Algebra FAQs

Click on any question below to view the answer:

Is VideoText an Algebra 1 course, an Algebra 2 course, or both?

Which Modules of VideoText Algebra correspond to traditional Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 courses?

How do I know where my student should start in your course?

Can a student work through this without help from Mom & Dad?

At what age should my student begin the VideoText program?

What about Pre Algebra?

How long will it take my student to go through the complete Algebra course?

Why do public schools need 2 full years to cover the material?

If you aren’t using the spiral method, what do you use?

How many problems does the student complete after each lesson?

What do you do when a student completes a lesson but fails to understand the concept that was taught?

Do you have extra problems available if a student wants to do additional work?

What type of print material goes along with the video?

What about Geometry? Is it covered in this course?

What do you recommend for Geometry?

What do you recommend using BEFORE VideoText?

Do you use graphing calculators in your course?

Do I own the program when I am done with it?

Can I use this with multiple students within my home?

Do you plan to produce a DVD format?

What is the difference between the older editions and the “New 2003 Edition?”

Do you have discounts for homeschoolers?

Do you charge for shipping or do you collect sales tax?

Do you have a guarantee?

How can I get a FREE video sampler?

If we have a problem, can we get help by email?

Can I use the help line if I purchased my program used?

What is the VideoText 5-step Learning System?

Where will my students use Algebra in real life?

Are you saying that he will have to start over with VideoText?

How do I assign a grade to my students work?

Is there enough practice and review in VideoText?

How are the SAT and PSAT scored?

How much time should my student be spending on quizzes and tests?

What is the difference between the Assessments and the Reviews?

How do I assign a grade to my student’s work?

How do I implement Grade Weighting with my student’s grades?

Q. Is this an Algebra 1 course, an Algebra 2 course, or both?

A. The reason that we named our program “Algebra: A Complete Course,” is that we believe the best way to learn Algebra is to start at the beginning and end at the end! In this program you will find a complete study of the essential concept material covered in a traditional Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 course.

However, we need to continue a little further with this answer because Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 are terms that refer mostly to the traditional way that Algebra has been taught. Traditional Algebra 1 classes attempt to cover most of Algebra in the first year, but the methods that are used, and the speed with which the material is covered, hinders student understanding of the material. Instead, the student is just exposed to memorizing rules, formulas, tricks, and shortcuts. By the time they get to what is called “Algebra 2”, (sometimes after they take a Geometry course), they have forgotten almost all of the Algebra that they “memorized”. So, that Algebra 2 course (which is by definition, a rehash of whatever has been called “Algebra 1”), must repeat practically all of the Algebra 1 course. In fact, it usually repeats a lot of the Pre-Algebra material as well. This is usually referred to as the “spiral method” of learning, and it is not very effective in helping students to excel, especially at this level of mathematics.

We think that this huge overlap is generally unproductive, and largely unnecessary if the concepts are taught analytically. Therefore we call our program “Algebra: A Complete Course,” because we employ a mastery-learning approach, sometimes moving at a slower pace, but without the overlap. As a result, students often complete the course even more quickly.
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Q. Which Modules of VideoText Algebra correspond to traditional Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 courses?

A. Remember that in traditional Algebra 1 classes, students are pushed very quickly through 70-80% of all Algebra, but it is taught very rapidly, and employs strategies that do not promote long term memory. Because of this, traditional Algebra 2 classes involve going back to the very beginning, and reteaching almost all of the Algebra 1, which may take 50-60% of the Algebra 2 year!

To be more specific, in the VideoText Algebra program, Modules A, B, C, D, and E constitute what is traditionally called “Algebra 1.” That means that you must include the material in all of these Modules if you are going to adequately compare VideoText Algebra to any other Algebra 1 course. Further, you must go back and start with Module B, (starting with Unit II, – “First Degree Relations with One Placeholder”), and continue through Modules C, D, E, and F, if you are going to compare VideoText Algebra to the algebraic concepts in any other Algebra 2 course.
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Q. How do I know where my student should start in your course?

A. We find that 95% of the students who have had some exposure to Algebra still do not have a foundational understanding of why problems are solved in certain ways. Unfortunately, in most curricula, there is an emphasis on learning rules, formulas, shortcuts, and tricks, and that only serves to utilize memorization skills. In Algebra, we should be starting to teach the teenage brain how to develop problem-solving skills and analytical thinking skills, and that only occurs if we explain the “why” behind every single concept.

Our stance is that it is very difficult to try to place a student in the middle of this course, since the analytical strategies that we use throughout the program are actually “built” in the earlier lessons. So, even though the lesson itself might contain a procedure that the student already recognizes, the concept may still be unknown to the student. The learning of those concepts is the real reason to study Algebra anyway, so that we can develop our students into great thinkers!

