Tuesday, November 5, 2013

IXL.com (Schoolhouse Review)

My six year old is currently interested in computer games and online learning activities, so when I was given the opportunity to review IXL.com, a website that "provides comprehensive, standards-aligned math and language arts practice for K-12" I decided we should give it a try.

I was given a one-year membership for my children, which includes full access to all grade levels and content on IXL.com.  IXL Math includes Pre-K through geometry and Algebra II.  IXL Language Arts currently covers 2nd grade through 4th grade skills.  {Advanced math topics and more language arts coverage are in the works.}

Set up was fairly painless.  All users share a primary username and password, and from there children can log in to their individual profiles and access their work.

This is designed as a practice website, not a teaching website, so most children can probably work fairly independently.  One thing to note is that audio is only available for Pre-K through 1st grade Math, so beginning or non-readers readers may be limited in their independence beyond that, even if their skills exceed their reading ability.

The Student Accounts
For this review, I focused on Elliott (6) doing 1st Grade Math and 2nd Grade Language Arts.  Emory (4) worked in Pre-K Math.

Once my kids were logged in, they went into their grade level, then chose a skill from a variety of broad categories.  So for example, my 6 year old could go into 1st Grade Math, then choose the category Fractions, and from there he could choose to work on the skill Halves, Thirds and Fourths, or Equal Parts, or even Compare Fractions, among many other skills.

There is one question presented at a time, and the answer format varies.  Sometimes it is multiple choice, and sometimes you type in the correct answer.

As they correctly answer questions, they earn points towards their SmartScore with the goal to reach 100.  If they answer a question incorrectly, they lose points, essentially adding more questions, in order to gain more practice.  For incorrect answers, it also gives an explanation for the correct answer, which I think is one of the most valuable parts of this program.  Many "practice" websites do not offer that additional step.

The Awards
The Awards board is available for every level of Math.  It is basically an incentive system that looks similar to a sticker chart.  Prizes are awarded for mastering certain skills, but also for the amount of time spent practicing or the number of questions answered.  I like that children can earn prizes just for practicing, because younger students who are struggling with math might be discouraged if it was based solely on immediate mastery.  Since children have access to every level of math, they can earn awards on each board. Another thing I like about the Awards board is that you can hover over a square you haven't uncovered yet, and it will tell you what you need to do to reveal that prize--this has encouraged my 1st grader to try new skills that we haven't covered in his curriculum yet just because he wants to uncover a particular square.

My 4 year old's Pre-K Award board, shortly after we started, as viewed from my parent account.  

It's a pretty basic incentive program, and while I don't see it encouraging older students, it is enough to at least interest my two for now.

Language Arts
I used some of the 2nd grade LA with my 6 year old, 1st grader.  As with any subject, "grade level" is subjective, and I found many of the topics easily within his reach.  We've never done formal grammar or language, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce him to some of the formal names.  For instance, he knows what an opposite is, but we practiced Antonyms.  Having this available and seeing him work with this material makes me comfortable that I can still keep a relaxed approach to academics during the earliest years, and know that he is still learning.  The format is basically the same as the Math, except there is no awards board.  Also, since it starts at 2nd grade there is no audio available.  For children who are farther in other areas than they are in reading, this can be discouraging.  I wish there was an audio option for more grade levels, even if it was controlled from the parent account.

Progress Reports
I personally love that I can check my child's progress in the Reports section.   I get to see everything he has mastered and where he needs extra practice.  I could even narrow this down for specific state standards, if that was important to me.  I also like that I can print out these progress reports, because as more relaxed homeschoolers, we don't necessarily have a lot of paper output.  Having something tangible from an online program is valuable for showing our progress to our portfolio reviewer.

iPad App
For children who think the iPad is less "school-like" than workbooks or computers, they would probably love the IXL Math Practice app.  You do need to have a subscription to access the full potential of the app, but it makes a great alternative to traditional math drill.  It would also be nice to utilize the app when life is crazy and you're out of the home frequently, to keep the math skills sharp.

What Do We Think?
This program is straightforward drill work.  There are no cute avatars to dress, games to play, or maps to complete.  As such, my children do not ask for this on their own, but once they are in and answering questions, they are willing to master one skill.  It takes 14 questions to reach mastery in Pre-K (or more, if any are missed), and 28+ for my 1st grader, and that is enough practice for one day, in my opinion.  I do not require my 4 year old to do any actually, but he likes doing what his big brother is doing, so I let him.  Older students could probably do more.

Personally, I do like how the questions are sequential, and even within a subtopic, they slowly increase in difficulty.  For example, in one of the sections on skip counting, it asks questions such as "When counting by twos, what number is after 78?"  Towards the end it might ask "When counting by fives, what number is before 60?" so the questions really do require the child to focus on the details.

Overall, I am really impressed with this website as a practice program.  It's very thorough, and really makes the child work, since it tailors the questions to their needs.  We will continue to use it as needed to supplement our curriculum.

There are a few different subscription options to meet your needs:
Monthly - $9.95 for Math OR Language Arts, or $15.95 for both (additional students $2/each)
Yearly - $79.00 for Math OR Language Arts, or $129.00 for both (additional students $20/each)

Is it Right for You?
You can also sign-in as a guest and do up to 20 practice questions per day to try it out first.  You can't access the awards or reports, but it will give you a feel for how the questions are laid out and how your children will respond to the program, before deciding which subscription option would better suit your needs.  You can also check out the rest of the crew's IXL reviews for more opinions!

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