In today’s digital world there are a lot of options when it comes to learning math at home. There are math tools, math games, math apps, math enrichment resources and, of course, various online curricula out there for homeschoolers to choose from.
If you are looking at subscribing to an online homeschool math curriculum, there are a lot of options out there and quite a few factors to consider to make sure it fits your homeschool needs.
In this article we discuss some things to consider when looking at a digital math program, some things you should look closely at and we provide some curricula recommendations.
What is an Online Math Curriculum
What makes an online math curriculum different from, say, a math app is that it is usually designed to replace, not supplement, a traditional school curriculum.
Like more traditional homeschool math sets that you might purchase from Saxon Math or Teaching Textbooks, an online math curriculum tends to provide the educational material necessary to cover the scope and sequence of the grades they are intended to cover, and typically provide all the educational tools (lessons, practice exercises and assessments) needed to teach an entire year’s (or more) worth of math in one digital package.
Instead of buying a kit, parents subscribe to these online programs for a limited time and they are generally available either as apps or, more commonly, accessible through web browsers.
Traditional vs Online Math Curriculum
If you’re a homeschooling parent you may find yourself torn between the more tried and true traditional ways of homeschooling math, with instruction manuals and workbooks aplenty, and the more tech-forward online programs that are becoming increasingly popular.
Learning math online certainly can be appealing, with less clutter and an ability to harness powerful digital educational tools and games.
But, like anything else, online math curricula have their pros and cons that parents need to carefully consider before making a decision.
Advantages of an Online Math Curriculum
More Sophisticated Teaching Tools
Being digital, online math programs can bring in a wider variety of teaching tools compared to traditional instruction methods, which usually include an instructor’s manual, lesson plans, workbooks, answer sheets and (maybe) manipulatives. .
An online curriculum can offer engaging video instruction, advanced assessment tools, diagnostic testing, infinite question banks, video games, automatic scoring, grading and testing, digital manipulatives and more.
These educational tools not only can save homeschooling parents a lot of time, but with automated diagnostics, assessments, grading and more they can also go a long way to making learning math at home far more effective as well.
Progress tracking for Individualized Learning
Compared to traditional methods, an online math curriculum can offer more fine-grained tracking of student progress, which can give parents sometimes a surprising amount of insight into their child’s math learning.
As students progress through the curriculum, many digital programs are able to hone in and report to parents on the student’s exact skill strengths or deficiencies while offering precise suggestions for improvement.
This can allow for more timely adjustment of learning material and greater individualization of the student’s learning program.
24/7 Learning (Potentially)
Many online math curricula out there are pretty guided self-paced programs, with the software taking students from instruction to practice to assessment.
Lesson by lesson and unit by unit, students can learn math much more independently than with traditional homeschool math programs.
Math learning can therefore, in theory at least, be done whenever it is most convenient for your student, even when your personal schedule is a little busy.
Easier On Parents With Rusty Math Skills
Whether it’s by answering questions, explaining concepts or having to grade and go over assignments, parents can sometimes be overwhelmed when suddenly immersed in high school algebra or geometry.
This may be particularly true if math wasn’t a subject that parents particularly excelled at or enjoyed in the first place.
Online math curricula can shoulder some of this work, with programs able to instruct, guide, track, assess and grade students on their own and leaving the job of managing the overall process to parents.
No More Clutter
With its practice problems, textbooks, workbooks and a generous use of scrap paper, let’s face it – learning math can take up a lot of space and leave a lot of clutter around the house.
It seems a bit strange to be concerned with this in the grand scheme of things, but if you’re a homeschooling family teaching multiple subjects to more than one child in one house, unless you stay on top of your organization…well, let’s say things can get pretty messy pretty quickly.
Because everything is integrated into one digital program, with an online curriculum there is usually no need for physical workbooks, scrap paper, or instructors guides (unless you choose to print them out), which means less clutter and need for strict organization.
Disadvantages of an Online Math Curriculum
They’re usually more expensive
Creating a digital math curriculum is usually a more involved process compared to traditional programs.
To build one, the developers need to create the curriculum, digitize it, create and code lesson plans, code and integrate teaching material, code and integrate practice questions and assessments, and build in the necessary learning tools to help students.