By the way, if you look at nearly any other Algebra 2 course, you will find that it does not start where Algebra 1 ended. Instead, it goes all the way back to Pre Algebra and starts over! So your students will be covering those procedures again, no matter which program they choose. However, with VideoText, they will not be learning tricks and shortcuts. They will be learning why those procedures work as they do. These earlier lessons are essential in setting the proper foundation, even though older students will probably be able to move through them more quickly than younger students.
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Q. Can a student work through this program without help from Mom or Dad?

A. One of the strongest features of our program is that the student can complete virtually all of the material on their own! Of course, the parent should provide oversight, especially on quizzes and tests, but all problems in the entire program (including WorkText and Progress Test problems) are worked out step-by-step in the Detailed Solutions Manual and Instructor’s Guide! Also, any time students need help, they can call the toll-free help-line and talk with an instructor who will “walk them through” the problem, and help them to understand the concept. This unlimited support is good for the entire family!  One further note, however, is important.  We strongly suggest that Mom and/or Dad sit down and watch the video lesson with the student.  It will only take about 10 minutes of your time, and it will provide 2 valuable benefits.  First, you, the parent, will get a clear, general sense of what the lesson is about.  We don’t expect you to do problems, and take tests, but, having a reasonable idea of what a concept is, for each lesson, will help you to communicate, and encourage your student.  Second, it is just human nature that your student will probably pay a little closer attention if the two of you are watching together.
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Q. At what age, or grade level, should my student begin the VideoText Algebra program?

A. We would generally recommend that a student begin our program in the 8th or 9th grade. Of course, if they are doing well in arithmetic, a 7th grade start might be reasonable. On the other hand, 10th and 11th grade students who are struggling, will find this course extremely helpful in getting them back on track, probably allowing them to move through it more quickly than a younger student.  In any case, you need to know that traditional 7th and 8th grade math programs are largely review of the material that was covered in the first six grades.  So, if students have completed grade six, with reasonable mastery, they should be ready to start the VideoText Algebra course, especially since Module A “reteaches”, algebraically, all of the arithmetic concepts which will be used in a study of Algebra.  Of course, they would probably be moving much more slowly through the course, primarily because of their age and development, but this pacing will provide for exceptional concept mastery and retention.
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Q. What about Pre-Algebra?

A. Traditional Pre-Algebra courses tend to largely repeat most of the arithmetic course work that the student has already covered, and then proceed on to some very basic Algebra and some simple Geometry. Typically, a 7th or 8th grade student who has done reasonably well with arithmetic courses will be ready to start our course. In addition, in our first Module, we “reteach” every arithmetic concept that they will need in Algebra, realizing that they may already know “how” to perform the computations, but taking their understanding of those procedures to a conceptual level. In other words, we teach them the “why” behind each and every one of those procedures!
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Q. How long will it take my student to go through the complete Algebra course?

A. Of course every student is different, but let’s look at the number of lessons to be completed in the complete program. There is a total of 176 video lessons to complete, along with the exercises, quizzes and tests that accompany those lessons. The video lessons average 5-7 minutes each, and the entire process of watching the video and working through the exercises, and taking a short quiz should normally be finished in 30 to 60 minutes.  (The short quiz will revisit the previous day’s lesson).  So, since you have approximately 180 school days each year, a student who completes just one lesson every two school days will complete the entire course in two years. Remember, this course is equivalent to Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, so this pacing is entirely acceptable. Additionally, many students are able to complete a large number of the lessons in just one day, so a goal of 1½ years to complete the course is also very achievable. In fact older, more experienced students, who can complete a lesson each day, would finish in approximately one year!
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Q. Why do public schools need 2 full years to cover Algebra?

A. Traditional Algebra 1 classes attempt to cover most of Algebra in the first year, but the methods that they use and the speed they attempt to maintain keeps students from really understanding the material. Instead, students just attempt to memorize rules, formulas, tricks, and shortcuts. By the time they get to the Algebra 2 course, (sometimes after they are given a Geometry course), they have forgotten almost all of the Algebra that they memorized, so the Algebra 2 course must then repeat most of the Algebra 1 course. In fact, it usually repeats some of the PRE-Algebra course as well! This is called the “spiral method” of learning math, and it is not very effective in helping students to excel, or to retain what they have learned.
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Q. If you aren’t using the spiral method of learning, what do you use?

A. We employ the “mastery method of learning”, which ensures that students master a particular concept before going on to the next. Concepts are divided into small “bite sized” chunks of information, and students are able to understand much more efficiently, how and why a particular procedure works. Additionally, there is a “building” approach which takes the information we just learned and uses it in the lessons which follow. This virtually eliminates the need for repeating previously covered lessons.
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Q. How many problems does the student complete in each lesson?

