Thaddeus Wert, M.Ed., Vanderbilt University

Review of Southwestern Advantage: Math

As I went through all of this material, I tried to think of topics that were left out, and I honestly couldn’t think of any. This is the most comprehensive presentation of elementary, middle, and secondary level mathematics that I’ve ever seen. Students can potentially find math examples by searching on the Internet, but there aren’t any websites that are this organized and easy to navigate. There certainly isn’t one single website that provides as much content as what is available in these books.

Special Features
This is where I am most impressed with this product. Southwestern Advantage has managed to bring a “hypertext” feel to the static pages of a hardcover book. Students today are turned off by linear presentations of content, and they have shorter attention spans. The problem is they still have to learn a lot of math concepts! I believe the Advantage books will appeal to students who are used to clicking through links on the Internet.

The “Got to Know!” boxes are a fantastic feature. They are attention-grabbing, and they let students know right away the information they should memorize.

I love the “Watch Out!” sidebars. They point out the stumbling blocks students can trip over when they are trying to solve a problem. Advantage covers all the most common ones they will encounter in high school math courses.

The “Try It This Way” sidebars are also extremely useful. Whenever possible, Advantage points out different ways of approaching a problem, and different ways work for different students. Also, it reinforces the fact that there is usually more than one method of solving a math problem, and if you do it differently from someone else, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

The “Need More Help?” boxes are great, because they illustrate the connectedness of mathematics. This cross-referencing is a terrific feature, and will save students hours of frustrated searching.

The “Ways to Remember” boxes are a nice way to present some common mnemonics that most math teachers and students use. If they were buried in the text, they would be lost, but this way students notice them and can remember them.

A small detail I like a lot: the highlighting of key words and phrases.  Proper use of vocabulary is crucial to success in math, and students need to know that certain words have very specific meanings when they are used in a mathematical context. The way Advantage highlights them reinforces that point.

Finally, all of the information packed into tables at the end of every strand is a stroke of genius. If I’m looking for a quick math fact or formula, that’s where I would go first to find it. I can predict that parents and students are going to wear those sections out! That said, I see that Advantage has compiled all of them together at the end of Book II—very smart.

Organization of the Volumes
I like the way these books are divided into strands, and each strand has subtopics. Using the color-coding at the top of the pages makes it easy for students to see where they are anywhere in the books. The nine strands make sense, and the progression of topics from simple to advanced is logical. Having an easily accessible guide to the color bars at the back cover is a great idea. The Glossary is very comprehensive, and providing relevant page numbers is fantastic! The index is very easy to use, and I love the fact that Book II pages pick up where Book I ends. That makes it easy to go directly to the topic you’re searching for.
I’m very glad to see that you have so many worked-out examples for each subtopic.
The first thing that strikes me as a reader is all the color. It is wonderful and inviting, and it serves a purpose—to help the student navigate through all the content, as well as clearly illustrate concepts.

The photos used at the beginning of each strand are, without exception, spectacular. Each one is relevant to its strand’s subject matter, and if I were a student, they would make me want to learn more about that topic.

Within each strand, I really like the way you have opened things up. For the simpler topics, the type is larger, and there are fewer examples per page. As the content gets more advanced, the type gets smaller, and there is more information presented on each page. However, even in the Calculus strand, everything is open and unintimidating. Unintimidating is good when it comes to math texts! Examples and information are presented clearly and succinctly. Southwestern Advantage has done a great job taking complicated topics and making them easy to understand by focusing on the essentials.

The illustrations that support the examples are very well done. For example, in the Geometry strand in the Surface Area and Volume section, the shading really helps students visualize the three-dimensional solids. It’s a small detail, but a lot of math books don’t go to the depth Southwestern Advantage has.

Also, using actual graphing calculator screenshots is so helpful for students who are trying to work out the examples themselves. They can compare their calculator’s screens to the ones in the books to verify they are on the right track.

Supplementary Resources
When I heard Southwestern Advantage was going to develop a companion website for these books, I confess I had my doubts that you could do it. However, it looks like it was done right. The use of video tutorials is becoming commonplace, but what I’m most impressed with is how easy it is to find the appropriate tutorial. Just typing in the relevant page number is brilliant!

I would say this system is perfect for families homeschooling their children, or parents trying to supplement their children’s math education. If a student worked his or her way through all the material in these books, he or she would be well-prepared for first-year college math. All of the resources available at are a fantastic value for Southwestern Advantage customers.

The company can be very proud of what it has produced. These two books are well-written and well-organized, and students will find them to be incredibly useful tools as they work their way through their math courses.

urlThaddeus T. Wert
20+ years as a classroom teacher at an independent college prep school for girls; curriculum developer; Math Department chair
B.S., Engineering, Vanderbilt University
M.Ed., Vanderbilt University
(Ellen Bowers Hofstead Chair in Mathematics and Science; Hubert Smothers Award for Excellence in Teaching)

Southwestern AdvantageThaddeus Wert, M.Ed., Vanderbilt University

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