Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Critical Thinking Company

I am a firm believer in teaching children how to think and problem solve. School is much more than just rote memorization of facts. Teaching thinking and reasoning skills is crucial to preparing a child for life. In the past, we have used several programs from The Critical Thinking Company and I have always been very pleased with the wide variety and thorough activities that they offer. When we were given the opportunity to review Math Analogies Level 2, I was very excited for the opportunity to start my younger students on the road to challenging their brains!

What is Math Analogies? This is downloadable software that can be purchased with a license for use on two computers. It remains on the computer and is played from the computer, so no online connection is necessary to use the program. Upon entering the program, the student types in their name, and begins work on the series of 152 problems. There are many different types of analogies, or comparisons to work with. Some of the analogies are mathematical in nature, covering spatial skills, numeric procedures, or patterns, while others rely heavily on the student's reasoning abilities, incorporating time, money, or even word analyses into their problems. Before the student begins, there is a page explaining what analogies are, giving an example of how to solve a basic sample problem.

A Sample Analogy

System requirements: We downloaded the Windows version, which requires Windows 8/7/Vista. Math Analogies is also available as a softcover book, or as an app for the iPad (iTunes store) or Android (Google Play Store).

Working the Problems: On the student's first attempt, they read and study each analogy, then look at the four choices of answers below the problem. Choosing which answer best solves the analogy, they click on that answer and drag it to the space where the question mark is. The program immediately tells them if their answer is correct or incorrect, then moves on to the next problem. Progress is saved, so no matter how many analogies a student solves, they will always be able to begin right where they left off each time they enter the program. At the first use, each problem is attempted only once, and at the end of that first attempt, once all 152 problems are completed, the student receives a small congratulatory note:

The program then starts over with only the incorrectly answered problems. On subsequent attempts, the student is only given the problems they answered incorrectly in the same order, and given another attempt to solve those analogies. Each round is graded on how many problems were answered correctly. The student is allowed a total of four attempts. A final grade sheet looks like this:

As you can see, on the fourth and final attempt, there were only five analogies left that were still incorrect, and out of those five, four were answered correctly, giving a final score of 80%. 

How we used this program: After downloading and signing Kelly in, I worked alongside her at first, to teach her how to do analogies. Kelly is in fourth grade, nearly finished with math for this year, and is a strong mathematical thinker. Since this program is recommended for grades 4 and 5, I knew some of the analogies would be a stretch for her. We worked on the program about four days a week, and I would have Kelly do ten problems at each sitting. We easily worked through the program in about a month. Actually, Melissa (grade 8) joined Kelly for a good portion of the work, and they worked on discussing and solving the analogies together. 

What we thought: I thought the Math Analogies program had a great balance of difficulty and variety. Of course, Kelly was thrilled with the problems that came easy to her, and got frustrated with the ones that she didn't understand, but that was exactly how I expected her to respond. It gave us a great opportunity to discuss and think through the more difficult analogies and I believe it really helped her thinking process to stretch, by learning HOW to think through them, with me helping her and explaining the comparison. With a little explanation, she was able to grasp the concepts of most of the problems. This program was hard work. It wasn't something that Kelly would describe as fun, but because we broke it down into very small pieces, she really didn't mind it either. I believe the thinking and reasoning skills that were learned were very beneficial to her.

I was surprised that Melissa, the 8th grader, also had a little trouble with some of the analogies. It was great practice for her, to work on improving her thinking skills, (even though much of the math was below her grade level). Because she didn't have to struggle with the mathematical end, she was able to put her brain energy into solving the riddle part of the analogy, and she actually seemed to enjoy 'cracking the code' and figuring out the analogies even more than Kelly did, despite the fact that the program says it is for grades 4 and 5. 

Some Improvements I Would Make: I would love to see some type of 'explanation' or solution page for the analogies. Even if it was only accessible to a parent or teacher, I think this would be a great addition to this program. There were several problems where I felt an explanation would have been very helpful. Yes, there were a few analogies that even I struggled with! More than that, I think having solution keys would be a great tool for making the program more independent for a student to work through. The girls got very frustrated when they kept getting the same analogies incorrect, and wanted to know why their answer was wrong. I also would allow the student to see the incorrect problems and the answer they gave.  By the time we worked through all 152 problems and came back to the beginning to start over on the incorrect ones, the girls had forgotten what they had answered the previous attempt, and got frustrated when they answered incorrectly again. It might be easier to be able to work through all four attempts of the problem at one continuous time, and then be graded on the number of attempts at the end, rather than the current method of having one attempt at each problem, because then a student could get immediate feedback when they are thinking incorrectly, and be able to completely work through and resolve the problem logically at one sitting. 

Final Word: Overall, I think this program is extremely useful and beneficial. I would expand its usage beyond just 4th and 5th grade, and say that learning to solve the creative variety of analogies in this program would help even a junior high or high school student, especially one who might struggle a bit with mathematical concepts. I love the fact that once I purchase the program, it's mine forever, and it can be used repeatedly for students to work through. (Once all four attempts are complete, the data can be erased and restarted at the beginning with the same student or with a new student).

Other Options: There are four levels of Math Analogies programs, designed for grades K-7. On their website, Critical Thinking has an Online Demo if you would like to try the program out before purchasing. 

The version we received, with a download license for two PC's, is currently selling for $6.99. 

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Members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed several different items from The Critical Thinking Company, including: the Alphabet Song Game, Pattern Explorer, Editor In Chief, and World History Detective. To read these reviews and learn about these products, click this banner below:

Critical Thinking Company Review

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