On top of that, developers have to do more quality control than with a pen and paper curriculum.
Not only do they have to make sure the curriculum follows a correct scope and sequence, but they also have to make sure their program runs properly across different web browsers and devices/operating systems.
And because an online curriculum is tech based, it needs to be updated more frequently to keep up with changing requirements.
Because of this significant investment, the cost of an online math curriculum tends to be significantly higher than a print version.
Increased screen time
In this digital age, screen time can be a concern for some parents.
By definition an online math program will require more time in front of a computer or tablet than a traditional curriculum, sometimes adding an hour or more per day to a child’s schedule.
While many online math programs have started letting parents print out worksheets, lesson notes and assessments, the added screen time can still be an important factor to consider.
More limited reusability
While standards for education occasionally change, generally speaking the math itself does not.
Homeschooling parents with multiple children may find it a good idea to reuse homeschool sets, handing down textbooks and lesson plans from child to child and ultimately splitting the overall cost across however many children they have (or plan to have).
Online programs, on the other hand, tend to give students limited licenses to access the material.
Parents pay per month or per year and can only access the material for as long as its paid for.
This means parents can’t really reuse them for younger children, which can mean an added cost in the long run, especially for larger families.
Full Homeschool Learning Platform or Targeted Math Curriculum?
When it comes to online options for homeschooling math, parents can choose between full homeschool learning platforms or find specifically designed courses that just teach math.
What’s the difference?
Generally speaking, a complete, homeschool learning platform covers all subjects in a certain age range (usually K-12).
This means that the same program can be used for Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and more, letting you run and manage a student’s entire schedule, including tracking their learning development and assessing their learning, from a single program.
This can be very convenient for some parents and an option worth considering particularly if you really like the way in which a program teaches.
Some homeschooling parents, however, may want a bit more freedom or options when it comes to other subjects.
They may want to teach their students in a particular way or want to mix and match particular supplements, or they may just feel comfortable working through every subject but math themselves.
In these instances they may only want to use an online curriculum when it comes to math specifically, and so an online program that only teaches math can make the most sense.
What to Look for in an Online Homeschool Math Curriculum
Method of instruction
There are lots of ways in which math can be taught digitally.
More and more programs are starting to use integrated video lessons of various lengths and styles, while others still rely on more traditional textbook-style written explanations.
A few are even beginning to embrace immersive game worlds that turn learning into a video-game like experience.
The way in which math information is conveyed to students can have a dramatic result in learning.
To maximize the chances of success, parents should carefully consider how math is taught in an online curriculum, taking into account a student’s:
- Preferred method of engaging with learning (do they enjoy learning visually, through reading or with hands-on activities)
- Comfort and skill at reading text
- Ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- Distractibility, especially when it comes to gamified learning
Adaptive learning, usually in the form of adaptive question banks, is something we think parents should look for in an online math curriculum.
Adaptive questions help turn online learning into a more individualized experience.
By adjusting the difficulty of practice questions to the students actual (rather than expected) ability to answer them, practice can become more challenging (or easier) in real time depending on student skill.
In this way, adaptive programs can provide a more consistent, but achievable, challenge for students.
One of the big advantages of digital learning, and something that parents should definitely take a look at when considering an online math curriculum, is the quality of their progress tracking.
While it may sound ominous to some, real time progress tracking can give parents deeper insights into their child’s learning and help parents understand where their students are struggling and where they are already strong.
This can give a far more detailed picture of a student’s abilities than can be done in real life with a traditional homeschool curriculum without tons of diagnostic tests.
More sophisticated programs can even analyze student progress themselves, and even go so far as to provide parents with specific recommendations on how to close skill gaps and improve the student’s learning.
This gives parents the ability to take action earlier, whether that’s in adding more review and practice or moving lessons to a new topic.
Printables and other ways to learn offline
When considering an online math curriculum, many parents might want to look into whether those programs allow them to take at least some of the learning offline and away from the screen.
Screen time is a big concern for parents these days, and with kids spending an increasing amount of time in front of a screen parents are justifiably concerned about its effects on attention span, learning and more.
Similarly, larger homeschooling families may need to budget device time as they switch between students throughout the day and try to balance their individual learning needs
Consequently, its helpful if a curriculum offers printable activities, review sheets and other learning exercises that can help take learning offline and back to the kitchen table.