A. Typically, we have 15-25 problems per lesson, and we recommend that the student only do half of those, working the odd or even set. Sometimes parents wonder if 10-12 problems are enough. Our philosophy is that the rote memorization and repetition that may have seemed to be so effective in the early arithmetic years, is now exactly the opposite of the strategy we should be using in higher level math. Now we want to focus on understanding the “why” behind each procedure, so we have fewer problems, but we require students to show every step on each of those problems. By doing this, if students miss a problem, they can look in the Solutions Manual and determine exactly where their thinking went wrong. In fact, it is even more beneficial if they are then required to explain their mistakes.
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Q. What do you do when a student completes a lesson but fails to understand the concept that was taught?

A. First of all, please understand that we do not consider that a student has completed a lesson until the concept has been taught.  In fact, students very seldom complete the exercises successfully if they have not learned the concept.  That being said, we recommend first doing just the odd or even set of problems, checking in the solutions manual after every two or three problems to ensure that the student is “on track.” If the student misses any of these daily problems, it is that student’s job to compare his or her work to the Solutions Manual and be able to explain where the mistake was made, and what is needed to correct it. Then, on the next day, a short quiz is taken, generally occurring after every 1 or 2 lessons. If a deficiency is recognized, the student can return to watch the short video again, work the other set of problems, and take the second version of the quiz. Of course, you should feel free at any time to give us a call on the toll-free help line, and let an instructor give you some assistance.
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Q. Do you have extra problems available if a student additional practice?

A. We now have an extra exercise set for every lesson, and those are posted on our website under the heading “Extra Practice Problems”. You simply choose the lesson you prefer, and you will be able to print out a page of exercises, and a page of answers.  Please understand that the term “Extra Practice” implies that the student already understands, and has reasonably mastered the concept, and just wants (or needs) some extra practice.  These are not exercises designed to “fix a problem”, or “clear up misunderstanding”.  They will, in fact, sometimes stretch the student’s understanding, by including a slight “twist” from the routine exercise.
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Q. What type of print material goes along with the video lessons?

A. The VideoText Learning System is more than just watching videos! The short lesson is filled with computer generated graphics, animation, and color sequencing, so that students learn the new concept quickly. However, we still need to have them demonstrate that understanding, so there are five more steps to ensure that they retain that knowledge. There is a Course Notes booklet, to which students can refer, if they need a quick refresher on the actual concept development from the video lesson.  Then there is a Student WorkText, which provides, for each lesson, a re-statement of the lesson objective, a re-listing, and description, of the important terms used in the lesson, additional algebraic examples, worked out in detail, and a set of exercises, with which students can demonstrate their understanding of the concept.  Further, there is a detailed Solutions Manual, which spells out the step-by-step solution for every exercise in the WorkText.  Certainly, this can be used by the parent/instructor to check student answers, but, it should be understood that this manual is much more than an answer key.  It is a teaching tool, to be utilized by the student, to engage in error-analysis.  Students should be finding their own errors, and learning from that misstep in logic.  Next, the Progress Tests booklet provides Quizzes, which test the students’ knowledge of small amounts of material.  These are used on the day after a lesson is studied, and provide for a quick assessment of student understanding.  And, there are two versions of each quiz, in the event that students need to go back over a lesson, and again attempt to demonstrate their conceptual mastery.  Further, there are comprehensive Unit Tests, in the same format.  Finally, there is an Instructor’s Guide, which contains detailed solutions for all quiz and test answers, as well as additional parent helps for implementing the course successfully.  All in all, instead of trying to read through a textbook, hoping that any supporting videos help with confusion, the VideoText Interactive video lessons are the textbook, and all of the print supports the video lessons.
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Q. What about Geometry? Is it covered in this course?

A. No. This course is purely Algebra. We do use some geometric examples involving simple measurement, when teaching certain algebraic concepts, but we believe that a student should attempt a formal Geometry course only after finishing a complete Algebra course.
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Q. What do you recommend for Geometry?

A. We really feel that there is a significant lack of effective homeschool / independent study related material in this area, and we are rapidly working to complete our video-based Geometry course (including Trigonometry). Modules A, B, C, D, and E of our new Geometry program are now available for purchase, and Module F will be released in 2013. (Read Geometry FAQ’s here.) When this program is finished, we assure you it will exhibit the same high quality and support, which is the benchmark of the VideoText Interactive educational programs.  That means we simply must take the necessary time to ensure quality. We encourage you to regularly check back at our “Latest News” section to get an update on our progress.  Also, if you have not given us your email address (the primary way we will inform you of program developments), send an email to customercare@videotext.com and give us that information. We will enter it in our database for future reference. (Rest assured we do NOT give those addresses to anyone else. We use them only to communicate with you.)

