Tuesday, May 19, 2015


For the last few months, I've been tutoring a smart--but very behind in math--teenage boy with ADHD. By the end of his geometry class, he was fairly confidently using the formulas he'd been learning and had improved a lot in his testing. Then the second semester came, and his class began precalculus. Thus far, it's been all algebra (albeit at a precalculus level), and he is abysmal at algebra.

Thanks to ADHD and being promoted in math for years without really being forced to get his algebra (or even sometimes arithmetic) foundations solid, he's been like a person forced to do a triathlon who still just doggy-paddles. Yes, sometimes he gets through the water, but it's only with incredible effort, and sometimes, despite lots of effort, he just goes under.

Until I proved to him a few months ago why two negatives make a positive, he didn't believe it and certainly didn't apply it correctly. Yet he is supposed to be doing long division of polynomials. Sigh. At least his multiplication facts are solid; otherwise, I'd despair. He mastered those through the video game Timez Attack.

Now that school is almost out, I've got him working independently on algebra basics for the next month. I found several algebra programs online that looked promising--interesting videos and visuals, interactive problem sets, etc.--and tested them on him one afternoon. Without fail, he spaced out during all the videos. The only program that forced him to pay attention and learn something is a free, downloadable one called "xyAlgebra." It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is a great program. A retired professor created it and gives it away for free. While one needs a computer to use it, one doesn't need the internet, which means no YouTube/FB/email distractions for the user. Very good for kids with attention issues! It gets good reviews from others who've tried it, and I found myself "trying it out" for nearly 2 hours the night I downloaded it. It's a solid, engaging (because it goes nowhere till you hit the right buttons, and the "right buttons" change) program.

Yesterday, I had the tutee start working on it at my house to make sure that he didn't have any problems with it. I let him listen to music of his choice while he worked, and he made it through the first 20 lessons (out of 375 total) in an hour. I have high hopes that this will be the tool that helps him finally lay down a solid foundation in algebra. He's supposed to do 20 lessons a day, so we'll see where he is in a month. And if the learning sticks.

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