The 9-year-old boy has now used the Aleks program about 4 times. Some of that time was working with their "Quick Tables," which is a math-fact learning tool.
Quick Tables was a bit frustrating at first, because before they throw one math fact at you, they want you to have the keyboarding skills to be able to type in the answer quickly. After several sessions of simply typing in numbers, I punted. Though he was getting faster, he still wasn't getting to the point of the exercise: math facts. So, I took over the keyboard and now do the typing for him. We've used it twice, going over all 4 types of facts, but focusing more on multiplication. The program works cleverly. You begin with very simple facts like x1 or x2, then move up from there. It knows what you know and works on improving. I like it. I also like that it isn't flashy or time-wasting. Many online math games are more game than math. The kid ends up spending their time shooting asteroids instead of doing math.
The second part of the program is the Pie. The boy has a pie chart with each segment partially shaded. The shaded area shows how much of the pie he has mastered. He gets to choose which pie piece to work on, and which topics to learn. For each topic the program offers a few problems with an explanation there if you need it--you don't have to see it if you don't need it. After you've done a few problems--I think you have to get 3 or 4 in a row correct, the program allows you to move on. I'm happy that the boy realizes that three or four problems are not enough to really get a math concept, and he will often choose the "More Problems" option without any prompting from me. After a couple more problems, the program moves him on and back to his pie to choose another topic. He has already mastered 14 topics of the total 127 in the 3rd grade curriculum. That means he has moved from a 55% to 66%, To put it another way, he's learned 11% of the 3rd grade curriculum in just 4 sessions.
Instead of logging into the program and walking away, I sit with him. I can catch when he is going wrong, prompt him to use the explanations, and explain further if he needs it. The one time I walked away, he found it frustrating. I don't think he wanted to look at the explanations, or he didn't understand them if he did.
I also wonder if the initial assessment wasn't off because we did it near the end of a lazy summer vacation. I think that probably caused him to get a lower score on the basic arithmetic, but while sitting with him, I realized he has some big gaps. He's been doing geometry and was confused about the terms perimeter, parallel, and perpendicular. The perimeter problem surprised me a great deal. He was presented with a grid with a shape shaded in the middle. He easily counted the shaded squares to get the area (or multiplied if he could), but he wanted to count the number of unshaded squares around the outside and call that the perimeter. I think he got straightened out now, but he needs to review that a couple of times to lock it in. He also had no clue about equivalent fractions (x/5 = 12/20, what's x?,) but caught on very quickly. I don't think he's done much in the way of fractions at school other than counting what fraction of a figure is shaded.
I'm going to continue working with him every-other or every day if we can manage it. I don't want to do long sessions and burn him out, but he seems to enjoy it, and would often go on longer. Right now, I have my sites set on his standardized testing for this year. He'll do it in November, and at this rate, he should be done with the 3rd grade content and on into 4th grade math by then.
Update: We finally got past the assessment for multiplication, and I saw a great difference in his interaction with it almost immediately. He was shown the grid of multiplication, shown which he's already mastered and which need work. The program then offered several for him to focus on. We must have had some typing problems because there were several x2's that he certainly knew. With the chart in front of him, he quickly became interested in mastering the unmastered. In addition, he now has access to a couple math games. He also worked on a few new math topics in the main section of Aleks. He's almost up to knowing 70% of the 3rd grade curriculum! Wheee.