In the meantime, we do recommend completing the entire Algebra program (normally considered as Algebra 1 and Algebra 2) before beginning any Geometry course. If you are just looking to get a student READY for Geometry, you might look at Key Curriculum’s “Keys to Geometry.” This is not a formal Geometry course, but it does introduce most of the terms and concepts found in Geometry. Later, this allows the student to concentrate on the logic building skills that are introduced in a formal course.
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Q. What do you recommend using BEFORE VideoText?

A. There are, in fact, so many elementary programs available to homeschoolers, that no one can confidently make a universal recommendation in response to this question. The mix includes commercially-developed programs that are designed to be used in classroom situations, as well as adaptations which are formatted for use in individualized settings and independent study programs. Of course, there are also programs specifically developed for use by homeschooling families, several of which are, in fact, authored by homeschooling families themselves. We really believe this broad spectrum of perspectives and strategies is appropriate, because we all understand that every student learns in his or her own unique way.

With all of that being said, it is generally agreed that, in the “primary” levels (grades K-3), students must have the “hands-on” experience exploring the basic concepts of arithmetic. That means you will have to be personally and regularly involved with your student, exploring and discovering the concepts together, through the use of manipulatives and visuals.

In the “intermediate” levels (grades 4-6), you will begin to see more noticeable differences in arithmetic instruction. The tendency is to develop more sophisticated algorithms (mechanical, step-by-step procedures), and to rely less on a thorough investigation of the conceptual underpinnings. This certainly is not “terminal” with regard to student understanding, but it is, at this time, more common to see student frustration emerging because the “why” questions are not being answered completely.

Programs that we are acquainted with, which have, as their basis, a focus on concept-development, include RightStart™ Mathematics (by Dr. Joan A. Cotter), Math-U-See (by Steve Demme), and Making Math Meaningful (by David Quine). We have also heard good things about Moving With Math, Everyday Math, and Singapore Math. We are certainly not indicating that this list is exhaustive, or that any particular program will work better with your family, but the focus in these programs seems to be in the direction of discovery, analytical reasoning, and the development of critical thinking skills. The decision is still up to you to find the right match for your student.
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Q. Do you use graphing calculators in your course?

A. Our main goal in Algebra is to help students develop analytical thinking skills. The reason we have such an emphasis in our program on having students work out every step to each problem is precisely to develop these skills. We know that in many of the program’s earlier exercises, students can actually work problems mentally, faster than using the prescribed analysis procedure. However, if we condoned this, we would be robbing students of the exercise that will make the brain stronger. (And, additionally, three months later, when they arrive at problems that are too difficult to complete mentally, they will have no recognizable strategy for solving the problem, at least not in an efficient way.)

So what does this have to do with graphing calculators? Throughout our course we avoid rules, shortcuts, tricks, formulas, and tools like calculators. If we use these things to derive the answers to exercises, we actually shortcut the “exercise-of-the-brain” process and hinder the development of intellectual strength.  We know that students may eventually be required to use the graphing calculator, but if they really understand the concepts, they will have the ability to read a user’s guide for any brand of calculator, and easily learn how to operate it to do the things electronically that they have become logically proficient at, mentally. We hope this gives you a sense of the philosophy behind our course. Our goal is NOT necessarily to develop students into great Algebra problem solvers, even though that will happen with our course. Our true goal is to develop them into great thinkers, so that they can improve in all areas of their life! Of course, students may still want to learn how to operate a graphing calculator, but we would not recommend allowing them to use one in the actual course until they can prove to you that they don’t really need one to do their work.

We feel you will understand where and when it is acceptable to allow calculator use. A more basic calculator is acceptable for use in the Algebra program and a graphing calculator will be acceptable as you progress deeper into the Geometry program. However, you may just buy a graphing calculator and use its different features as you progress. We would certainly recommend one that uses algebraic logic (not one that uses RPN, or Reverse Polish Notation), simply because the way we “say” things in math will be the way you input the calculator.

Other than that, be sure it has some “radical and root” capabilities, buttons for future Trigonometric functions, and possibly one that will visually display graphs. In addition, a graphing calculator will be very helpful on the SATs, as it will help greatly with the time constraints, but we must make sure a student understands conceptually before letting them use this helpful tool.
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Q. Do I own the program when I am finished with it?

A. Yes, the program is yours to keep as long as you like, and then resell it, or give it away, at your discretion.
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Q. Can I use this with multiple students within my home?

A. Yes! The program is not consumable.  You do not need to write in any of the books, (they are not workbooks), and exercises are normally completed on regular notebook paper. Of course, we give you permission to make unlimited copies of the print, for use within your own home, if desired. If you do wish to have additional booklets, they can be purchased separately.  Just check our ordering page for current pricing.
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Q. Do you plan to produce a DVD format?

A. The  DVD format is now available.
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Q. What is the difference between the various editions of the VideoText Interactive Algebra program?

