Product Review of Algebra by Hand
Algebra by Hand is an interactive tool designed to improve algebraic proficiency. Account setup is intuitive and learners are easily added — one at a time — using each student’s email, first name, and last name. Teachers can manage student accounts, assign worksheets, and view progress. Although there are a few public worksheets ready to be assigned, educators have the option of creating their own. To create a worksheet, educators can employ a menu of options such as “cut and paste” as well as features to insert common mathematical notation (like quotients and exponents). Once the worksheet has been created, educators can also include an answer key where, using a drag-and-drop movement, a step-by-step process is laid out. The drag-and-drop movements are unique to the program and, even after watching the tutorial provided, may take some time to master. The tutorial includes a list of five operations with up to six movements each, videos, and examples that users can practice with to be sure they’re ready to move on.
With their free accounts, learners have access to assignments and can perform the drag-and-drop moves to solve algebraic expressions and equations in a step-by-step format. Several help options are available if a student is stumped. Help ranges from “Tell me what to do,” which names the step to take; “Show me what to do,” which highlights the drag-and-drop motion needed to perform the operation; and “I give up, do it for me,” which completes a single step to help the student along. Notations of the used help options are made visible to both educators and learners.
Once worksheets have been assigned and completed, the program scores the work. If desired, a teacher can view specific worksheets with a class score sheet or view questions completed by individual learners. Student work is displayed with each step taken, and educators can measure proficiency with Common Core State Standards. A Basic Skill Report for each student outlines algebraic standards by grade level and displays a proficiency score.
Algebra by Hand completes needed calculations to ensure learners can focus on algebraic problem-solving. Teachers, however, don’t have to let good calculation practice slide. A student can be assigned to complete the work on the site and then describe how to solve an identical problem to their partner, who must correctly work the equation with accurate calculations.
Once basic algebraic concepts have been learned, educators can introduce a more complex equation for teams of learners to tackle. Students can set upon an algebraic “adventure,” as the program allows learners to attempt several different approaches to the equation (as long as steps are taken using the tools provided and the steps are mathematically sound). The result of these adventures can be several methods, which can then be displayed to encourage class analysis and mathematical discourse.
If your class loves games, why not use Algebra by Hand for a little competition? Split the class into teams and assign the same worksheet. Teams can earn points for solving complex equations using the fewest moves or can challenge other teams to complete equations in a fewer number of steps.
Teachers should assign work in Algebra by Hand only after concepts have been taught; it doesn’t teach algebraic concepts but allows learners the focused practice that solidifies those skills. Each problem begins with the answer displayed, so the focus isn’t on the answer, but instead on the process. Taking the calculations out of the equation allows learners to focus on the properties and procedures needed to solve complex problems. Because the program allows only accurate mathematical steps, learners cannot make a wrong move that would complicate the solution. With this freedom, they can see how an equation would change using various properties and feel confident they can always “undo” a step if they’ve reached a dead end. If a student has a creative solution and requests a hint, the program will take them back to the first step that diverged from the listed steps provided in the answer key. This may cause learners to feel they have been inaccurate in their work and may discourage creative problem-solving.
Drag-and-drop features are touchy on both desktop and touchscreen devices. Students may get frustrated easily, especially if they’re just learning to use the program. Although it’s helpful for educators to make their own worksheets, creating them takes a bit of time. More adaptable, premade worksheets would be helpful.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Simple graphics allow middle and high school learners to focus on the job at hand. A combination of both verbal and algebraic explanations will reach a variety of learners, but tools are fiddly and can cause frustration at first.
Curriculum and Instruction
Step-by-step solutions make the process the goal, not the answer. Teachers can view class scores and determine student proficiency with the Basic Skill Report and create individualized worksheets to differentiate learning.
Options include formatting to accommodate a visual impairment. Drag-and-drop directions are cumbersome, but the tutorial is thorough and explanations are clear. A help option embedded in the question would be useful.