Algebra is one of those subjects that often strikes terror in the hearts of homeschooling parents and their kids! I took advanced math classes through calculus in high school and a couple of math classes in college, yet when I look over my son's algebra textbook, it may as well be written in Greek for all I remember. That's why I was very excited to take a look at Algebrator 4.0 ($74.99 through their website, www.softmath.com) which is a very exciting new program to help us mere mortals deal with the intricacies of algebra and beyond. Algebrator is a teaching, reviewing, tutoring, and helping program all rolled up into one great product. It covers from pre-algebra through college algebra, including linear algebra and basic geometry and trigonometry.
In its simplest form, Algebrator allows the student to easily type in even complex problems, and it then provides several options for solving the problem. The student can see the entire problem solved at once to gain an overview of the process. Or he can solve the problem step-by-step with an explanation to help identify problem areas or work through the problem in more detail. Or he can use the program to check his work to make sure he is solving the problems correctly. Algebrator can even graph a difficult problem to help the student visualize what is happening with the formula. A help function includes a variety of common formulas with the ability to enter the data directly into the formula. There are also a number of helpful animated demos (tutorials) and wizards so students can review a particular topic and sample problems to test their new skills. One of my favorite features is the transformation option, which allows the student to tell the software to perform certain types of transformations as the next step, which helps the student think through and test the steps of solving a problem. Each problem is kept on a separate "sheet" that looks like a sheet of paper and acts like a tab in Excel, which can be saved and printed individually or in groups.
There's a lot to love about Algebrator! The program is very intuitive, easy to use, extremely powerful, helpful and even fun. The excellent help functions enable students to make the most of the capabilities. We really liked the ability to use the program in different ways depending on the needs for various types of problems. The level of options is impressive, even down to the level of steps the program will show, from every tiny step to just showing the answer. The only challenges we found were that sometimes the program solved a problem in a different way than our son's textbook, which was sometimes confusing, and a few of the explanations were a bit complicated and technical. Obviously, a student could potentially use Algebrator to "do" his homework for him, but an astute parent would quickly pick up on this, so I don't see that as a significant issue.
We found Algebrator to be an excellent supplement for a wide variety of algebra topics. While it is not intended to be a stand-alone algebra tutorial, it would be a wonderful tool for any student who is tackling algebra and somewhat beyond. But perhaps the most impressive feature is the amount of power and options that are packed into such an easy-to-use program!