A. There is no difference in the video content of any of the editions, and all of the print components are compatible. However, in 2003, VideoText introduced a new larger Module binder that holds all of the lesson tapes AND all of the print material, Also added were Student Progress Checklists (available free at our website) that help parents keep track of exactly what lessons their students have completed. Further, we also developed additional practice problems for students to use for reinforcement, if needed (also available free at our website). And lastly, we now have a new gray Instructor’s Guide with Detailed Solutions to all quizzes and tests.

If you have an earlier version of the program, you may have only a pink Instructor’s Guide with tests and simple answers. If that is the case, you may want to order just the new Instructor’s Guides. They will fit right in with your earlier program, and provide valuable assistance with grading quizzes and tests.
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Q. Do you have discounts for homeschoolers and independent learners?

A. Yes! Check the ordering section of our website for current pricing.

You can purchase individual Modules, one at a time, or buy packages, but people generally start with just Module A. Then, anytime during the first 30 days, you can call us and ask to apply what you paid for Module A, to either the 3-Module or the 6-Module package. You just pay the difference, and we send you the rest of the package!
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Q. Do you charge for shipping?  Do you collect sales tax?

A. We do have a shipping-and-handling charge on all mail orders. Also, at conventions, we are required to collect sales tax, but, of course, there would be no shipping charges, since you take Module A with you.  As well, because we are based in Indiana, we are required to collect sales tax on orders from Indiana customers.  However, at this time, we are not required to collect sales tax on orders from other states.
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Q. Do you have a guarantee?

A. Yes! In fact, we have TWO guarantees! First, you can order the VideoText Module A and try it out in your own home! If, for any reason, you are not 100% satisfied with Module A, simply call us within 30 days for a complete refund of your purchase price. Secondly, once you see the effectiveness of the VideoText program with your students, we know you’ll want to get the complete program. So, to make it even more affordable, we will also guarantee that you may apply your payment for Module A to the special package price on either the 3-Module or 6-Module Package. Again, simply call us within 30 days of your purchase and tell us to send the rest of the program. You’ll only be billed for the difference between your original payment for Module A and the special package price! Click here to see our complete guarantee details. 
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Q. How can I get a FREE video sampler?

A. You can view the sampler videos on our website and even sample our online program by visiting videotextonline.com and signing in as a guest. However, if you have slower internet speed and would like to request a Sampler DVD to view, just click here to order your FREE Sampler DVD.
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Q. If we have a problem, can we get help by email?

A. Since a conversation is usually needed to efficiently help a student with a problem, VideoText offers users an unlimited, toll-free help-line, for original purchasers of the program. Our instructors, at 1-800-ALGEBRA, really can help you with any problem, so don’t hesitate to call anytime that you encounter difficulty. We generally do not handle help requests by email, since we have found that it is much more productive to speak directly with the student and/or the parent.

Please feel free to call the help-line anytime, and, if you are answered by voice mail, leave a message that gives the best time to call you back. Also, if you don’t understand an explanation, or if you hang up and then get lost again, don’t hesitate to try again. We are here to help you!
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Q. Can I use the help-line if I purchased my program used?

A. The unlimited, toll-free help-line is for the original purchaser of the VideoText program.  If you have purchased a used program, and would like to have help-line access, you can purchase a help-line registration on our Help-Line Information Page for just $99.  This registration will provide access for your entire family for as long as you own the VideoText program.
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Q. We just started using VideoText, and I am not sure we are using it correctly.   What is the “VideoText Interactive 5-step Learning Method”?

A. One of the most effective parts of the VideoText program is our 5-step method of learning. To give you a brief overview, on every lesson your student should complete the following 5 steps:

1. Watch the video.
2. Look over the Course Notes.
3. Read the WorkText & work the odd or even exercises, showing EVERY step of the process on notebook paper. These daily exercises are completed in “open-book” fashion, using any reference available to the student.
4. Check those answers, and solutions, with the Solutions Manual.
5. When you feel ready, (but no sooner than the next day), take the short Quiz, and check it against the solutions in the Instructor’s Guide. 

Understand, each Quiz is a “gatekeeper” that tells you whether you really understand the concept, and if you are ready to move on, to the next lesson.  Your student may get 90% on several Quizzes in a row, and then suddenly get a 50%. That is the beauty of the process of testing on small amounts of content. It isolates and pinpoints any area that causes the student a problem, and allows us to reinforce the reasoning skills for that individual concept before moving on.

We generally recommend STARTING the day with the quiz on the material from the previous day, and then moving on to the next lesson. This will ensure that the concept has been retained, instead of just having been memorized for a few minutes. However, depending on your student, you may want to give one version of the quiz the same day, possibly as an immediate review, or as a pre-test, in anticipation of the Quiz for the next day.

