New: Artificial Intelligence Tutor for High School Math

by Howard Richman

[This article first appeared in Issue 95 (Summer, 2006) of the PENNSYLVANIA HOMESCHOOLERS® newsletter.]

Homeschoolers continue to be at the forefront in using the best that modern technology has to offer. We use online classes, audio and video lectures, and computer technology to a much greater extent than schools. Now, as a result of a Carnegie-Mellon University spin-off, we have a chance to use the best computer math tutor that artificial intelligence research has yet been able to develop.

Carnegie-Mellon University of Pittsburgh continues to be a leader in computer intelligence. Robots developed at Carnegie-Mellon have walked into volcanoes and driven cars across the country. Chess programs developed at Carnegie-Mellon have beaten grandmasters. Their Act* Project, headed by John Anderson in the psychology department, has created intelligent tutors that understand how people learn, and adjust instruction to what the individual student knows. According to the theory behind it, each knowlege unit is a sort of if-then rule: “If this is the situation, then do that.” The computer tutor teaches the rule, gives the student interesting problems to solve, and keeps track of whether the student has demonstrated that he or she can recognize the appropriate situation and apply the rule successfully. (For more info about this theory of human learning, see John Anderson’s book Rules of the Mind.) If more practice is needed, the intelligent computer program supplies it; if the student masters each rule quickly, he progresses quickly.

The first intelligent computer program created by the project taught the LISP computer language, and was actually used as a credit-giving college course without a teacher at Carnegie-Mellon University. More recently, the project has developed computer programs that teach junior high and high school math (pre-algebra, algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2) and has tested those programs in various public schools with outstanding results.

They developed a commercial spin-off , Carnegie Learning, which, on July 27, 2006, issued a press release announcing tthat the courses are now available to homeschoolers.

You need a fairly good computer, either Windows or Mac, to run the program, at least Windows 2000 (better is Windows XP)or Mac OS 10.3 (better is Mac OSX 10.4). You also need at least 300MB free on your hard drive and at least 256 MB of RAM.

There are two ways to use the program:

  1. Whole Kit. The whole kit, priced at $99.00, includes the software, a large Student Text (about 600 pages) that the student writes in, a small Student Assignments workbook (about 200 pages) and a small Homework Helper workbook (about 140 pages). It is designed to be used when a teacher is working with a student. When schools use the program, the student spends three days per week working with the teacher through the 96 lessons in the Student Text (one lesson per day) and 2 days per week doing corresponding lessons on the software. Students get added review by doing homework assignments in the Student Assignment book, one assignment for each textbook lesson, and parents help the student review the lesson by going through a worked-out example for each lesson in the Homework Helper workbook.

    The Student Text is cleverly put-together. It uses Discovery Learning just like the Figure it Out! worktexts that we sell for elementary school children. Each lesson begins with a creative scenario that ties the lesson to the real world. For example, the scenario at the beginning of the first algebra lesson, a lesson about patterns and sequences, supposes that the student is head of a landscaping company and has to design a patio floor plan using three different sizes of concrete blocks. The student then discovers that using patterns makes the solution elegant and simple. When students need lots of help and extra practice to learn math concepts, the whole kit could be ideal.

  2. Software Only. The software only, priced at $84.99, can be used by the student without any need of an outside teacher. In effect the computer software is the teacher. It covers the essential topics and moves at the appropriate pace for the student. (Additional topics to meet various states’ math objectives are included in the Student Text.) It will let bright homeschooled students complete higher math courses at fewer than the 120 to 180 hours usually required.
Both ways, whole kit or software only, can be purchased from the online store at or our online store at

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