Brainetics Review [math]

Over the years of helping people with math anxieties, I have delved pretty deeply into many tricks designed to help soothe nerves, teach short cuts, and even discovered some truly awful money sinks. Some things work for some students, while they may not work for others. This review is of Brainetics and it’s claims as my students and I worked through the system this past summer.

Brainetics Box

Brainetics: A system of math tricks that claims to increase memory, increase confidence, and improve focus to make learning more fun. The box includes:

  • Brainetics® Complete DVD Set (Levels 1-5)
  • DVD Levels 6 & 7: Memory and More Cool Math
  • Interactive Playbook
  • On The Move…10 Mind-Building Games for the Whole Family
  • Brain Boosting Guide
  • Online Support from Mike Byster
  • Parents’ Manual

Price: $224.54 with S&H.

Learning rating:  1/5

Teaching rating: 1.5/5

A little background on the “experiment”

I went through the entire set with 7 different students, ranging from 4th to 8th grade, and each of student has slightly different learning styles and varying personalities. Most of them have ADHD or ADD, a few of them have other types of learning disorders on top of it, but none that would impede memory and concentration further. All of them like math to some degree, but it’s not their favourite subject.

We worked through the DVDs one at a time, working through the playbooks on top of it, and even playing the games as we wanted. Some students wanted to follow the directions in their entirety, others did not. Not a single one of them actually liked it, though. In their words:

It’s for babies. — LM, 7th grade

It’s cheesy and fake. — FA, 7th grade

I can’t stand the DVD’s because of the fake smiles and enthusiasm. — MH, 6th grade

The card games are all right, but the rest is pointless. — MW, 5th grade

No one is going to care about math tricks, so why should I have to do this? — AH, 4th grade

I’m not going to use this math ever in my life. — AF, 5th grade

It… sort of increases my confidence, but only because I’m practising. I can get this out of practising real math that I’ll use. — KP, 8th grade

This is not exactly a vote of confidence in the programme, is it? After all, if a student doesn’t like it, they certainly aren’t going to pay attention to it or retain the information. Even my most serious students, AF and MW are  seeing through the polish and shine that the marketer’s worked so hard to put on the sales page.

What Brainetics does do

I’m not going to lie, the DVDs are horribly cheesy. They are hard to pay attention to because of the fake enthusiasm, forced smiles that don’t reach their eyes, and awful party-trick approach to everything. The kids know it’s fake, and they aren’t falling for it. They don’t care about the tricks because it doesn’t help them get their math homework done in a quick, effortless fashion that enables them to go do what they want to do — which is be kids.

The thing that Brainetics can do is increase the student (and teacher’s) confidence when they practise the party tricks sufficiently enough to have the rules of them memorised. The problem is, the way that the DVDs go through them no one can keep up with the rules. For that, you need the playbook so you can read through the directions, practise, and then double check yourself. All of us found that the DVDs turned us off, and the playbooks were much easier to use. However, they got boring as well because you know you’ll never need the tricks that they have in there. After all, how many times have you taken the 5th root of something? Or how about dividing by 143?

The tricks themselves are useless in the way of math. Increasing confidence? Definitely. Increasing memory? Definitely not because the students don’t care about these problems.

Bottom line

The system is not useless for everyone. It takes a specific type of personality, work ethic, and desire to get the most out of this programme. My students are just not that type. Evaluate yourself, students, or kids to see if they would even like the cheesy enthusiasm, useless math problems to practise on, or other major tactics this set uses. I can see this working well for someone that is determined to learn a few tricks enough to work though each problem, seriously memorise all the tricks and rules, and work diligently every day on these new tricks. As my students say, “It takes a special kind of math geek to really appreciate this.”

If this doesn’t sound like you or your kids, don’t waste your money. You can extract the math party tricks from various other math books you can get from the library like I did to make a quick worksheet for your students. Party tricks are great for increasing confidence, base skills that go into them due to the practise, and even making math more fun. It seems to be more effective in small doses once in a while, though, instead of 7 DVDs and two workbooks that are looming around demanding attention. (It’s worse when a parent expects you to practise them every day, but you just don’t have the interest, as happened to three of the students.)

Over to you

If you’ve tried Brainetics, I’d like your serious take on it. I’d like to know what the parents saw as improvement or not, the students thought of the system, and the instructors (which can also be parents) as they worked through with the students. What was your experience on a scale from 1 (being the worst) to 5 (being the best)? What did you find useful? What didn’t work?