If a problem shows up on the Quiz, just repeat the same 5-step process the next day. If there is STILL a problem, just stop completely and have the student call the help line at 1-800-ALGEBRA. Just remember that, in no case should you wait until everyone is completely frustrated before you call for help. We will help your student to quickly get back on track.

Also, don’t miss the important Training Session on Teaching Disk #1! It is a training session for both you AND the student to watch together. It explains in further detail how to use the program effectively.
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Q. Where will my students use Algebra in real life?

A. The surprising answer to this question is that we really DON’T use a lot of Algebra in our everyday lives!  How many people can you find (engineers and other technical experts excluded) who factor polynomials during their workday? So, then, the real question is “WHY are we teaching Algebra?”

Our belief is that the real value in studying Algebra is that, if it is taught correctly, it can be one of the most beneficial exercises available to the teenager’s brain, to help that brain to develop real analytical, problem-solving skills! They will then use those critical-thinking skills in all other areas of their lives. So we are really just USING this subject, called Algebra, to improve the way they think. (Of course, along the way, they usually become GREAT at Algebra too!)
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Q. My student has already completed a different Algebra 1 course. Will we have to start over with VideoText?

A. It is essential that you start at the beginning.  However, since your student has already had some Algebra, it is very probable that he or she will be able to move faster.  But don’t panic.  This may not be as bad as it sounds. Why? Because any other Algebra 2 course that you examine, will go virtually all of the way back to the beginning of Algebra 1 anyway, and spend approximately 50% of the year reviewing old procedures. So in either case, your student would be “starting over.” However, with VideoText, your student will also be learning the “WHY” behind those procedures, and that will really enhance the understanding of the more complex concepts later on.

Of course, if your student was reasonably successful in their previous Algebra course, maintaining a one-lesson-per-day pace will still get you through the entire course in one school year.  That means no time will be lost by starting over.  In fact, the revisiting of all of those concepts will be of great benefit in filling in any gaps or holes in the student’s overall understanding.
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Q. How do I assign a grade to my student’s work?

A. We are all familiar with the elementary arithmetic test in which there were exactly 100 problems.  Grading this test seemed very easy.  100 problems are equal to 100 points, which is equal to 100%.  So, the student either got the problem correct, or got the problem wrong.  In other words, the student got full credit, or no credit.  Of course, some tests had only 50 problems (conveniently worth 2 points apiece), or 25 problems (4 points apiece), or some other number of problems compatible with the number 100.  And then there were the tests with 33 problems (just ignore the extra point), or, even worse, some number of problems such as 23.  In every case, the grading procedure was based on 100%, and seldom was any partial credit given (except for the teacher who took the extra time)

This approach to grading was, to say the least, simplistic, and didn’t really tell us anything about the student’s understanding.  We never knew if the student just made a careless mistake or didn’t understand the concept. Using this strategy may accommodate our needs at the elementary level, though I suspect none of us are entirely comfortable with it.  It is, at best, inefficient and inappropriate at the “mathematical” level.

So what do we do in an Algebra or Geometry course, where the primary emphasis must be on conceptual understanding?  We simply must take the extra time to assess whether the student “gets it”, and award credit for the demonstration of that understanding.  For example, here is a typical scenario.  A particular Algebra test contains 30 problems to solve.  Simply let every problem be worth 10 points, giving a total of 300 points for the test.  Your responsibility, as the teaching parent, is to mark problems right or wrong.  Let’s say the student misses 10 problems.  The initial score, then, is 200 out of 300 points, or 67%.  Not too promising, right?  But we don’t know why the student missed the problem.  It is now the student’s responsibility to analyze the problems missed, using the Instructor’s Guide, and explain to you why the answer was incorrect.  I can assure you that the student either made a careless mistake (you already know that is the reason most mistakes are made), or there is a gap in the student’s conceptual understanding.  So suppose your student says to you, “Mom, I can’t believe what I did here.  It says 3 times 2, and I added.”  That will certainly wreak havoc on an Algebra problem.  But you can tell it wasn’t a conceptual issue.  It was carelessness.  Give the student 8 points back on that problem!

Yes, there must be consequences for inaccuracy, but in an Algebra course, it shouldn’t be devastating.  I think we would all agree that we can live with a few careless mistakes if we can be assured that the student’s understanding is sound.  Of course, you will continue to emphasize being meticulous (the ACT and SAT tests are coming), but we also need to remember what our focus must be, relative to the intellectual development of our students.

Using this strategy will give you a much clearer picture of the student’s achievement.  And please understand, there is no magic formula for determining how much to let each problem be worth, or to decide how many points to “give back” to the student.  Just be fair, and keep your standards where you think they should be.  By the way, it is not unusual for that student who started with a 67% raw score to end up with something closer to 80% after error-analysis.  That may still not satisfy you but, at least, it is more encouraging to your student.

