Thinkwell offers online courses for homeschoolers, primarily for math for middle school through high school. They also have a Biology course and an American Government course, but they are particularly promoting to home educators their math courses for grades six through eight plus Pre-Algebra through Calculus and AP Calculus. I examined the Geometry course for this review.
Students enroll by signing up for a 12-month subscription which allows access for one student to a single course. Courses may be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. Students work independently at their own pace.
Thinkwell recruited outstanding teachers as their presenters for different subjects. Math courses are taught by Edward Burger, winner of numerous teaching awards. His teaching style is very friendly, engaging, and occasionally humorous. In my opinion, he does a great job.
The Geometry course is divided into thirteen chapters, with each chapter divided into a number of topical lessons. Each lesson includes four video lesson presentations in segments that vary in length from about nine minutes to more than twenty minutes. After students watch the videos, they should complete the “Thinkwell Exercise,” a group of questions to make sure they have grasped key concepts. These problems and other exercises are printable, but in most cases, students should answer on the computer since problems are automatically scored and recorded. The student may skip a problem and return to it after completing others, and they may change their original answers. Students will need to work with paper and pencil before responding on the computer for many of the problems.
Once students have watched the videos, there are other ways to review. Printable “Notes” are key concepts from the lesson, presented like pages of a textbook. Although presented in full color on the computer, these pages should be usable if you print them off in black-and-white. The Notes are not the complete lesson. There is a printable transcript of the entire lesson, but it does not include the illustrations from the video which are critical. In most cases, the transcripts will not be of much use, but the notes should be helpful for review. Trigonometry (a full-year course) and Pre-Calculus courses have an optional workbook with lecture notes, sample problems, and exercises. These workbooks duplicate the material presented online but allow students to work off the computer. The workbooks include worked out examples and exercises that correspond to each video lecture. While workbooks duplicate the online course content, they also have some additional exercises and they have answer keys for the odd-numbered exercises. Calculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Calculus BC have optional printed notes you can purchase.
After the introduction and study of lesson content, students continue with practice exercises. Worksheets for the exercises must be printed. Students complete the worksheet exercises then these have to be corrected by the teacher using the answer key provided. It appears to me that students can easily access the answer keys, so you will have to be cognizant of this and consider how to avoid temptation. You might consider having students complete tests offline, then enter their answers while under supervision.
For each chapter, there are both practice tests and final tests, and there are also practice and final versions of a midterm and a final exam. Solutions are provided for chapter practice tests but not final tests. Most of these tests are automated, providing instant results once the student submits the test. (Apparently, the exams are available with automated grading only for some of the courses but not all—it is not clear on the website for which courses it is available.) Practice tests may be taken more than once but final tests only once. There are no solution keys for the final exams. However, under the resources section, there are solutions and study helps for practice tests. These are hyperlinked to the pertinent lessons in case the student needs to review. This is a valuable feature you need to make sure a student knows how to find.
You might want to purchase the optional set of CD-ROM discs with only the video lessons for those who want to watch videos without having to be connected to the internet. This might be very helpful in families where multiple students are competing for internet access.
Student progress is tracked by the program. There is even a tab for the recently attempted and/or completed lessons so it is easy for a student to find where they need to go next. However, they can skip around if you prefer they do so for some reason.
Courses are challenging, covering content similar to that of the more rigorous courses in the homeschool marketplace. For example, Geometry teaches proofs and logical thinking along with a significant amount of applied algebra. Algebra 2 includes plenty of work with functions as well as some trigonometry. Two AP Calculus courses are available. One prepares students for the Calculus AB exam, while the other is for the even more rigorous Calculus BC exam. While there is a separate course for Trigonometry, all students will not need to take that course. As you can see, Thinkwell offers extra courses to be used in different situations, including at the college level.
I noticed that they offer both Math 8 and Pre-Algebra, while those are generally the same course in most programs. The publisher responded to my question about this saying that the two courses are different from each other, each with their own videos. They explained: “Pre-Algebra is a quicker, higher-level review for students who have already taken middle-school math and need help getting ready for Algebra 1, which is why we list it as a high-school course instead of as a middle-school course. More often than not, this course would be for a student transitioning from public school to homeschooling, though it could also be used by an advanced homeschool student whose parents would rather they skip over 7th & 8th grade and get straight to Algebra. Many colleges use a Pre-algebra course to bring unprepared students up to speed, and we developed it for those institutions, but we provide it for our homeschool families, too. We recommend that homeschool students use grades 6-8 and then begin Algebra 1, which is how we structure things in our placement tests. We offer Pre-Algebra for advanced students and students who need to review.”
The publisher’s website offers free placement tests and free, fourteen-day trials of their courses so you can ensure that you are enrolling a student in the correct course.