Aug 26, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Ubersmart Math Facts

Math is not the highlight of our lives around here. And I believe that one of the reasons for that is because we seem to have a hard time memorizing math facts. It's one thing to have to pause and think for awhile when you are merely adding, but as you move up the complex ladder of learning that is math, you need to spend less time figuring out what seven plus nine is and more time writing down the answer to that super large long division problem. We've used a lot of methods and computer programs and games to remedy this, but haven't really found something that was capable of sticking around long term.

However, for the past few weeks, we have been reviewing a program that seems to be different. Produced by UberSmart SoftwareUberSmart Math Facts is a downloadable (not online) program that was designed by a homeschooling dad and computer programmer when he couldn't find one that met the needs of his own kids. 

Ubersmart was an easy download, even for a non-technology-speaker like me. Just follow the instructions, click a few clicks and there you go... 

It is just as easy to use. I was able to set up a "profile" for each of the kids and one for me. The homeschool price allows for over 8 students and can be downloaded onto multiple computers. Since we only have one working computer available to us, I didn't worry much about this feature, but if you have more, be aware that since the program downloads to the computer, it won't "share" your work from computer to computer. So each person would need to work on the same computer every time. 

I also have an administrator account that is password protected. (I got to choose the password!) With this I can change settings like:
  • how many seconds they get to answer the problem
  • how many seconds defines when they master a problem
  • how much time is put on the clock for the Beat the Clock learning mode
  • where I want their multiplication and division tables to stop, I can choose any number between 9 and 12
  • prevent students from retaking mastered tests (comes in handy if your kid likes to take the easy route and then say, "I'm done!" It is also helpful if your child is easily confused.)
  • the number of wrong and slow problems allowed for the set to be considered mastered. You can choose from 0 up to 9. I choose 0 because, well... mastery is knowing them all!
  • the size of their screen (full screen makes the background purple so they can't see/ get distracted by the regular background but doesn't make the actual workspace any bigger)

The first thing I had the kids do was take the assessment test. The first part of the test measures the children's ability to count, sequence, and recognize relationships between numbers (greater than/less than) and odd and even numbers. Their speed and proficiency at typing in numbers is also scored. If they do not do well on this portion of the test, the test ends and it is recommended that they work on these things. If they pass it, they move on to addition facts. Then to subtraction, then multiplication, and finally division. At any point that they do not show mastery the test ends and you are told where the child needs to start. Even if you do well and get to the end of the test, there is still a recommendation provided. For example, I answered all of the addition questions quickly and correctly so my assessment report said that I had them mastered. I answered all of the subtraction questions correctly, but some of my responses were slow, so my assessment report said I was slow in the 2s, 7s and 9s. I missed questions in the multiplication and division sections, and the assessment report told me how many and in which fact family. The final recommendation was that I use Ubersmart Math Facts to improve my consistency in subtraction, multiplication and division. 

I loved that the information for each of us was so detailed and I could see exactly where each child had a weakness and where they needed to focus. This reports are kept in the program, but I can also export them to my computer so I can access them easily and keep a permanent record.

There are six different parts to this program. First, is the "Learn" section. Here, the child can choose between dot cards (they look like dominoes and are for the younger children) and regular flash cards with numbers. You can choose to have numbers behind the dot cards or not. You can choose to have your problems shuffled or not for both the dots and the regular cards. And finally you choose which operation you want and which fact family. In this section, a problem is shown and the child is supposed to "guess" at the answer. They then click "show" and the correct answer appears. This was one of my favorite parts of the program because it allows the child to learn the material before they are tested on it! This keeps them from feeling "dumb" because they did poorly on the tests and it also keeps them from learning it wrong. The correct answer is immediately and consistently reinforced! I don't know of any other math drill program that does this! 

Next is the "Practice" section. The child can choose to practice with dot cards, regular math facts, or keyboard entry. This last is for younger children who are still learning their way around a keyboard. The card displays a number for the child to type in. For the regular math facts, the Practice section is a place where the child can see what they know in a low pressure situation. They are not being tested but they are still being evaluated. In this section, if a question is answered incorrectly that card is moved to the "back of the deck" and the child gets another chance. In this section, if the child has taken a test for a particular family, he/she can choose a "Focused" practice and will be given only those problems that he/she got wrong on the test. This is another of my favorite parts!

