Math Resources currently offers one algebra-related product, called Interactive School Mathematics 3 (ISM 3). They also have two similar products forthcoming, called ISM 1 and ISM 2, that are equivalent to two full years of math for grades 6-8. In addition, they sell a very sophisticated graphing calculator system called Portrait4 which is patterned after professional math software packages like Maple or Mathematica, but with far fewer features, and they also sell a couple of different math vocabulary or math reference products. The vocabulary products are comprehensive with over 1200 terms defined; many of the terms have their own interactive applet as well as practice problems. Due to the focus on Algebra of this report, we only cover ISM 3 in the remaining paragraphs.
ISM 3 takes a different approach to the "Interactive Textbook" idea of teaching mathematics from almost every other competitor we reviewed. Rather than rely on video, or audio, or extensive animations, ISM 3 looks very much like a website with paragraphs of text flowing around pictures; plus there are question boxes interspersed, and other interactive elements. In spite of seeming "low-tech", there are several aspects of ISM 3 that distinguish it favorably from the competition. First, Math Resources assembled an impressive team of experts to write the content, and their expertise clearly shows in the clarity and originality of the lessons. The curriculum consists of 227 lessons grouped into 15 major units; each lesson includes 10 or more screens of content. They take pains to motivate each lesson with a real-world or at least interesting example. They also do a good job adding in lots of questions for the student to answer right there in the text and provide immediate feedback for the student to check their work. In addition, each lesson usually includes two or three interactive Java applets that offer more chances for problem-solving. For example, in Unit 1 of ISM 3 called "Patterns & Variables" the student learns that algebra is about the study of patterns, and one of the java applets asks them to complete one-and-two dimensional patterns by placing patterned squares on a grid. Unlike almost every other product, this was actually fun to do and although it doesn't involve numbers is quite germane to algebra. Or, from the unit about exponents, the student investigates powers of 2, by investigating the growth of algae in a pond, and by completing a table of values.
One potential concern for ISM 3 as a competitor in X Prize is that it is a very text-heavy product. Apart from the java applets, all of the instructional material is written down rather than done as voice-over or with animations, and it relies on the student reading quite a bit of text to learn the new concepts. Although the text is concise and well-written, there is still a lot more of it than in any of the other products we reviewed in this report.
Here are some other features of ISM 3. Before each unit, at the end of each unit, and every three-four lessons during the unit, the student takes an off-line assessment (i.e. a printout) or a quiz. The student has access to the Portrait4 calculator (also sold separately) at anytime while online, as well as an extensive glossary and occasional links to original articles relating to science or real-world examples. One other novel feature is that the teacher can attach notes directly to the text of the lessons for his or her students to read.
All these features make ISM 3 a unique competitor in the marketplace.
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