Rocket Boy (my 10 year old son) and I spent the tail end of the summer reviewing Ubersmart Math Facts from UberSmart Software. UberSmart Math Facts is a computerized program for PC (no Mac version, sigh...) using the time-tested method of...flash cards. You know, those things we used to learn the math facts back when we were kids. Those little cards that our teachers made us review over and over (and over) actually worked. UberSmart Software took the concept of flash cards up a few notches and created what we think is a really great "get 'er done" program to develop a strong foundation in math skills. It is geared for K-6, but it could easily be used by anyone whose math skills need reinforcement.
Getting my son to work on math facts isn't something he's super crazy about, even during the school year. Getting my son to work on math facts when he thinks his brain is on summer vacation wasn't going to be easy. I was prepared to stoop to new lows in order to fire up that brain a little.
Before we even started this review, I "pre-prepped" Rocket Boy that this was basically just computerized flash cards and not a game or any kind of entertainment. I didn't want him to think I was buying him a new game for his arenal. I figured that if he started with low expectations for fun, he wouldn't be disappointed. But if he thought he was getting "MineCraft Math", we were going to have problems when he saw flash cards. We talked about the value of attaining instant recall before he moved on to higher math.
A little "Summer Bummer Bribery" ensued -- as in, 10 minutes of UberSmart earns you 10 minutes of Gaming Time. My son loves computer games. He would do nothing else if I let him, but I limit him severely. Because of the limits I put on his gaming time, he is always looking for ways to get more media in his life. This trade-off made his eyes light up and silenced the cries of, "You mean I have to do schoolwork? In the summer!?!" Now he wants to know how long he gets to do UberSmart.
He bought in to the work right from the beginning because he could see both long-term (instant recall) and short-term (game time) benefits. Attitude is everything. ;) Now he really likes the program. If he had started off with big expectations of being sucked in and totally absorbed by the amazing graphics and fun games, it would have been a big disappointment to him. But he started with realistic expectations and and understanding of the benefits, so he was pleasantly surprised by how much he liked it.
At first blush, this program looks like a no-bells-and-whistles flash card program. I honestly didn't think Rocket-Boy would even like it. But I was wrong. He really likes the whole program. I like knowing that math will be easier and faster for him in school this year.
So lets take a closer look at the program. For starters, while you will receive UberSmart Math Facts as a downloadable program, it is not an internet based online program and you don't need a subscription. Once you download it, it's on your hard drive. That means your child can use it even if you don't have an internet connection.
In the Learn mode, you will see the problem, say the answer, then hit "Show" to see if you were correct. After you have reviewed the problems (or whenever you are ready), you can move on to the Practicemode. In Practice mode, you see the same problems, but this time you enter the answers.
There is a keyboard entry "test"available in the practice mode. This does more than just build ten-key skills. This will also help you evaluate how many seconds you should give your child to complete the answers (which is automatically set to 4 seconds, but can be changed in the Maintain mode). Even if your kiddo is a math genius, it won't help him if he can't find the answer on the keyboard fast enough for your time setting.
You have the option of using dots or numbers. Although Rocket Boy really liked the number flash cards, he found the dots confusing. He had to stop and really look at them instead of just instantly recalling. They would be good for younger kids, though. That way they can really visualize what the numbers mean and what is happening in the math equation. I tried it with Pickle Mickle (3 yrs old), but she wasn't ready for it, yet. Maybe later.
The dots have a really cool feature to help young kids associate a real number count with the numeral. When you go into Learn mode to use the dot cards, you can choose "show numbers" in the settings. The dot cards will then show a faint number behind the dots. This would be great to help younger children cement the concept of the number with the number itself.
In the Test mode, there are two tests -- Assessment and Mastery. The Assessment Test covers a lot more than just the math facts (like counting, greater than/less than, odd and even, keyboard entry skills, math facts, etc.) I wasn't sure why all that was on the assessment test since the program is just about the math facts. We only skirted through that, since what we really needed was the math fact work. The Mastery Test was where my son spent most of his time. He really liked it. With the Mastery Test, you will actually take a test to prove mastery of the facts. You can choose addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. You can also choose to work on just one set of numbers (i.e. the sevens table) or you can choose to work on all the numbers (1-12) at once.
If you are a little slow on the equations or if you get some of them wrong, a pop-up will invite you to do a Focus. Focus will take you back into Practice mode, but this time, you will be working only on the problems that gave you trouble. It's a perfect way to quickly achieve mastery without getting bogged down with what doesn't need work.
In Compete mode, you compete with other people around the world who use UberSmart, too. I don't exactly understand how they are getting the competing scores, since it isn't real-time competitions between players. Somehow, they seem to be able to collect data from other people who use the compete feature, pool those scores into the UberSmart database and use them to give you a ranking. You aren't communicating in a chat-room or anything, so no worries about weird things happening in cyberspace while you're not looking. This is all in-house and contained on your computer. You choose an age group range you will compete against (i.e. elementary, middle school, high school or adult) and you choose whether you will be doing addition/subtraction or multiplication/division. Then you compete. UberSmart gives your percentile ranking compared with others who have competed, kind of like standardized testing. This is fine if you are really into math, but if you are learning math because your mom makes you then it's not so much fun. Rocket Boy pretty much avoided the Compete mode.
Report mode shows what has been happening in the Mastery Tests with a cool smiley face graphic. Dark Green Smileys mean you have mastered that fact. Red frownies mean you need work, and there are other colors in-between to indicate where you are on the road to mastery. When you hover your mouse over a square, the equation for that square will pop up, so you can see exactly what your child is doing.
Rocket Boy REALLY liked the report mode. Working against himself for mastery was a super incentive for him. It is an "at-a-glance" way to see how far you've come. My son wanted to fill those blank spaces up with dark green smiley faces, and would work on the math facts just to get more smileys. Anything but a dark green smiley face just wouldn't do. Anything else had to be replaced with a dark green smiley as soon as possible. Who knew? Maybe I should use the smiley face system for everything I want him to do....
Maintain mode requires a password, so your kiddo can't inadvertently change the settings and, say, give himself 10 minutes to google the answer. This is where you do updates, set your standards, change answer time, and add up to 8 students.
We have really enjoyed using UberSmart Math Facts. Although we didn't initially think it would be anything more than just a mom's-hands-free way to review flash cards, we found it to be so much better. A graphic chart that tells at a glance what needs work, mastery tests and focused practice all combined to make this both easy and fun to use. And it doesn't take a long time each day to solidify those facts when you use this program. My only issue is that I wish it had a home page with instructions for each mode in the program (There is a short help page, but I would have liked a little more). We had to just jump in and figure it out. It wasn't hard. Everything is pretty intuitive, but it still would have been nice to have better instructions. All in all, UberSmart is a great way to learn the math facts.