One further suggestion:  Be sure to utilize the VideoText Interactive progress checklists to keep track of grades.  You will find downloadable PDFs for each unit, in the Support section of our website. 
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Q. Is there enough practice and review in the VideoText Interactive Algebra program?

A. There always seems to be a fear that “we’re not doing enough practice”. The simple fact is, you can’t really practice Algebra. It is generally accepted that you can practice Arithmetic (from the Greek “arithmos”, meaning “number”), because it consists primarily of algorithms and procedures.  Algebra, however, is concerned more with mathematics (from the Greek, “mathematikos” meaning “fond of learning”). You must internalize “concepts”, which can be applied to a multitude of situations. We have, by the way, prepared extra sets of problems for every lesson in the program, and they are being made available, free of charge, on our website. Hopefully, that will alleviate some fears, and allow for more reinforcement. But how many “practice” problems would be enough? The more important distinction in a student’s work is whether careless mistakes are being made, or concepts are not being understood.

We will admit openly to you that we purposefully put problems in each exercise set that “don’t look like the examples”. We will assure you, however, that the same concept you learned through examining “familiar” problems, will be used to do the “unfamiliar” problems. It is essential that students have this experience. Let us explain.

Years ago, VideoText author Tom Clark was a member of the College Board, the organization that oversees the preparation of the SATs. Tom says, “When problems were submitted for consideration for a new SAT test, the instructions were very clear. ‘Please be sure no student has ever seen this problem before.’ That is the way those tests are designed. So, when a student finishes the test, and leaves the room with a glazed-over, deer-in-the-headlights look, saying, ‘I didn’t recognize a lot of that stuff,’ we knew we did our job.”

You see, SAT stands for “Scholastic Aptitude Test”. It is not a test of your “knowledge of things”. It is a test designed to see if you are able to “apply” simple algebraic and geometric concepts to new situations. We want students to start thinking that way as soon as possible. Again, just use the help-line or the solutions manual to confirm the application.

By the way, just for the record, in the VideoText program there have always been quizzes, unit tests, and cumulative reviews, 2 versions of each. (Please note that cumulative reviews are available at the end of Units II, III, IV, VI, VIII, and X.) That affords several options for reinforcement and retesting. Many people tell us that we have the most extensive testing and review program there is.

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Q.  How are the SAT and PSAT scored?

A.  A raw PSAT score is calculated the same way as a raw SAT score.  For each section (verbal, math, or writing skills), you get one point for a correct answer, but you lose 1/4 of a point for an incorrect regular multiple-choice answer.  In the math section, you lose 1/3 of a point for each incorrect quantitative comparison answer.  There is no penalty for incorrectly answering a grid-in.  There is also no penalty for skipped questions.

The first difference between the scoring of the tests comes in the scaled score. On the PSAT, scaled scores range from 20 to 80 (not 200 to 800, as on the SAT). Luckily, verbal and math PSAT scaled scores directly correspond to SAT scaled scores. For example, a combined math and verbal PSAT score of 110 means the same thing as a 1100 on the SAT. To use your PSAT as a gauge of what you might score on the SAT, just take your math and verbal scores, add them together, and multiply them by ten.

For each of your scaled scores, you will also receive a percentile that tells you where your score stands in comparison to the national average. This score can be important, since it is probably the first time that you’ve been ranked against most other students nationwide in your age group.

If you need more details, or clarification on any of these points, go to the site below.  There, you will also find strategies, tips, and other important considerations for taking the PSAT and the SAT.

www.math.com/students/kaplan/sat_intro/scoring.htm

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Q. How much time should my student be allowed to take quizzes and tests?

A. We do not really have a prescribed amount of time for each test. VideoText focuses heavily on developing understanding, so if the student takes a little longer than normal, but really understands that particular concept, we are pleased with the result. Speed with that particular concept will usually come in later lessons, as we continue to use the concept while learning something new.

Practically speaking, however, we would say that a daily quiz usually averages 10-20 minutes, while a Unit Test or Cumulative Test might take 1-2 hours, and may even be divided over 2 days.

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Q. What is the difference between the Assessments and the Reviews?

A. The Comprehensive Assessments (there are three of them) can be considered as final exams for Pre-Algebra (end of Unit III), Algebra 1 (end of Unit VIII), and Algebra 2 (end of Unit X). Generally, the only one that is necessary is the one for Algebra 2, as it validates all credits. However, most choose to give all of them, just to be sure to do everything.

Cumulative Reviews are just that — reviews which hit the “main points” of all the material up to that point. They are not essential at all, except for some situations where the student has had a significant interruption (summer vacation, illness, family matters, etc.) and needs to get the “gears” going again. They are not to be tests — just reviews.

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Q. How do I assign a grade to my student’s work?

