Math Relief Algebra I and Algebra II have been around for many years, but because of the publisher's limited advertising, many homeschoolers have never heard about these excellent courses.
Reports I consistently hear from parents are that their children really understand algebra when they go through these courses. While the courses aren't exciting or colorful, they really work. The course presenter, Leonard Firebaugh uses a white board to demonstrate problem solving, explaining concepts clearly as he goes. The presentation is straightforward with no fancy graphics, and lessons move along at a steady pace without wasting time. Firebaugh is especially good at cautioning students against common errors as he explains how to solve different types of problems.
Each complete course consists of a set of DVDs plus 700 to 800 pages of worksheets, tests, and solution keys. Answer keys show full solutions which helps if students get stuck on a particular problem. Students can work independently through all course work. No parent preparation or participation is necessary, other than checking worksheets and tests.
Algebra I covers all of the standard topics for the first year of algebra and then some. It includes extensive work with fractions, square roots, word problems, and quadratic equations.
Algebra II begins with review through the first five lessons to refresh students' grasp of basic operations from Algebra I. Algebra II spends more time on word problems than do most second-year algebra courses. While it covers inequalities, simultaneous equations, completing the square, quadratic equations, and matrices and determinants, it doesn't cover some topics taught in other Algebra II courses. Missing are functions, trigonometry, and graphing anything more complex than first degree equations. While trigonometry and functions are not included in all second-year algebra courses, their inclusion has become increasingly common. While students can receive credit for Algebra II by completing this course, they might not have sufficient instruction for subsequent math courses that expect students to be familiar with functions in particular. (Note that Khan Academy has extensive lessons on these topics that you might use if you want to cover them without purchasing another course.) Even though a few topics might not be covered, Math Relief Algebra courses provide such a solid grounding in algebra that students should be able to easily go on to advanced math courses.
For Algebra I, each video lesson presentation (145 in all) takes about fifteen minutes, then students practice on work sheets for about 30 to 45 minutes. Algebra II lesson presentations run a little longer, generally 20 minutes or more, since many of the topics are more complex. However, there are only 83 lessons in the complete course. Each lesson will take longer to complete, so this can still serve as a year-long course. However, students might be able to finish in less than a year and have extra time to spend on Khan Academy lessons or work with another resource.
The complete courses are each sold in three phases, and each phase includes all of the DVDs, worksheets, and solution keys required for those lessons. There are eight DVDs per Phase for the entire Algebra I course. The first two Phases of Algebra II have eight DVDs each, but the third Phase has only three DVDs. One benefit of the “phase arrangement” is that you can purchase Phase One, try it out, then decide whether to invest in the complete program. Possibly, a more important benefit is that you can use only Phases One and Two of Algebra I for a slower student who does not intend to pursue algebra any further. The material covered in the first two Phases will still be sufficient for a first year algebra course. The third Phase of Algebra I includes 16 lessons on coordinate geometry (a topic emphasized on SAT and ACT tests) along with many second-year algebra concepts. Coordinate geometry is taught again in the third Phase of Algebra II but not as extensively.
Math Relief also offers tutorial bundles that address 13 particular topics such as Multiplying and Factoring of Polynomials, Fractions, and Coordinate Geometry. These bundles are excerpted from the complete courses and include DVDs, worksheets, tests, and answer keys. Tutorial bundles are most likely to be helpful for those who need to cover only selected topics beyond the first two Phases of Algebra I, those preparing for Algebra II who need to review or study particular topics, and those who have studied two years of algebra with other coursework and need reteaching for some concepts.
When you consider the cost of Math Relief Algebra courses, keep in mind that the DVDs are not consumable and you can reuse or resell them. You will need to purchase a new set of worksheets for each additional student who uses a course, but, overall, Math Relief Algebra is great for independent study, and it is a very cost-effective solution even though it lacks polish.