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ALEKS Review by Tina Rice

ALEKS Corporation
15460 Laguna Canyon Road
Irvine, CA 92618
714-245-7191
https://www.aleks.com

ALEKS is an interactive web-based mathematics and business learning program. Courses are available for grades 3-12 mathematics and for adult and continuing education in both English and Spanish. You must have a computer with Internet access to use the ALEKS program. Once you have connected to the Internet, downloaded the ALEKS plug-in, and paid your monthly fee, you have access to the ALEKS program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ALEKS uses artificial intelligence to test and identify what students know and what they are ready to learn. 

Technical requirements are as follows: Windows 95/98/NT/2000/ME/XP; Pentium PC 133Mhz, 32MB of RAM; Internet connection of at least 28K; and a browser: Internet Explorer 4.0 or later, Netscape 6.0 or later, Mozilla, Firefox, or AOL 5.0 or later. Your browser must also be Java enabled. Both Netscape and Internet Explorer usually ship with Java. You can also install Sun Microsystems' Java VM. The minimum requirement is the Java VM version 1.4.1 or later. You can download it here: Sun's JavaTM VM. 

For Macintosh, you will need Mac OS X version 10.2 or higher; a PowerMac or iMac; 32MB of RAM; Internet connection of at least 28K; and a browser: Safari (requires Mac OS X 10.3 or higher with the latest software updates from Apple), Netscape 6.0 or later, Mozilla, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 5.2 or later. 

I found that to successfully run ALEKS on my Windows 98 operating system (with Norton Internet Security), I had to manually turn off the ad blocking portion of Norton. I also had to configure my system to allow all pop ups from the ALEKS website. The ALEKS customer support team responded to my plea for help in a matter of minutes. Customer service representatives are on hand Monday through Friday, and they answered all of my responses in a very timely manner.

In order to understand how ALEKS works, you need to know how it originated. The following information is taken from their website (www.aleks.com): "ALEKS is a revolutionary Internet technology, developed at the University of California by a team of gifted software engineers and cognitive scientists, with the support of a multi-million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. ALEKS is fundamentally different from previous educational software. At the heart of ALEKS is an artificial intelligence engine -- an adaptive form of computerized intelligence -- which contains a detailed structural model of the multiplicity of the feasible knowledge states in a particular subject. Taking advantage of state of the art software technology, ALEKS is capable of searching an enormous knowledge structure efficiently, and ascertaining the exact knowledge state of the individual student. Like "Deep Blue," the IBM computer system that defeated international Chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov, ALEKS interacts with its environment and adapts its output to complex and changing circumstances. ALEKS is based upon path breaking theoretical work in Cognitive Psychology and Applied Mathematics in a field of study called 'Knowledge Space Theory.' Work in Knowledge Space Theory was begun in the early 1980s by an internationally renowned Professor of Cognitive Sciences who is the Chairman and founder of ALEKS Corporation." 

ALEKS is user friendly and instructive. ALEKS is not an online game. The ALEKS program is suitable as a comprehensive math course for a student, or it can be used as an enhancement for the math program of your choice. If you have a student who totally hates being on the computer, he or she will most likely not appreciate ALEKS. Because ALEKS is so diverse, I believe relaxed, classical, and unschooling home educators will be able to use and benefit from the program. It is particularly suited for a visual learner, but auditory or kinesthetic learners will not find it difficult or tiring. ALEKS was not designed for homeschool use, but it is perfectly suited for use in any homeschool.

There are two parts of the ALEKS program, the assessment mode and the learning mode. In the assessment mode, students take an assessment that requires them to solve problems and input the answers. ALEKS does not use a multiple choice answer format. Each subsequent question in the assessment is determined by how the student answered the previous question. Students have the option of checking the "I have not learned this yet" box in the assessment mode. In the learning mode, students work on problems from their chosen topic. The first screen brings up the problem, and the student can either ask for an explanation on how to do the problem or click on "practice" to try it on his own. After 3-6 correct answers, the student returns to her pie to choose another topic. If a student incorrectly answers a question in the learning mode, ALEKS will make a variety of suggestions based on the type of error. A student who repeatedly gets a problem wrong will be directed to work on a related problem or another type of problem. 

