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Homeschool Curriculum Review: TabletClass Math

Monday, April 20th 2015 @ 2:14 AM

Bloom's TaxonomyWe are in our second year of using TabletClass for high-school math, and I'd like to share some of our experiences. This has been a great program for us and I think it's a bit of a well-kept secret in the homeschooling world.

Last year I was looking for a video-based high school geometry curriculum for my son, after he'd previously used Thinkwell with mixed success. Thinkwell is a great program and has a certain "entertainment" factor because of the teacher's personality, but we decided to look for something with a more relaxed pace and more straightforward presentation.

I was impressed with the demo lessons I watched from TabletClass, mainly because of the instructor's unintimidating style and clear explanations. The instructor, John Zimmerman, anticipates students' potential areas of confusion and misunderstanding and does a good job of pointing out those pitfalls as he goes along. Since the videos are slower-paced and conversational, lessons are a bit long, but not overly so. I'd rather have a 15- or 20-minute video that presents a topic clearly and without rushing, than a two-minute mini-topic that doesn't spend enough time contextualizing the new information or explaining it fully (Khan Academy–style). TabletClass seems to have found a happy medium in terms of lesson length.

screenshotOnce we made the decision to go with TabletClass, I was really won over, because I saw how stress-free and enjoyable it was for my son to use. He completed the entire geometry course, which I am happy to say included proofs (hooray!) and incorporated a pretty thorough algebra review as well. My son liked the teacher's style and gentle sense of humor, and in almost all cases could understand new material without my needing to re-teach it or explain it in other ways.

Lessons are supported and reinforced through a well-organized series of practice exercises, printable notes, and chapter tests. I appreciate that the practice problems and tests are meant to be printed and worked out on paper. I have taught math in schools and privately for over 25 years, and based on my experience, I feel strongly that to learn math well, students need to actually write. Looking at screens, clicking on screens, typing on screens... all have their place and it's fine for some learning to take place that way. But to really "get it" and to internalize a real understanding, there is no substitute for putting pencil to paper to process one's thinking.

The worksheets contain a thoughtful progression of problems that range from basic to challenging, including word problems. The presentation is homey but professional; they are handwritten (neatly) and uncrowded, with lots of inviting white space, so the overall feeling is calm and not overwhelming.

A side benefit of having to print out the worksheets is that students literally take ownership of their work, in a tangible way. Give them a binder and a three-hole punch, and they can build their portfolio of work as they go, and see their progress as the binder fills up. I believe that having stats stored on a server does not provide the same kind of satisfaction as a real-life stack of completed problems, and a binder is easy to refer back to for review or to demonstrate what has been learned. 

The TabletClass program does include software that allows you to track progress, as well as a quick "check-in" after each lesson in which the student evaluates how well he or she has mastered the topic. But there are no results or data that are calculated automatically based on work done within a computer-based system. Personally, I much prefer it that way, because I think it gives the parent a lot more flexibility in tailoring the curriculum and grading to a particular child's needs. I think I'm very much on the same wavelength as the creator of TabletClass, because while I love the benefits of video instruction and more high-tech kinds of help, I also believe that there needs to be a balance, and traditional approaches are important, too. I think TabletClass gets that balance right, and I think that makes students feel like real, whole people as they learn, rather than learning-bots who are just supposed to punch in the correct responses in order to receive a virtual gold star.

Answer keys are provided—again, in a very clear format. And most spectacularly, there is actually a video for every practice problem in which the instructor explains exactly how to do it! So a student can truly use this program independently, even if their mom (or dad) isn't a math teacher.

screenshotMy ninth-grade daughter is currently using TabletClass for algebra. Her learning style is quite different from my son's, and it's great to see that she is successfully moving through the lessons on her own. When she works on the practice problems, I help when needed, but as she has gained confidence, she is taking more of the initiative herself to check the videos for explanations and try to resolve difficulties on her own first. This growth is possible because the whole feeling of TabletClass is encouraging and inviting. Especially with algebra, it's so important for students to feel supported and not overwhelmed as they build their knowledge. I think the way each lesson in TabletClass is broken down to a manageable chunk of new information—but not to such small bits that they feel arbitrary and not anchored to other pieces of the puzzle—works very effectively to help students absorb and assimilate new skills.

I asked my kids to comment on what they like most about the program. My daughter said she likes how the instructor breaks down the information clearly. His explanations are organized and he uses colors effectively to differentiate various types of information. My son appreciates the straightforward process of watching a video and printing out the practice problems. He also likes the way the practice pages are cleanly laid out, with not too many problems on a page.

John ZimmermanOne last thing about this program: John Zimmerman is a real person who seems to really want students to succeed. He is responsive, he answers emails, and he is personally involved in the running of TabletClass on a day-to-day basis. When my son found an error in a problem last year, he emailed John and received an appreciative response almost immediately. (Yes, just like teachers in school classrooms, teachers on video lessons can sometimes make a mistake, too!) I think that's a big part of what has won my heart about this program: there is a person standing behind it (not a corporate publisher), and it happens to be a person who really knows math and who teaches it in much the same way I would.

If you are looking for a completely automated, computer-based system, TabletClass would not be for you. If your child is highly gifted in math, you might want to choose a faster-paced program or one that takes things even further in terms of challenge and creativity level. But if you are looking for engaging video lessons, solid content, thorough teaching, a relaxed pace, well thought-out and laid-out practice problems (with generous video explanations for all of them), paper-and-pencil chapter tests and final exams, and responsive customer support, you will likely be very happy with TabletClass. For about $100 for a full year (that's without a discount), it's an amazing value as well.

John Zimmerman knows I am writing this review and he has asked me to pass along this link for 50% off full-year courses. That makes it $50 for a full course, which is simply amazing. I really recommend jumping at this!

This link will take you to the main TabletClass page for homeschoolers:

If you have specific questions about my family's experience with TabletClass, feel free to ask. Or just contact John Zimmerman directly for info about his program.

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