals, Proportions, % Fun - (grade 6) Covers decimals, ratios and proportions, and percents concepts and operations, plus geometry, graphs, data analysis and probability with 30 topics total.

Math Galaxy Word Problems Fun - (elementary and middle school) Sixteen topics cover whole numbers, fractions, decimals, multi-step problems, ratios & proportions, percents, negative numbers, time, length, area, volume, weight, angles and graphs & tables.

Math Galaxy Pre-Algebra Fun - (middle school) Covers 33 pre-algebra topics and concepts, including order of operations, scientific notations, exponents, factors and more.

Algebra Fundamentals - (middle school - high school) Thirty algebra topics including: negative numbers, 2-step equations, distance problems, coordinates & slopes, and more.

In addition to problems with step-by-step answers, each of the above has games to solidify the concepts. Whole Numbers Fun, Fractions, Fun, and Decimals have four games: Word Jumbles, Riddles, Bridge the Swamp and Labyrinth. Pre-Algebra has the same games, minus Bridge the Swamp and Algebra has Labyrinth only.

With the exception of one, the game-based Word Problems Fun, the software programs are a tutorial style, with detailed explanations for each problem. Users have a selection of problem types under the topic. Below you will find the home screen of the Pre-Algebra program.

The Math Riddler, the worksheet generator program, is available for the following topics: whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and algebra. This program topic includes all of the riddle and worksheet topics from the software, an unlimited number of problems, and 500 riddles. Each worksheet generator program costs $29.95 and is supplied on a CD.

E-books are available for whole numbers and fractions. The e-books come in PDF format and each include 130 of the 500 printable riddles and worksheets in the generator software. Each e-book is available for download for $14.95.

When I first started exploring the various topics, I have to admit I started to misjudge the program based on the outdated graphics.

The graphics had a bit of an 80s feel to them. They certainly were not sophisticated at all. Furthermore, there is no sound. But, just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, nor should you judge a software program by its graphics. At least, you shouldn't when the main objective is to teach math rather than simply entertain.

After getting over my flashback, I discovered that the instruction is quite sound and thorough. I really liked the step-by-step answers provided. For students that are solid on the steps already, they can forgo the explanations and select to proceed in "answer only" mode.

For example, the Negative Numbers selection on Algebra Fun has a review that consists of 18 screens of explanations and graphics. I found this quite in-depth for a basic algebra topic. Now, all of the topics didn't have a review and not all have as many screens. However, all the explanations all seem to be clear and sound. Once the student has reviewed negative numbers, they can continue on to answer three problem types -temperatures, word problems, and negative numbers - in either step-by-step or answer-only mode.

Another feature I liked was the motivation to earn robots in order to play the Labyrinth maze, which happened to be my son's favorite game. Students can earn a robot for either each problem they complete in the step-by-step mode or each problem they answer correctly in the answer-only mode. Once they run out of robots, they are locked out of the game until they earn more robots.

My daughter worked with the algebra software and my son the fractions. When I asked them what they liked the most, the both appreciated that you could earn robots to play the labyrinth game. My daughter mostly used the software as an extra practice tool for familiar topics and didn't rely on the step-by-step feature much. To get into the labyrinth quicker, my son did the same. However, I like that each topic is easily categorized and could easily be assigned, with full explanations, for weak areas. I don't always have time to get a step-by-step tutorial and this will be great for independent work while I'm occupied with another child.

Aside from the graphics being a stumbling block for me, the fact that there is no sound has its pros and cons. For us, I liked that there was no sound because playing the game didn't disturb any children in the room that were trying to do other school work. Sound is simply not needed to use the software. However, reading is. My kids are 10 and 13. I wondered how this might impact the programs covering earlier concepts being used by children that aren't strong readers.

Also, because we already have a lot of math software and products on our shelves, I personally might consider this product too costly given each program only covers one topic. However, each is covered quite thoroughly and can be used with multiple children. The value is hard to determine because it is based simply on how much the product will be used and how much your children will learn using it.

See for yourself! If you would like to get an idea on how this product would work for your students, you can try out partial editions of the tutorials, games, riddles and worksheets at the Math Galaxy website. The software also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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