When considering an online math curriculum, as with a traditional curriculum, parents need to consider how rigorous they would like a program to be and the effects that may have on their student’s learning.
While any math program worth its salt covers the scope and sequence of the grades they are designed to cover, some math curricula dive deeper into theory, introduce concepts earlier and/or provide math problems that are far more challenging than standard school programs.
Other online math curricula may be designed to make math more approachable to those who find math challenging as a subject.
While these so-called “easier” curricula do cover the scope and sequence required, and the quality of their teaching may be quite highly regarded, they may explain things in a more common sense way and their pace may be a little slower and can help struggling students immensely in school or in some cases discover a buried interest or passion for math.
Integration into your homeschool teaching method
Finally, it’s important to find an online homeschool math curriculum that ultimately fits your teaching philosophy and that fits the way your student learns best.
As with any other math curriculum, there is a great amount of variation between programs and there are many considerations that homeschooling parents have to look into.
Mastery vs spiral curriculum approach
Parents need to consider what method of teaching math is most appropriate for their child – a program that dives deeply into topics and aims for proficiency before moving on (master) or one that teaches math topics a little at a time, spread out over the year (spiral).
Conceptual math vs procedural math
More of a philosophical debate in math, although it can have a strong impact on a student’s perception of math, is whether a curriculum is designed around teaching math concepts or computational math.
Conceptual math curricula tend to focus on fostering a deeper understanding of math concepts, that is they spend more time exploring the why behind math.
These programs tend to emphasize understanding math theory a little more than its application, emphasizing creative thinking when it comes to math and encouraging students to find multiple solutions to problems.
Procedural math programs, on the other hand, aims to foster computational skill and proficiency at solving math problems, that is emphasizing how to do math quickly and efficiently.
These programs tend to emphasize learning math algorithms and memorizing math facts, consequently providing a lot more drill and practice to develop the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively.
Some Online Math Curricula We Think are Worth a Look
|Set Price: From $19.95 per month||Grades: Pre-K to Grade 12|
|Spiral/Mastery: Mastery Approach||Conceptual/Procedural: Procedural Math|
|Common core: ❌||Rigor: About average|
|Instruction: Multimedia/video||Progress Tracking: ✔|
Time4Learning is a comprehensive, browser-based online curriculum for Preschool through Grade 12. A single subscription for Time4Learning includes access to a standards-aligned core curriculum that, depending on grade, can include Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies, with elective courses available but at an extra cost.
The program uses an engaging multimedia teaching approach that we really think is really effective and engaging.
Lessons typically involve animations, pictures, music, sound effects and video hosts, as well as interactive adaptive question banks and assessments, many of which can be printed and used for offline learning.
In addition to these multimedia lessons, Time4Learning also offers students in grades 2-5 an in-program app called Time4Mathfacts, which uses fun, mobile app-style games to drill addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills in order to increase a student’s speed and accuracy at problem solving in a way that’s not too stressful.
Time4Learning is also a pretty flexible curriculum for parents.
While math lessons and units are organized and assembled into standards-aligned packets, parents can easily access and include material from the grades above and below to customize their child’s curriculum and remediate/enrich their skills in a more targeted, personalized way if they so choose.
With tons of content, engaging lessons, fun educational games and access to useful math drill apps at the elementary level, Time4Learning can provide excellent value for parents looking for a complete and flexible homeschooling solution.
Read our in-depth review of Time4Learning
Or visit Time4Learning.com
|Set Price: From $29.97 per month||Grades: K to Grade 12|
|Spiral/Mastery: Mastery Approach||Conceptual/Procedural: Conceptual Math|
|Common core: ❌||Rigor: About average|
|Instruction: Video||Progress Tracking: ✔|
Founded in Australia by Patrick Murray, a veteran math teacher with over 30 years of experience, CTCMath is a browser-based complete online math curriculum for grades K-12.
Taught by video, CTCMath keeps lessons short and to the point and does a good job explaining math carefully and thoroughly and in a way kids can understand easily and with a minimum of distraction.
