David Shormann has taught Saxon Math courses for many years. When he decided to create his own math courses, he drew upon some of John Saxon's best ideas and combined those with his own ideas to create high-school-level courses: Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Precalculus. (A Prealgebra course was added after I wrote this review, so I haven't reviewed it.)
As in the original Saxon Math series, Shormann Math integrates geometry with algebra within courses titled Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. There is no separate geometry course. In addition, courses teach in increments with continual review, teaching math like a language as did John Saxon's courses.
On the other hand, Shormann’s courses are presented through streaming videos. Practice problems, as well as problems on quizzes and exams, are worked on paper, but answers are entered into the program where students then get immediate feedback. Solutions are on videos as well as in PDF files, and an automated grading and tracking system records student progress. Many students and parents will also appreciate that Shormann Math courses have fewer problems per lesson than do Saxon Math courses.
Shormann incorporates technology both in the presentation of the course material and in the teaching itself. While not absolutely required, a graphing calculator and the Geometer’s Sketchpad software can be used throughout the courses. All students will need at least a scientific calculator. Precalculus and Calculus students have the opportunity to learn Onshape, a cloud-based, computer-aided design (CAD) program.
The Shormann Algebra 2 course includes a short, optional CLEP prep course called CLEP Professor College Algebra. Based on math taught up through Shormann Algebra 2 and this CLEP prep course, students should be prepared to take either the CLEP College Math or CLEP College Algebra exams to earn college credits. Students should also be well prepared for the latest PSAT, SAT, and ACT exams. Students completing Shormann Precalculus can also use the included CLEP Professor Precalculus prep lessons to prepare for the CLEP Precalculus exam to earn even more college credits.
There are four other distinctives of Shormann Math. The courses teach mathematical history as students learn about the development of mathematical concepts and the people who came up with them. A second distinctive is that a Christian worldview is incorporated throughout each course. A third distinctive is art. Algebra 1 and 2 students learn how to create one-point perspective drawings and how to identify perspective in famous paintings such as Da Vinci's "The Last Supper." The fourth distinctive is connections to real-life applications and test preparation. In most regular practice sets (not review lessons) there is at least one problem with a real application of math. It tells you what the application is in parentheses at the beginning of the problem. Also, every problem 15 in Algebra 1 and 2 is a sample problem from an exam—the PSAT, CLEP College Algebra, CLEP College Math, the SAT, or the ACT. (Parentheses at the beginning of the problem indicate which exam). The goal of these distinctive features is to make connections with real life in a number of different ways.
Courses should take 30 or more weeks to complete. Because geometry is taught within the Shormann Algebra 1 and 2 courses, it is possible to stretch those two courses out over three years. With each course subscription, a student has access for 24 months. That should give them plenty of time if they want to stretch out courses for whatever reason.
Interestingly, Shormann recommends that students devote a particular amount of time to math each day rather than committing to the completion of one lesson per day. The courses allow students to stop in the middle of a practice set and pick up there the next day by simply pressing “save without submitting.” Shormann recommends that students work on math four or five days per week for one to one and a half hours per day.
Parents really should read through the PDF teacher guide information before a student begins a course. A Getting Started video at the beginning of each course covers much of this information for students. Critical information such as the “Practice Set Instructions Sheet” is repeated a few places so it won’t be missed.
For each lesson, students begin by reading through rules and definitions in the online textbook. The textbook lessons are linked for each lesson, so they are simple to access. While students could also read through the day’s lesson in the online textbook, they should not do so in most cases since the content is thoroughly taught in the video presentations. Shormann believes that the student's time is better spent trying to solve problems rather than reading.
You are given permission to print out the reading assignment in the textbook (one copy per enrolled student). You might have students copy definitions and rules into a two-inch, three-ring binder which they will need for the course as they accumulate their notes and coursework. The physical act of writing out definitions and rules is a strong reinforcement, so I recommend this step. These notes should be used for reference and review as well. If you choose not to do this, you should probably print out the textbook material for reference. Note that Shormann is in the process of adding printable, fill-in-the-blanks notes pages for Shormann Algebra 1.
