Algebra I: A Fresh Approach Worktext and Solutions Guide
By Christy Walters
A+ Education Services www.aplusses.com
505 Corporate Center Drive, Suite 103
Stockbridge, GA 30281
Let me begin my review of Algebra I: A Fresh Approach by saying I am your average homeschooling mom. In high school I did poorly in algebra, but in college (10 years later) I loved it and did very well. What changed? Maybe it was maturity, maybe the text, or maybe the teacher. I suspect it was a combination of all three. Now fast forward 16 years, and I have two teenagers studying algebra and geometry. While one loves it, the other struggles with it. Three years ago when Katie was in Pre-Algebra, I looked at all the available algebra curriculums, and after a thorough review chose VideoText. We had eight years of Saxon under our belts and were ready for a change. Katie did well with VideoText, and despite its high price I recommended it to all my homeschooling contacts.
This said, what do I think about Christy Walter's Algebra I? She has written a worktext that has stiff competition from big players with a lot of money available for glitzy advertisements. Her first book covers traditional Algebra I material in 20 chapters (see the Table of Contents at www.aplusses.com/sample/AlgITOC.pdf). Available in both hardcover and softcover, it is an affordable algebra option. Because it is consumable, some families will pass it by without a second look. Their loss. While I do prefer curriculums that can be passed down, some gems are to be found in the worktext arena. The worktext pages are printed on 60-pound paper (standard copy paper is 20-pound), and the paperback cover is 100-pound cover stock. This is a worktext that will hold up to daily use without falling apart.
I spent an hour talking with the author at our state homeschooling conference, plus we have exchanged several e-mails. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Agnes Scott College in three years with a major in mathematics. She held several teaching jobs but always loved tutoring students one-on-one (which she started doing in high school). Currently she spends 40 hours a week helping students learn and understand high school math and science. It was through this work that she decided to write her Algebra books because she could not find a text that had sufficient explanations. When I asked Ms. Walters what she saw as the biggest obstacle to students understanding Algebra, she answered, "Teachers who have too many distractions in the classroom and parents who are afraid of Algebra." Ms. Walters also sees a lot of students struggle with the basics such as adding and subtracting integers (discussed in chapter 1), fractions (also discussed in chapter 1), and combining like terms (discussed in chapter 2). If students do not understand these basics, they have a very difficult time understanding the rest of Algebra. Ms. Walters spent 15 minutes tutoring my daughter Melissa on an area she was struggling with in VideoText. Melissa enjoyed her explanations and walked away from the booth telling me how nice she was. As I looked over Algebra I: A Fresh Approach, I could read this friendliness in her explanations.
Each chapter in Algebra I contains between four and seven parts (units) with 103 to 172 questions. There are 109 parts in the complete book. After chapter 1, all chapters end with a mixed review of previous concepts. The author can send you tests if you would like them. At the end of the book you will find answers to the odd problems. A separate solutions manual is available for purchase with answers to even questions.
A typical day's lesson would be one part of a chapter. Each parent/student should feel free to move faster or slower as she thinks necessary. The author recommends spending less time on the first few chapters and more time on the later chapters. Plan to spend 30-60 minutes each day on math. Problems get harder as students progress through each section. If your student finishes the book in less than a year, award 1 credit for Algebra I, because he has learned a full year's worth of math. Since the last five to six problems in each section are more difficult, parents can call the class an "honors class" if students do all these problems.
Algebra I: A Fresh Approach is a well thought-out algebra course. Most students will enjoy Ms. Walter's friendly tone and to-the-point instructions. I can't think of anything I would add to the program. If I could change anything, it would be to include answers to all problems in the solutions manual. It was tiresome to go from the worktext page to the back of the book and then to the solutions manual to correct every problem in a lesson. Ms. Walters is available via email for worktext support. Simple questions that require minimal time are free of charge, while more extensive questions will incur a $45 per hour fee. She plans to write a pre-algebra worktext once the solutions guide to Algebra II is completed (look for this in the fall of 2006). After that time she plans to write books for high school math up to and including calculus.
Product review by Tina Rice, Contributing Writer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, July 2006