The "Test" section is next. Again, the student chooses the operation and fact family. They can also choose whether to see their time displayed or not. Kaytie, who doesn't do well under stress, chooses not but Nate, who loves the challenges chooses to be able to watch his time tick away. As they take the test, the screen displays three cards: the one they just answered, the one they are currently working on, and the one coming up next. At first, my kids were very distracted by this, but they did adjust and learn to tune the extra cards out. As they take the Test, the program monitors not only correct and incorrect answers but also the speed with which they answered. They must answer every question (or however many you have chosen) both quickly and correctly before that fact family is considered mastered. 

Next is the "Compete" section. This is a test, basically, but your results are compared with all the other kids who are using UberSmart. This is a new feature, but Nate and I both enjoyed playing and seeing how our times stacked up against other people!

The "Report"  and  "Maintain" sections are just for me, the teacher. For each child, I can look at seven different charts and graphs that tell me exactly what the kids have done, which facts they have attempted, made progress on, mastered, did poorly on (whether they answered incorrectly or just too slowly), what tests they took when, and what their overall grade was. This keeps me up to date not only on how they are doing, but on who is saying they are working but actually not. ;) The Maintain section is where I make all the changes I listed above.

We have had so much fun using this program. I told them all to start at the very beginning, with addition of zeros and as they master each family, to move on to the next. When they got to one they didn't immediately master, they could spend time in Learn and Practice mode until they were ready to take the test. I require a certain amount of time each day that they spend on the program, but generally, they get to decide how to use that time, whether learning, practicing or testing.

I love Ubersmart Math Facts for several reasons. Math facts can be a time-consuming hassle to teach as well as drill, so I am delighted to have a program that does both. I no longer to have supervise any of the process. It is such a relief to no longer have to keep track in my head or (futilely) on paper of which child knows which facts well/ semi-well/ or not at all. I no longer have to time them nor keep up with flashcards that inevitably wind up spilled all over, lost, or damaged. Each child can start the program themselves and complete their daily allotment of time without any hand-holding from me. This is something they can do in those waiting times when they need me, but I am busy with a sibling.

I love that Ubersmart teaches the kids the facts, provides a place to practice, and also keeps up with each individual fact. I can tell at any time which fact is mastered, which they know really well, pretty well, not well, or not at all.

I love that after they finished a fact family they always heard cheering and applause and got an encouraging message like this one:

I love the Focused practice section. I love that they can work on just the problems they need, but then, when they are testing, those problems are thrown back into the whole "pool" so to speak and they have to remember them all mixed in with the other problems.

I love that they had to hit "Enter" when they answered a question so that if they accidentally hit the wrong key they could "erase" it and try again and it didn't count as a wrong answer.

I love that it is a basic program. It doesn't have exciting games and bright graphics. I liked that it focused on getting the job of memorization done and there was not a lot of other things to distract them. To be totally honest, this was not a feature that appealed to my children, however, sometimes you just have to buckle down and do the hard work in order to get results.

I love that Kaytie can choose not to see her time so she doesn't get flustered and panic. I love that Nate can compete against other kids and feel challenged and stretched. I love that Abbie can practice her keyboarding skills so that not knowing where the right key is doesn't count against her. I love that Daniel asks me, "Can I work on UberSmart again today, Mom?" But most of all, I love that they are each making steady progress toward mastery of their math facts and that I can see it whenever I want. 

I asked them to share their opinions with you and this is what they said:

Kaytie: I kinda liked it.  It's not very exciting. I did like having all the options. I liked turning the timer off. I would recommend it for kids who want to learn their facts without a lot of bells and whistles. 

Nate: It's enjoyable. It's not as fun as the name makes it sound like it will be but it's not something I hate doing.

Daniel: I liked it because it helped me know my numbers more and answer them faster. It helped me to learn all my facts and learn the ones I didn't know and helped me practice them. 

Abbie: It's fun. I especially like practicing with the dot cards. I like doing tests because it helps me learn them more. I do not have anything that I don't like it about.

You can buy UberSmart Math Facts for $24.95. It's a one-time purchase and you can use it for all of your kids! This program is aimed at K to 6th grade, but it's really usable for kids (and adults) of all ages that need to work on their math facts. However, it only works with Windows 7, 8, Vista or XP.

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