Some lessons include digital flashcards for reviewing rules and definitions as well, offering yet another way to reinforce key material. More digital flashcards are being added to courses so that they will be available for all lessons that have new rules and definitions. Links to previous flashcards for review are also being added.
After reading rules and definitions, and writing them out (if you have instructed them to do so), students will watch the video presentation on a computer or a tablet. Videos vary in length with some running more than 30 minutes and others running fewer than 10 minutes. The first 25 lessons in each course cover fundamentals and review material, and their videos typically run longer than videos for the rest of the lessons. Students should take notes as they watch the video, pausing it as needed. During the lectures, after each example problem is presented, the student is directed to pause the lecture and attempt to solve it on their lecture notes so they can immediately see whether or not they are understanding the lesson.
A set of practice problems is next. Practice problems are worked out on paper then answers are submitted through the program. There are links above sets of practice problems that go to one or more examples of similar problems already worked out as well as to the video lecture where the concept was originally taught. Students should use these links to try to work out their own solution before giving up on a problem.
When students miss a problem, Shormann outlines a step-by-step procedure for them to follow. They can use the video or PDF solutions that become available to students on a “results” page after they have submitted their answers. They should then rework missed problems on a “corrections” page in their notebook. If they are still stuck at this point, they can submit an email to Dr. Shormann for assistance. All of this means that students should never get stuck on a concept or skill if they follow the instructions.
After every fourth lesson, there is a four-question, “open-book” quiz. The quizzes are timed, but the time allowed should be more than sufficient if students don’t take a break in the middle. After every 25 lessons, there is an exam. Two practice exams precede the actual exam, so students will spend a good amount of time reviewing and preparing for each exam.
The program tracks student scores on practice sets, quizzes, and exams, weighting them appropriately. Parents can factor in a grade for student notes if they wish to do so; a complete explanation of how to do that is included.
Courses are challenging, but you can reduce the intensity of a course by following Shormann's recommendation that students work for only a set amount of time each day. Because concepts are taught incrementally, students gradually master even the more complex concepts. All Shormann Math courses can be used as either honors or standard math courses. The teacher guide for each course explains how to do make adjustments for either option.
The first 25 lessons of each Shormann Math course review or introduce math concepts and skills that will be needed throughout the rest of the course. If your student is deficient in prerequisite skills, it should show up in those first 25 lessons. Because brief reteaching and review are included, strong math students can often pick up what they had previously missed and continue on successfully through the course. Since most students who struggle in any Algebra 1 course, are usually struggling with fractions, decimals, and percents, Shormann Algebra 1 includes a link to five-minute drills to develop fluency in these essential skills. A student who has already taken Algebra 1 and Geometry using resources from another publisher should be able to transition into Shormann Algebra 2, although quite a bit of geometry will be repeated. Students who come from another publisher’s Algebra 1 course will probably do best starting with Shormann Algebra 1. This should strengthen their algebra skills while teaching the geometry they haven’t covered.
Some parents prefer to choose courses with textbooks so that they can reuse the course with younger siblings. The publisher of Shormann Math recognizes this, so they offer a very significant sibling discount that helps to offset the cost of purchasing an entirely new course for subsequent students. There is no time limit on purchasing the sibling course at a discount. It just has to be a course already purchased at the regular price for a previous student in the family.
When you consider that Shormann Math condenses three courses into two by integrating geometry into the algebra courses then provides a generous 24 months for students to complete each course, you can see that the cost per course credit might be significantly less than you would expect. If your child is able to prepare for and pass CLEP exams as well, even better in terms of cost effectiveness!
Shormann Math courses demonstrate a keen understanding of independent study and what it takes to help students be successful in such courses. These courses are challenging and require students to be responsible to work through courses properly to get the most out of them. Even while providing content comparable to other more-challenging options, Shormann Math courses offer structured avenues to insure student success without parental assistance.