Thursday, November 7, 2013

IXL {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

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With three students, I find it very difficult to find one product that works equally well for all three of them. IXL provides computer-based math practice for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through High School students and language arts activities for second through fourth graders. We found that IXL indeed excelled at providing age-appropriate math practice. I used it for Lauren's practice problems, Brennan's review materials, and Addison's college entrance exam preparations.

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The math practice is clearly divided into topic areas, and the intent is for a student to work on each area until the concept is fully mastered. IXL calculates a "smart score" as the student answers practice problems. This score is more than running average of right versus wrong answers. It measures the student's mastery of the topic and gives higher weight to the more recently asked questions. Consistency (more correct answers in a row) is highly rewarded. According to IXL, a student has demonstrated complete mastery of the topic when they achieve a smart score of 100. For my children that often took more than one practice session.

Our family used the math portion of the program with an elementary student, a middle schooler, and a high schooler. IXL provides a lot of practice problems and offers explanations when the student gets a question wrong. I don't think it was intended to introduce new concepts, and therefore, we used it as a supplement to our normal math curriculum.

Elementary Math Practice
Lauren, our second grader, used IXL for additional practice. I found it helpful that IXL has a practically never-ending stash of practice problems to present to the student. I no longer have to make up my own problems (or homework pages) when Lauren needs extra practice to grasp a concept.

She was also exposed to concepts that we've not already covered formally. With just a little teaching or explanation from me, she was able to start her IXL practice and then master the new concept.

I was impressed with the thoroughness of the practice problems. For instance, the money section introduced all sorts of coins, both the front-view and the reverse. I've never seen a math program that includes dollar coins (both the newer ones and the older Susan B. Anthony ones) or the reverse sides of the newer quarters and nickels.

Lauren is not a big fan of doing educational activities on the computer, but the time that she does spend doing IXL is very beneficial. I also found that sometimes she became so absorbed in trying to improve her smart score that she worked much longer on the computer than she would have if she had been doing paper/pencil exercises.

Middle School Review:
Brennan, our seventh grader, preferred working on the IXL iPad app instead of on a regular computer. The iPad app only covers the materials for Pre-K through 6th grade, but I knew that the 6th grade concepts would provide the basic math practice Brennan needs while he works through his regular Algebra 1 course.

Some of the topics Brennan can review are: multiply and divide decimals, multiply and divide fractions, percents (calculate tax, tip, mark-up), statistics, data and graphs, geometry (including volume and surface area of three dimensional solids), and much more.

Although Brennan can use the regular IXL to practice specific algebra concepts, I think IXL provides a wonderful review service for students beginning their higher level math courses. All too often students start thinking about equations and forget how to do simple calculations involving fractions or decimals. Working with IXL will help prevent that sort of knowledge loss as Brennan progresses in his math courses.

High School Test Prep:
Addison, our tenth grader, was not interested in using IXL at first because it only covers materials through Algebra 2, and she is nearing the end of her Pre-Calculus textbook. Upon closer examination, we found that the IXL materials would be quite useful for her. (I recommend looking at the list of Geometry and Algebra 2 topics to see the full scope of the high school IXL materials.)

"I know that I didn't answer a problem about a reflected function on the PSAT so I think it would've been good to have reviewed that before. Also when I look at the Geometry and Algebra 2 topics, I found a lot of topics that I haven't studied in depth before and some topics that I'm just now learning in my Pre-Calculus book."

IXL would be a perfect way to prepare for college entrance exams. I know that often high school students cover a specific math topic and then forget much of it when they move on to another concept. By scanning through the lengthy lists of math topics, the student can find unfamiliar topics and then target their test prep time by refreshing their memories in a few specific areas.

For the Parent or Teacher:
IXL makes record keeping easy for the parent or teacher, even if the students are switching back and forth between the iPad app and the regular program. I could log onto IXL on my computer and see reports detailing how much time each child spent working, what skills they practiced, what their current smart score was in each area, and more. It worked well for me to assign a specific amount of practice time that each student needed to complete and then be able to make sure that the goal was met (even if I wasn't available to watch them do their assigned practice problems).

Rarely do I find a program that works well for all three of my students. IXL provides math practice that they all found beneficial, even though they use it in different ways. I highly recommend this program as a math supplement for nearly every student -- homeschooled or traditionally schooled.

IXL also offers Language Arts activities for elementary students (2nd-4th graders). I was impressed with the list of skills covered by IXL's Language Arts, but we haven't used them. Since Lauren is opposed to doing much schoolwork on the computer, I decided to let her stick with just the math activities.

A subscription to IXL costs $9.95 per month for a single student to practice either math or language arts. Access to both subjects costs $15.95 per month for a single student. Subscriptions for additional students in the family are only $2 more per month. The IXL iPad app itself is free, but it requires a current IXL account to be able to access the practice problems.


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