This review is a bit of a departure from the way I have traditionally written reviews for the PC Alamode magazine. What I intend to do is introduce Math Skill Builder Whole Number Arithmetic and Fraction Worksheet Generator and then describe
each separately. The reason for this approach is that they are both from the same small, educationally-oriented company, which company was started by educators Margaret Schrader, Ph.D., and Chuck Steele, M. Ed., and is currently based in the small town of Dos Cabezas, Arizona. Please refer to their Web site for more information about the company. SSSoftware produces high-powered mathematics skill-developing software programs. The focus of these programs, as is true with most any learning endeavor, is to get the child to practice using problems that they would face in their real-life elementary school classes. The company has developed a series of software programs designed to help parents and children learn arithmetic skills more effectively.
Whole Number Arithmetic
This particular product would be a good program for an individual learner who wanted to enhance or increase their individual skill level for arithmetic problems utilizing whole numbers. It is important to note and reiterate right up front that this is not a game or edutainment product, rather it is a real educational tool that could be utilized with an individual learner, in a classroom setting or even in a remedial learning atmosphere.
Whole Number Arithmetic is available for Mac and PC compatible machines. For PC’s you need at least a 486 MHz or greater CPU running a Microsoft Windows operating system with a color monitor display, a mouse, 2 MB of hard drive space and a CD-ROM if you need to install the boxed version. A sound card, speakers, and printer are also recommended. For Mac systems, you need a 68030 or greater processor or a PowerPC with Apple System Software 6.0.7 or later and 1 MB available space on the hard drive. They also require a color monitor, mouse and CD-ROM for installation of the boxed version. For both of these they report a requirement of 2 MB of RAM needs to be available for the program to use. I am not sure how you would check that, but I would assume that with most systems nowadays you would have plenty of memory to run a program that only needs 2 MB of RAM to operate.
The program operates using a variety of mathematics problems, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It also provides the user (student, parent or teacher) with an ability to track progress of the student using the Diagnostic tool as well as helping the student learn using the Tutor tool. With the diagnostic tool, you can determine at what level the student is working, as the software program divides these types of problems into 13 different levels according to whether you add single digits, multiple digits, use ones, tens, hundreds or thousands place and whether you have to carry over to the next place. Hence, as the problem becomes more difficult and complex, the level number in the Math Skill Builder program increases accordingly. This allows each student to work at their own skill level and pace. I discovered another neat feature of this program as I explored it, which was the ability to be tutored by the program. The “Tutor” has the ability to “talk” to you via your computer speakers and explain exactly how the specific problem is to be worked and solved. The “voice” was quite rudimentary but not totally unpleasant. It was a mechanical sounding computer voice and a bit difficult to understand at times, however, you can adjust the speed and of course the volume to control it somewhat. If you really find the voice bothersome, you can turn the “talk” portion of the Tutor off and just have it walk you through the problem on the screen. You also have the ability to go through the process a single step at a time, which would prove quite useful to someone who was having difficulty understanding the process inherent in solving the problem.
Next, you can change your preferences such as time limits, number of problems, skill level, whether or not to allow retries on missed problems and the criteria for promotion or demotion from skill level to skill level. This is a user-friendly program with relatively few frills, but one that has a great deal of applicability, particularly to the elementary or basic math skills that one needs to build on later in life. In fact, I could see a great use for this program in a remedial or GED class dealing with basic mathematics (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) number problems.
The interface is rather plain (gray) and some would think unsophisticated, but in reality, the purpose of this program is to encourage skill development and if you think about it, flashy multimedia effects may actually serve to distract the learner and interfere with the aforementioned skill enhancement purposes. You can do practice problems and improve your skills, diagnosis lets you know what level you are having difficulty with and tutoring breaks down the problem in an explanatory manner. In addition, you can make and check assignments on the computer. For assignments, you print out the problems (15 by default setting) and do them, once you complete the assignment; you open the program up again and enter the answers you came up with. The program remembers your assignment (if you have saved it) and then proceeds to check your answers for you.
Fraction Worksheet Generator
Do you ever get confused explaining fractions to someone else? Have you ever wanted to brush up on your skills in this area? If you have a child or grandchild who is starting to learn about fractions in mathematics, then Fraction Worksheet Generator is a handy tool to have around. You math teachers probably have your own resources to choose from, but this software program does a wonderful job of not only generating fraction problems but also has built-in explanations of the problems using the answer button, the answer key or the solutions button. All you need to make this program work is a PC with a 486 or greater CPU; 1 MB of RAM available for application use; at least Windows 95 or later operating system, color monitor, mouse, and 1 MB hard drive space. A color printer is preferred and a CD-ROM is only needed if you are using the boxed version for installation purposes.
The meat of the program is in the way it works. The program breaks down into levels of skills and allows you to use an automatic mode in which problems of any combination and level can be generated randomly; a manual mode that requires you to create and define your own fraction problems; and a quick mode that lets you make a diagnostic test or create a worksheet of a few problems at the selected level of difficulty.
The program has built-in flexibility in that the level and type of problems can be adjusted, you can create the worksheet with horizontally or vertically aligned problems and you can control the number of problems you include on any given worksheet.
There is the ability to generate worksheets randomly with up to 50 problems per sheet. Problems can be individualized in various combinations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and you can create your own problems as well as save and edit the size, font and layout (vertical or horizontal) of the problems on the page. A final aspect that I would be reticent if I did not mention is that the answer keys, answer sheets and more thorough solution sheets can be printed out for either immediate feedback or to use in a teaching mode after errors have been discovered. There are seven math skill builder levels in each of the math areas of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, for a total of 28 math skill builder levels. Since these skill levels are so integral to this program, it is quite nice that there are explanations provided which describe what each skill level means.
If you are interested in improving basic elementary mathematic skills, then these products should be seriously considered. Not only would they have a place in traditional classrooms, but one could imagine them in a home schooling setting or a nontraditional classroom environment. These products are not available in your typical software retail stores. You can download the product from the web or order it by mail or by phone if you want to receive a boxed version. Math Skill Builders Whole Number Arithmetic and Fraction Worksheet Generator are both available direct from SSSoftware. The boxed versions are $49.95 (Whole Number Arithmetic) and $29.95(Fraction Worksheet Generator). Downloaded, the price is significantly lower: $34.95 and $19.95, respectively.