Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016

Art of Problem Solving

Meant to challenge math whizzes, actually best for struggling students

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7-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Textbook-aligned algebra videos are great, and can also reinforce concepts for kids studying on their own.

Cons: Though the site has a lot of story problems, they lack relevance beyond a math classroom.

Bottom Line: Lets students move through math concepts at their own pace, but you have to hunt for the really challenging stuff.

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 students 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 students 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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Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) is a website with a variety of resources supporting learning for middle and high school math. It includes videos, games, quizzes, and even its own school where students 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. The WOOT program allows students to train for 7 months to prepare for National Math Olympiad contests.

Alcumus is a free, 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; students in the same class can communicate with each other or compete in games.

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AoPS 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 students 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.

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 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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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
2

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. Students 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

Students 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.


Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Heather D. , Other
Other
5
Deep, complex problem solving to challenge gifted learners

Our gifted math students love this program - it is complex, deep, comprehensive, challenging, rich, and fun. It is true that it doesn't offer a lot of "real world" connections for mathematics, but I don't see this as a downside for our students. Some students might need this to engage with math, but highly gifted math students, in my experience of working with this program for several years with many students at our school, love going deep with the math for the sake of the math. They don't need connections to cell phone plans or coupons to develop interest in the topic. There are relatively few practice problems (again, a positive when working with gifted learners) and they build in complexity very quickly. Alcumus and the problems in the book offer excellent challenges. Consistently, there are problems that challenge me and other math teachers at our school. And feedback I get from home is that parents who are math majors, computer science majors, programmers at technology companies, etc. have the same experience - they consistently find problems that challenge them.
The only reason that I did not give this program 5 stars on "Support" is because I believe that this program is not equally successful for all learners - some students need topics to be broken down and scaffolded more than is provided by this program. Some students may need more practice problems or more hands-on activities to learn mathematics. Some may need more of the "real world" applications in their math learning to be engaged. For our students, however, this program is ideal.

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