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Nine discs and counting
Like the topic it covers, Math Advantage is a vast and potentially intimidating program. The interface is a bit confusing. The opening screen looks like some mystical math portal--concentric circles ringed with runes--which makes it hard to know where to begin. And Math Advantage comes on a whopping nine CDs, each of which teaches a specific topic covering math basics, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, and statistics. That means students can use a different disc to supplement and practice their lessons during each school year. If one household has many kids working at different levels, the younger students can use the algebra disc while the older ones tackle calculus or trig. Not a bad return on a $40 investment.
Pop goes the quiz
The Examination section is a good place to start. Here, you can take a 20-problem quiz to gauge what skills you have mastered and which need work. As you take the tests, the program adjusts the difficulty of each question based on how well you answered the previous one, then determines whether you're a beginning, intermediate, or advanced student. Feel like a math hotshot? Click the Genius Corner button on the exam page for a superchallenging test of your reckoning skills.
The program stores your results on a report card, along with an assessment of your level (for us, beginner) and how well you did (needs improvement). You can then print a certificate showing that you completed each test. If you solve at least 15 of the 20 problems correctly on a test, you move on to a math-based game. (The trigonometry disc, for example, provides a game in which you shoot down enemy planes using trig skills to calculate the correct angle and force for the antiaircraft gun.)
House of Tutor
But Math Advantage isn't all fun and games. At the heart of each disc, you'll find a tutorial section divided into about a half dozen chapters. A narrator leads you screen by screen through each concept, illustrated with multiple examples and punctuated by brief pop quizzes. A handy Reference button offers instant access to a glossary and a guide to mathematical symbols. You can click the History button to discover the history of key math concepts and other fascinating trivia (for example, the trig term sine--from the Latin sinus--is a mistranslation of the Hindu word for chord). You won't find that level of detail in most math curricula.
Once you've completed the tutorials, visit the Interactive Zone to review specific topics without having to repeat an entire lesson.
Plus and minus
As another nice touch, parents and teachers can use Math Advantage to participate in the math-learning process. The program's parent/teacher link on the main screen suggests ways to provide real-world applications for students, such as calculating who owes what on a restaurant bill. The Why Math button on the home page explains how arithmetic comes in handy for things such as launching Mars probes as well as the math snafus that cause $250 million satellites to crash.
On the downside, Math Advantage doesn't use audio and video to its best advantage. A narrator simply reads the text you can already see onscreen, and the audio sounds choppy (fortunately, you can hit the Mute button). And, like most titles programmed with Macromedia Director, segments load slowly. We must admit, we're rather spoiled by today's dynamic, lightning-fast-loading multimedia, and we hope the next version of Math Advantage shows marked improvement in that area. We're not too impressed with the tech support either. Encore Software provides phone support between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., PT, Monday through Friday, excluding major holidays. The technician we spoke to was fast to answer the phone but a bit gruff.
Caveats aside, whether you're studying math for junior high or early college, Math Advantage makes a useful addition to your digital library.