When you log into the ALEKS system for the first time, you choose the grade level and course you are studying or want to study. You begin with a tutorial on how to use ALEKS. Then you will take an assessment that will contain from 15 to 30 questions. Be sure to have paper and pencil on hand. You are encouraged to attempt to solve each problem presented, but there is the option of clicking on the "I have not learned this" button. After the assessment is complete, you get a progress report of what you know and what you are ready to learn in the form of a pie chart. Each wedge of the pie corresponds to a different concept from the course you are studying. You may need to take further assessment on concepts within the course. Each area of the pie will tell you what you know, whether you must take another assessment, and what you are and are not ready to learn. For example, if you need to work on fractions before you move into decimals, the decimal pie will note that you are not ready to work on this section of the pie. As a visual person, I really like the pie chart; it helped me to see what composed a grade/course and made it easy for students to navigate the program. 

I tried the ALEKS free trial on myself in two different grade levels. ALEKS will allow a family multiple free trials, so you can check it out with different students. The free trial assessment is exactly like the assessment for the purchased program. With the free trial you get 3 hours of online time in the ALEKS system during a 48-hour period. My complete Essential Mathematics assessment and initial learning took an hour. I logged out and came back later to work on ALEKS for another hour. I had no difficult logging in as a guest (I was given a user name and password), and the system took me directly to my "pie." My initial Essential Mathematics assessment showed that I had learned 96 out of 249 concepts and took 32 minutes. My second assessment took 18 minutes and showed that I had learned 120 of 249 concepts. In 1 hour and 15 minutes I learned additional concepts and ended up knowing 174 out of 249 Essential Mathematics concepts. The concepts covered in Essential Mathematics include algebra, fractions, decimals and percents, measurements and data, whole numbers, and geometry. I also took an assessment in pre-calculus, which showed I know 8 out of 265 concepts and needed to work on algebra and functions and graphs before moving on to trigonometry; exponential and logarithmic functions; conic sections; sequences, series, and probability; systems of linear equations and matrices. 

Do I like ALEKS? An unqualified YES, I more than like it! My children like ALEKS. Abigail, in fourth grade, is not a strong reader, and some of the explanations were a bit difficult for her to follow. When the explanations overly frustrated her she asked me to help with the reading. She never had difficulty understanding the concept presented. I compared Abigail's score on her initial assessment to what I thought she knew and found that the ALEKS assessment was exactly where I thought she was mathematically. I greatly appreciate the visual pie chart showing what Abigail knows and what she is ready to learn. Abigail liked ALEKS so much she sent the company an email and received a reply from a customer service representative later the same day. When I asked Abigail what she likes about ALEKS she responded, "I love ALEKS. It is really helping me a lot with math. I like my pie a lot; I get to see what I can learn next. I like to get to pick out what I will learn next. Everyone should get to use ALEKS!"

Katie was using a well-known geometry program (which I loved), but it was not a good fit for her learning style. She could do the work, but she did not really understand the material. ALEKS has helped her to really understand geometry. She says, "I like that it explains things in little chunks. You don't have to learn this and this and this in a certain order. You can say, 'I don't understand this right now,' and go on to something else and come back to it later. If you know something really well you don't have to repeat it over and over. Once you show proficiency you don't have to repeat the concept over and over, but you are assessed on it to see if you do really know it. There is nothing I can think of that I don't like."

Melissa used the Algebra 1 program on ALEKS. At first she did not like ALEKS. Then she got past the assessments and into the program and she enjoyed it most of the time. Melissa stated, "Sometimes when I take an assessment I have to go over something I learned before and it is not fun having to do it over again." I (Tina) like the fact that ALEKS continually reassesses a student's knowledge of concepts he has learned. 

If I could change anything about ALEKS it would be the price. At $19.95 per month per student (or $99.95 for a 6 month bundle), ALEKS is expensive if you use it for your complete curriculum for 10 months a year (that is $179.95). It is completely consumable, so younger children will not have something passed down to them from their older siblings. If you have several students, the cost of ALEKS can add up quickly; but even at $19.95 per month ALEKS is much cheaper than a math tutor. I would love to see the ALEKS Corporation add an SAT Math Preparation course to their lineup.

The Rice family highly recommends ALEKS for all students. Check them out at www.ALEKS.com and use the free trial to find out for yourself what a terrific program ALEKS is! 

Product review by Tina Rice and family, Contributing Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2006

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