A. We are all familiar with the elementary arithmetic test in which there were exactly 100 problems. Grading this test seemed very easy. 100 problems are equal to 100 points, which is equal to 100%. So, the student either got the problem correct, or got the problem wrong. In other words, the student got full credit, or no credit. Of course, some tests had only 50 problems (conveniently worth 2 points apiece), or 25 problems (4 points apiece), or some other number of problems compatible with the number 100. And then there were the tests with 33 problems (just ignore the extra point), or, even worse, some number of problems such as 23. In every case, the grading procedure was based on 100%, and seldom was any partial credit given (except for the teacher who took the extra time)

This approach to grading was, to say the least, simplistic, and didn’t really tell us anything about the student’s understanding. We never knew if the student just made a careless mistake or didn’t understand the concept. Using this strategy may accommodate our needs at the elementary level, though I suspect none of us are entirely comfortable with it. It is, at best, inefficient and inappropriate at the “mathematical” level.

So what do we do in an Algebra or Geometry course, where the primary emphasis must be on conceptual understanding? We simply must take the extra time to assess whether the student “gets it”, and award credit for the demonstration of that understanding. For example, here is a typical scenario. A particular Algebra test contains 30 problems to solve. Simply let every problem be worth 10 points, giving a total of 300 points for the test. Your responsibility, as the teaching parent, is to mark problems right or wrong. Let’s say the student misses 10 problems. The initial score, then, is 200 out of 300 points, or 67%. Not too promising, right? But we don’t know why the student missed the problem. It is now the student’s responsibility to analyze the problems missed, using the Instructor’s Guide, and explain to you why the answer was incorrect. I can assure you that the student either made a careless mistake (you already know that is the reason most mistakes are made), or there is a gap in the student’s conceptual understanding. So suppose your student says to you, “Mom, I can’t believe what I did here. It says 3 times 2, and I added.” That will certainly wreak havoc on an Algebra problem. But you can tell it wasn’t a conceptual issue. It was carelessness. Give the student 8 points back on that problem!

Yes, there must be consequences for inaccuracy, but in an Algebra course, it shouldn’t be devastating. I think we would all agree that we can live with a few careless mistakes if we can be assured that the student’s understanding is sound. Of course, you will continue to emphasize being meticulous (the ACT and SAT tests are coming), but we also need to remember what our focus must be, relative to the intellectual development of our students.

Using this strategy will give you a much clearer picture of the student’s achievement. And please understand, there is no magic formula for determining how much to let each problem be worth, or to decide how many points to “give back” to the student. Just be fair, and keep your standards where you think they should be. By the way, it is not unusual for that student who started with a 67% raw score to end up with something closer to 80% after error-analysis. That may still not satisfy you but, at least, it is more encouraging to your student.

One further suggestion: Be sure to utilize the VideoText Interactive progress checklists to keep track of grades. You will find downloadable PDFs for each unit, in the Support section of our website.

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Q. How do I implement Grade Weighting with my student’s grades?

A. As a general rule, Tom Clark doesn’t like to give users a specific formula for anything having to do with grades. There is a lot of variation out there as far as how parents look at “grading” and we want to make sure that you “feel out” the best way to grade that works for you.

However, if he were teaching the course, in a classroom setting, he would simply give a “daily work” grade for 25%, a “quiz” grade for 25%, and a “Unit Test” grade for 50%. There could be some “massaging” along the way, but that would be the premise. The daily work would be assessed on the basis of the percent of problems completed, analyzed for errors, and corrected. Generally, in a homeschool setting, that would regularly be a “grade” of 100% for an entire unit. All of the work would have been completed. (Homeschoolers would accept no less.) That would be 25% of the Unit grade. The quizzes would be assessed using the approach given in the FAQ question below about grading problems. When a unit is finished, all of those quizzes would be averaged and that would be one more 25% component of the Unit grade. The “Unit Test” would be worth 50% since this could possibly be the 5th time the student would be encountering the concepts, and we should expect the student to be much more masterful at applying those concepts. In fact, the student should look at the Unit Test as a great opportunity to “improve” their Unit grade, since the material should be so familiar. It is a lot of material, however. So studying for it may seem overwhelming. To accomplish that, the student should take Form A of the Unit Test, and take it cold, without any preparation. Grade it as you would a regular Unit Test, and use the Instructor’s Guide to correct those problems that were missed, creating a study-guide to efficiently prepare the student to take Form B, “for real”. Of course, if the student does a masterful job on Form A, go ahead and count it.

This approach generates a record of the students work, “by Units”, and allows the parent to compile grades for Pre-Algebra (Units I and II), Algebra I (Units I through VIII), and Algebra II (Units II through X). Yes, some units will be used more than once, but this aligns the work more closely to the scope and sequence accepted by the traditional Public School community.

Remember though, this is just one example. You may find that a different grade weighting works better for your purposes.

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