Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Art of Problem Solving

Meant to challenge math whizzes, actually best for struggling students
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • Art of Problem Solving offers math guidance for kids in math competitions or who just want to review concepts.
  • Alcumnus is a free, adaptive online learning system.
  • Resources include a wiki, forums, and a guide to LaTeX.
Pros
Textbook-aligned algebra videos are great, and can also reinforce concepts for kids studying on their own or getting ready for a math tournament.
Cons
Though the site has a lot of story problems, they lack relevance beyond a math classroom.
Bottom Line
It allows kids to move through math concepts at their own pace, but you have to hunt for the really challenging stuff.
Emily Pohlonski
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

The site is hard to use because the text is small, organization is unclear (games are found in a few different places), and it's not intuitive to navigate. Plus, the actual math problems aren't very fun or interesting.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Problems adjust and build as kids improve their math skills. Kids get an immediate response along with an explanation of why their answer was wrong or right.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Kids can see their scores and track their progress as they move through the activities. There are online forums that provide additional support if needed, and a wiki that you can add to.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Video content is great for absent students or kids who need help while working on problems at home. You can use Alcumus as a way to support kids who need additional practice, or alternately, assign tasks to kids who want to move ahead of the class. Kids will need to learn the special syntax for entering certain types of characters; there's an explanation of this syntax, but it can a bit overwhelming. (For example, the square root of x is written as \sqrt{x}.) It might help to print this portion of the help menu for kids so they can reference it while they are working.

Are you a Math Olympiad coach? You'll find the videos of sample test questions very helpful, and the resources found here are especially geared for kids who are preparing to compete at a national level.

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What's It Like?

Art of Problem Solving is a website with a variety of resources supporting kids learning middle and high school math. It includes videos, games, quizzes, and even its own school where kids can join a class, get a grade, and complete the course for potential college credit. Videos are available on a broad span of topics such as pre-algebra, algebra, and probability. There are also videos of sample problems from the American Mathematics Competitions, for kids participating in math Olympiad teams.

Alcumus is an individualized problem-solving section. As kids solve problems correctly and “master” a topic, Alcumus will then suggest a new topic for them. The Report helps kids view their progress and suggests reading and video lessons relevant to each topic. There's also a social aspect to the site; kids in the same class can communicate with each other or compete in games.

Standouts:

  • Graphing Linear Inequalities Video – Watch a teacher figure out how to graph an inequity on the screen.
  • Alcumus – Answer story problems online to advance through a series of topics.
  • WOOT – Train online for 7 months to prepare for National Math Olympiad contests.
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Is It Good For Learning?

The site promotes itself as a tool for enthusiastic, math-loving kids looking for greater mathematical challenges. However, many of the videos and Alcumus tasks are classic, straightforward math problems. These can be useful to all kids who are learning basic math skills because they provide immediate feedback, but they may not be very exciting to a math superstar ready to get stumped. In order to get to the more complex and meaty problems, you'll have to dig into the Math Olympiad, or WOOT, resources.

On the other hand, Alcumus allows kids to move at their own pace and track their own progress, and videos feature clear explanations from an upbeat and affable teacher. The site could be improved by adding more complex, interesting problems with multiple possible approaches and solutions. Many teachers are looking for innovative ways to make math real for students; Art of Problem Solving, while helpful, is just another version of what's already available in standard math textbooks. 

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See how teachers are using Art of Problem Solving