The curriculum takes a mastery method approach that teaches math concepts
one topic at a time until proficiency is reached. It does tend to go into some depth and can be a bit more on the rigorous side, although not overly so and it is appropriate to most students in our opinion.
Where CTCMath really shines is in the level of control it offers parents over their student’s learning. Parents get access to all grades and material and can therefore modify the curriculum if they like, while optional diagnostic tests and strong progress tracking features that can help them identify any areas of weakness that may need remediation.
Throughout the learning process, parents can add and manage tasks for their students, assigning lessons, worksheets, question banks and other tasks as needed. There is even a Question Bank Wizard that lets parents easily craft their own, custom worksheets for targeted practice with just a few clicks and then set them as a task to be completed later.
Despite being an online curriculum, CTCMath also does a good job at trying to reduce the amount of screen time that kids are exposed to.
There is a good amount of optional printable practice and review sheets that can let kids take learning off the computer, and the program deliberately forces kids to work through problems offline, which also gives kids much needed practice at working through math exercises with pencil and paper.
CTCMath is a high-quality online mastery math curriculum that explores math in an approachable and accessible manner, while providing parents a surprising number of tools they can use to really tailor the curriculum to their needs.
For more information, read our in-depth review of CTCMath.
Beast Academy Online
|Set Price: From $15 per month||Grades: 2-5|
|Spiral/Mastery: Mastery Approach||Conceptual/Procedural: Strongly Conceptual|
|Common core: ❌||Rigor: Advanced|
|Instruction: Video + Graphic novels||Progress Tracking: ✔|
With its rigorous enrichment-oriented K-5 curriculum finding success among homeschoolers with advanced math students, Art of Problem Solving has brought its famous Beast Academy curriculum to the online learning world with Beast Academy Online.
Designed as a feeder for the advanced and competition-friendly Art of Problem Solving middle and high school programs, we believe it is one of the best options out there for students with strong skills in math.
Like its offline counterpart, Beast Academy Online provides very challenging problems for kids to solve with the idea of delving deeper into teaching logical thinking, problem solving, and understanding math concepts than other curricula out there.
In fact, Beast Academy Online is one of the more rigorous and challenging online math curricula out there, intended to enrich math learning beyond what can be found in regular math programs and get students thinking logically, creatively and deeply about math concepts.
Teaching is done in a digital campus, where kids have access to different “buildings” containing different components of the course.
A library, for example, provides access to all of the course textbooks in text format.
These textbooks are a departure from most other math curricula out there. They are not textbooks at all but beautifully illustrated and highly engaging comic books, with monsters leading kids along math-centric stories and delving surprisingly deep into math concepts along the way.
Unlike the traditional Beast Academy program, Beast Academy Online also provides students with video instruction, which makes the program far more multisensory and appealing.
These videos are taught by the founder, who is also a former math olympiad winner, which is kind of cool.
For practice, students can access an admittedly non-adaptive question bank with thousands of challenging word problems and exercises helps provide quite a lot of practice.
There is also fairly comprehensive and detailed progress tracking included in the program that can measure student progress right down to their performance in individual topics. It even includes a cartoonish, child-friendly version for students to measure their own progress.
Unlike many other online curriculum, however, Beast Academy Online has embraced its game-like nature by adding a great deal of video game elements to keep kids interested and engaged in learning.
By completing practice problems and challenges, for example, kids can earn experience points and stars that they can use to access new content and they can even participate in periodic worldwide math challenges where they can win real life prizes.
If you’re looking for an engaging and highly effective online method of teaching math to talented math students, Beast Academy Online might be the solution you’re looking for. It combines a highly rigorous math curriculum with a fun, video game-like environment that can not only help students develop advanced problem solving skills but its unique approach can keep them wanting to excel in math all the way into middle school.
For more information, read our in-depth review of Beast Academy.
As we progress further into the digital age, companies are investing more and more time and effort in developing (and promoting) digital math solutions for at home learning.
With access to more powerful digital teaching tools, deeper progress tracking and sometimes greater efficiency than traditional math curricula, online math curricula are certainly becoming a more interesting choice for homeschoolers.
That said, with a growing number of options out there, parents must spend time and take many factors into consideration to make sure whatever they pick fits both their students’ needs and the overall philosophy and values of their homeschool.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.