ALEKS investigation

Posted on December 16, 2013


  I am pretending to be a student in ALEKS who needs a *lot* of explaining. I’m finding things that I like — sometimes, the “further explanation” does a good job of adding one element and not making things even more complicated.   So, if you’re confused by identifying place values, the “more” adds the names of the place values to the chart and takes away extraneous text.  

   I’m finding some simply curious choices, though.   In the addition and subtraction word problems, students have to determine which operation to use and then do it.  The word problems are of a small number of scenarios — miles ridden on the bicycle this year and last, beads and baseball cards acquired… and happily each scenario could be subtraction *or* addition, so students can’t just see “beads” and know which operation is prescribed. 

    On the other hand, regardless of whether it’s an addition or a subtraction problem, if you click on “explain,” you are told which one it is (but not why), and for the “more explanation” you are told to click on “difference” — no matter which one it was.   I could see linking to both sum and difference all the time…   and, no surprise, at no point are you given one raw clue as to strategies for figuring out whether to add or subtract. 

    The “multiplication” is similar.   I like the granular breakdown.   The first multidigit problems have some carrying when you add the different rows, but not in the actual multiplying. 

    However, the next piece of pie is about multiplying with trailing zeroes (e.g. 992 x 200) — yes, notice that suddenly we have to deal with that.  The explanation has a nice picture of the multiplication as it would look handwritten, with the cute little “ones” being carried — but no explanation of where that comes from.  

    (Duly granting here that, in fact, most folks really just need the reminder and actually do have some clue.  Still: why not have a “click here for more” about that?) 

    You’re told to put the number with the trailing zeroes at the bottom, which is useful (but not why).  

   A real curiosity:   next to the row-saving stick-the-zeroes-in strategy we see “why does this work?”  which, when clicked on, gives us an explanation of the distributive property as it applies to that problem.   Sweet!   Up in the corner, though, is the “you might want to know more about the associative property,” which gets to a full page about how that works in addition and mutliplication with your a and be and x and y.  

   Except…  I’m having to work pretty hard figuring out how we’re using the associative property here.   I’m sure it’s tucked in there — or is it?   When am I adding or multiplying three or more things and counting on being able to shift them so they’re equal?  *Perhaps* “carrying” in the adding part… 

     Which all has me thinking that this is like a computer language and it’s good to be working on the next point 0 or the this point next.  Are they doing this at ALEKS land? A piece of pie further and I shall mess with Flash myself… 


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