Review of DreamBox Learning
DreamBox Learning is an online math learning system, designed for grades K-5. It delivers "learning units" where students learn and practice important mathematical concepts
As the owner of HomeschoolMath.net, I have seen and been given access to many online math programs over the years (just check the Reviews section). DreamBox is unique among them. Its main feature is how it adapts the curriculum to the learner, and that is done in a quite sophisticated manner that sets DreamBox apart from other online math curricula.
DreamBox analyzes a student's input on click-by-click basis, and uses this input to assign the most appropriate follow-up lessons. As a result, there are millions of different "paths" students can take through Dreambox's learning units.
This also means that the student is initially presented with only a limited selection of lessons to do. DreamBox will analyze the student's responses to those, and then present him/her new lessons based on the analysis.
Another very distinctive feature of DreamBox is its emphasis on conceptual understanding and algebraic thinking. Your child will not be presented simple practice of addition facts or fraction multiplication, but instead, most of the learning units teach concepts (sometimes subtly), connections between concepts, or even simple algebra.
This is achieved in numerous ways. For example, the lesson may start out having the student use a virtual manipulative, such as a number line, snap blocks, or area arrays, and then later on proceed to problems with numbers only.
For example, the unit on factors (below) presents a virtual "snap-block" manipulative that allows the student to test which numbers go evenly to the given number:
In the lesson on subtracting like fractions, when you break the "whole" in the manipulative, you can easily subtract enough fractional parts (pieces).
Grade 2 "bucket addition" activity teaches students mental addition with a compensation strategy ("friendly" numbers):
In a division with remainders lesson, students bag gumballs into certain-size bags:
The lessons are quite engaging, and proceed in difficulty as the student demonstrates proficiency—remember, DreamBox checks how quickly and how well the student solves the activities, and adapts the lessons accordingly.
One "problem" that I encountered with my "tester girl" was that DreamBox seemed too easy from the start. It assigned my daughter to 3rd grade, whereas she was doing 4th grade math in her regular curriculum. I contacted their customer support about it, and they answered my concern quickly, so thumbs up for that!
I learned this is a fairly common complaint, but it is actually BY DESIGN. Since DreamBox Learning usually needs some time to adjust to the student's instructional level when he/she first starts, the child is placed at a level one grade prior to their current grade. If your child thinks the lessons are too easy, then the best thing he or she can do is complete the lessons as quickly as possible, and to the best of his or her ability. By doing so, DreamBox Learning will determine that your child finds this material too easy, and will adjust his or her pacing and lesson placement accordingly.
As student work, they "earn" coins, badges, and ability to unlock fun games. With the coins, they can purchase a different background, music, and login icon. My daughter was very engaged with the lessons and worked for long periods of time. She was eager to earn the coins and other rewards, and also see new lesson units pop up in her lesson dashboard. The work was mostly pretty easy, though (in 3rd grade level).
Please note DreamBox is NOT a full math curriculum. At the time of this writing (October 2012), it does not cover all topics for a particular grade, but concentrates on various aspects of the four basic operations, place value, algebraic thinking, and fractions. Topics missing are geometry, measuring, clock, counting coins, decimals, and word problems. However, I heard the DreamBox team is hard at work developing new learnings units for many of these topics in the future.
Dreambox curriculum currently has over 720 lessons or learning units. In this link you can try out some sample lessons. It has a good reporting system for the parent, and even emails you whenever the child completes any kind of "milestone" in the system.
Overall, DreamBox is a very good and recommendable product. I especially liked its emphasis on conceptual understanding, and the fact that practice problems are "embedded" within some conceptual framework, and not presented as simple repetitive drill. I believe DreamBox will benefit most students. Just keep in mind it will not let you practice any topic you choose from a list. It is just not set up that way! Think of DreamBox as a math program that will improve your child's math skills and understanding over a longer term and that will work on the foundations of math, and not on the premise of "drill, drill, and more drill". Kind of like a tutor.
How to buy
At DreamBox website, home subscriptions cost $12.95/month (one child) and $19.95/month (up to 4 children). You can also get a six month subscription: $59.95 (one child) and $99.95 (up to four). A 14-day free trial is also available.
Review by Maria Miller, MSc, author of HomeschoolMath.net