Our Five Best Math Websites Review
For some kids, math comes easily and naturally. For others the struggle is real! As a parent, teaching math can also be challenging; especially if you were one of the kids for whom learning math was a struggle!
In many ways, institutional education has formulated a very generic method of teaching “math.” Clearly, there is a necessity for this; educators are teaching several students at once, who individually represent a broad range of learning styles and need a form that is most palatable and receptive as possible to the majority. Unfortunately, in the process of homogenizing math education, most schools are unable to focus on specific points and details related to exactly what mathematics is and the purpose of it.
Mathematics is, in short form, the study of the relationships between quantity (represented in number theory- addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), structure (algebra), space (geometry) and change (analysis) in the world around us. Mathematics uses a language exclusive to itself; such as signs and symbols. Often we hear kids (and sometimes ourselves) say something such as, “it’s like trying to learn another language!” Technically, it is! The language of mathematics is one significant aspect of learning that is often bypassed in the public education model- many teaching models exclude focusing on language due to the belief that it will only further confuse students and take additional time away from working on number learning.
In the public education model, students often also are not introduced to the concept of math as a fluid process and there is little differentiation between arithmetic and mathematics. Arithmetic is the branch of mathematics that is considered number theory and focuses primarily on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and the use of numbers in calculations. Arithmetic is the essential building block of all higher math. We learn the concrete value of numbers and arithmetic functions early, but often without the benefit of understanding the “big picture” goal of introducing mathematics. Public education has made good progress over the last decade of trying to incorporate a more visual and manipulative representation of mathematical concepts, but there is often a gap in the transition from the solid answers of arithmetic to the multi-step process and speculative nature of mathematical theory represented in algebra, geometry and higher math. Again, when classrooms must work with multiple learning styles, the ability to focus on this type of depth and detail is simply unreasonable due to its potential complexity and additional time needed to dedicate solely to the purpose of theory rather than “answers.”
Teaching math to your homeschool student can be as simple or complicated as you like to make it. I am finding that in teaching math I am “deschooling” myself and unlearning many misconceptions I had about mathematics and learning new ideas along with my kids! Finding the best way to teach math to your students is like teaching any other subject- it requires the interest of your child and a method (or two) that suits their learning style.
While some students work well with only one form of math education, a combination of methods and materials is best. Printed material, manipulatives, and online resources can all be helpful. For younger students, it’s best to introduce simple numbers, counting, and basic arithmetic through games. Online games are fine, but including board and card games are also important. Many students continue to benefit from learning through games well into their middle school years, with supplemental materials that introduce more complex concepts as they grow.
When I first decided to look for the best math education websites, I was overwhelmed. There is an endless amount of resources online for math! It was difficult to decide where to begin. I started by looking for the sites that were mentioned most frequently, then I assessed them by only three criteria:
- Do they support mathematics as a whole? Meaning, do they have a variety of math principles such as arithmetic and theory available?
- Is the material engaging? Is the presentation of materials encouraging students to take challenges and risks? Are there games?
- Is it user-friendly?
While this criterion is probably not a professional metric, it was founded on experience. Supporting mathematics as a whole is important to me and what I am teaching my students. The material and games presented need to be both engaging and challenging, as my students will lose interest quickly if it isn’t! And, user-friendly is super important. We are a busy family, so sometimes our lessons can be completely self-driven, or done in short amounts of time. If my kids or I find we are spending a lot of time just trying to use the website, none of us will continue to use it. I also looked specifically for programs that were free or inexpensive.
The top websites mentioned were:
CK-12 provides multiple subjects, not just math, for students ages K-12. While it is based on common core standards, it is a free program that is operated by a non-profit organization. The courses feature other great educational support such as webinars, online flex books and offers a free certified educator program.
Khanacademy is one of our long-standing favorites and with good reason. Khanacademy supports a multiple subject platform for students K-12 and beyond. A completely free website operated by a non-profit organization whose mission is the advancement of free, quality education globally, Khanacademy provides higher education options and ACT/SAT testing material. While the platform doesn’t include games, the material for younger students is fun, engaging and supportive with options for step-by-step examples of how to solve the problem or videos to show the process and reasoning. Khanacademy is user-friendly and my kids can easily navigate the site and manage their own progress.
Prodigy is a popular game-based program for students in grades K-8. Prodigy supports a smart software program that “adapts” to the answers your child gives to the questions. Each correct answer advances the student in a quest-based game and on to the next progression of the math concept they are working on. Prodigy is a very user-friendly free program with an option to purchase a premium package. The only downside we found with Prodigy was if your kids are super-techie they may find the game too slow and not engaging enough.
Desmos is another program that I had never heard of. Desmos is an online graphing calculator that focuses on more advanced students in grades 6-12. The lessons are step-by-step to foster students’ critical thinking skills and each lesson steps progressively to the next concept. Desmos is an entirely free program that is user-friendly and very encouraging of students to try concepts that they may be unfamiliar with. A bonus feature of this program is a section on creating art with graphing!
GeoGebra is an excellent program for students K-College level that is available on a wide range of media- from laptops, smartphones, Apple products and including operating systems like Linux and macOS. The intuitive app-like program works well especially for tech-oriented kids and for ease of use. The intelligent software combines geometry, algebra, spreadsheets, graphing, statistics and calculus. Students can practice graphing skills without graphing paper, pads and having to be able to draw perfect lines. The site, managed by both nonprofit and for-profit entities, states that it is entirely free. There were some discussions online that it isn’t and that access to higher education material costs, but I did not find that when I explored the site.
I have to add a few sites as Honorable Mention. These sites were not strictly math-based but were awesome sites that included math concepts and featured development of critical thinking skills.
PhET Interactive Simulator was a program I was unfamiliar with. Developed and managed by a team of research specials from the University of Colorado (Boulder) the program offers students K-12 the opportunity to simulate laboratory experiments to test multiple subject theories. While it is not strictly math, it does feature critical thinking skills. The site is fairly advanced, but I and both of my younger kids found it not only easy to navigate but fun and certainly engaging. This free program is worth the time of allowing students to log in and experiment with the concepts and functions.
Brilliant is an excellent resource offering not only math skills but many other topics as well. Designed as courses similar to online college classes, all the subjects are based on learning with quantitative skills. The site also features a conversation forum for daily challenges and support structures. The site is easy to navigate and is very user-friendly. This site is for-profit, however, and does have a monthly fee.
One of the benefits of having so many online resources is that the possibilities are endless! Take some time to explore and find sites that work best for you and your students!