Plato Learning distinguishes itself from every other company on the market by the sheer number of math products it sells. It has been in the business for over 40 years, and boasts more than 20 math related products in the K-12+ arena. They also have a number of titles on topics other than math, such as reading, science, and even foreign languages in their Rosetta Stone brand. This review focuses on their Algebra I & II programs solely.
Algebra I & II covers material usually taught in grades 6-12+. According to Plato's website, these two products combined contain over 300 hours of instructional content and over 200 discrete learning objectives. The content is divided across lesson modules, where each lesson has 3 main sections:
The "Objective" section introduces the main topic of the lesson with an example or two and is largely uninteractive. The "Study" section provides more in-depth examples requiring user interaction and includes feedback for incorrect answers. The interaction is mostly of the free-response variety or interacting with onscreen manipulatives. The "Practice" section includes 5 or more additional problem-solving opportunities involving a mixture of free-response and multiple-choice questions. This section serves as a kind of self-test; answers are also provided.
Although these sections provide ample opportunity for practice, they sometimes feel disconnected from each other. For example, in a sample lesson provided on their website called Functions the "Objective" section introduces the concept of functions with a discussion of the relationship between outside temperature and the speed of cricket chirps. Then this real-world example is abandoned, and in the "Study" section the student looks at a function relating the cost to rent beach umbrellas to the rental length (in hours). Using some sample data provided in a data table, the student tries to come up with a general formula for the cost in terms of the length of the rental. This section also introduces the idea of a function "as a machine that takes input and creates an output based on a rule" and gives the student a chance to fill in a data table related to the same beach umbrella rental situation. In the "Practice" section students answer a mixture of multiple-choice and free-response questions related to filling out data-tables and finding functions that characterize certain data sets. The questions are not necessarily related to the beach umbrella rental or cricket chirp examples introduced earlier.
In addition to these lesson modules, the student always has several tools available, such as a notebook, scientific calculator, and graphing calculator, which they can open and use to make simple notes or to solve problems at any time. There is also an additional section called "Investigate" which links to an internal interactive encyclopedia of math topics, some of which are relevant to the current lesson and some of which are relevant to past and future lessons. Three examples are "Three ways to think about subtraction", "Finding Factors", and "How the variable came to be". These tend to be fun descriptions that are interesting to read.
As part of the recommended instructional model, students take one of Plato's diagnostic tests (sold separately) to determine which topics the student needs help with most. It was not clear from their website how students select which lesson modules to work with, or what progress monitoring is available to the students. Plato does offer progress monitoring for teachers, however.
The real strength of Plato's Algebra I & II products is the extensive number of explanatory examples, even though these do feel disconnected from each other sometimes. Two more strengths are that most questions are of the free-response variety, rather than multiple-choice, and that they introduce each topic with a lot of audio narration and several on-screen manipulatives. The "Investigate" section is also very rich and interesting.
The weakest part of these products compared to what else is on the market seems to be a relatively small number of practice problems (usually less than 20) for each lesson.
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