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Monday, November 10, 2014

IXL...A TOS Crew Review...

We recently had the opportunity to review IXL Math and IXL Language Arts from IXL in our homeschool.  IXL is one of those programs that I've heard about for years, but have never truly understood what it really was or what to do with it.  If you are like me, I hope that this review gives you a great feel for the program!

So What Exactly IS IXL?

IXL is a learning computer website that helps kiddos practice their skills in math and in language arts.  It is not a teaching website--the "teaching" happens when a child answers a question incorrectly and instruction is given.  IXL offers unlimited questions on over 4,000 math and language arts skills, covering Pre-K through PreCalculus in math, and second through eight grade in language arts.

What Did We Receive?

We received a membership to IXL's online program for one year for two students.  My kiddos both had access to the math and the language arts sections.  In addition, I had a parent login which gave me access to everything my kiddos had, as well as the report sections.  There is also an IXL app available for iPad, Android, and Kindle, but we did all of our work on our desktop.

How Did We Use IXL?

When we received our login for IXL, it was very simple for me to set up an account for myself, Bug (2nd grade), and Firefly (6th grade).  Once we had those set up, we went to work.

Bug and I used this program together for the most part, although he would have been able to navigate the site on his own, and did just that at times.  At first, I would "assign" a section for him to work on, based on what we had been covering in our regular schoolwork.  This worked beautifully as there are so very many skills--it was easy to find just the right section for him to practice.  As the review period went on, however, our entire homeschool style began to change.  As a result, we began to use IXL in a freer manner, allowing Bug to select what he wanted to work on when.

Since he is in Second Grade, he was able to use both the math and language arts sections, although he preferred the math overall.  The language arts was a bit heavier on grammar and parts of speech than we have covered on our own, so it was more difficult for him, but the math was just the right speed.

Firefly also used both the math and the language arts sections of IXL.  Although she is in Sixth Grade, we worked at the Fifth Grade level.  Even some of that material was a bit difficult for her, so it was nice to be able to navigate within grade levels.  Her preference, of course, was for the language arts, and it was a struggle to get her to practice in the math.

Each time we sat down to work, we planned for about a fifteen minute session, which was usually enough for my second-grader to complete two or more sections.  Firefly, however, had usually just enough time to complete one.

What Did I Think of IXL?

First of all, I really like the IDEA of IXL.  It is very streamlined, easy to find what skills you are looking for, and easy to use.  In looking for a specific skill, you can hover over the section and a sample question will pop up, which helped me tremendously!

Also, I never went to look for a skill to practice that wasn't there.  There is an absolutely massive selection of skills to practice, both in language arts and in math.  The skills are correlated to state standards, which means Common Core.  However, that in itself was not a problem for me, and we didn't find any discrepancies in how the math was practiced vs. how I have taught it.

The screens were very easy to navigate.  Once the skill is selected, the screen looks like it does above.  Once the child answers the question (which is printed, but in the earlier grades it can be read aloud.  We did not use this feature.), the SmartScore goes up.  Once it reaches 100, the skill is mastered.  

**Warning**(if you have perfectionist kiddos like mine).  The SmartScore goes up more quickly at the beginning of the session than it does when you get closer to the end.  As a matter of fact, the last ten-ish questions are worth one point each, while the first ones are worth nine or ten points.  This would continually frustrate my kiddos, who watched that score like hawks.

Once the student completes the section, there is quite often a prize.  In our experience, the language arts prizes were "medals", but the math prizes were different "objects" the kids got to uncover.

The kids had a lot of fun uncovering the prizes, and more than once were motivated to do "just one more" in order to meet the goal.  There are also certificates that get emailed to the parent account for certain benchmarks:  for example, answering 100 language arts questions, or 250 questions overall.

Now, the parent report section of IXL was amazing.  There is so much information there that it can be a bit overwhelming!  And, overall, since I sat with my kiddos when they used the program, there was much of it that was unnecessary for me.  However, if this was used as a supplemental program for when Mommas were working with other siblings, the report piece would be so very helpful!  It tracks time spent online, time spent in each section, problems answered, level of mastery, skills practiced, improvement, and on and on and on.  There is also a brief weekly report that is emailed to the parent to go over time spent, progress made, etc.

So again, the idea of IXL--wonderful!  In our reality, I was frustrated with it in our homeschool.  Neither of my children enjoyed much of their time online, although they were drawn to the prizes enough to get on without much of an argument--on most days.  This didn't surprise me much with Firefly.  I definitely think the questions were more difficult than what she is used to, and when we got to questions that were more appropriate for her, she could see that they were "Fifth Grade", which was discouraging for her.  For Bug, though, who loves to work online, I was surprised.  I think that maybe the repetitive aspect of the questions, while wonderful for practicing a skill, may just have been a little too much for his attention span.

While IXL didn't work well for us, I do think that we are probably in the minority.  It's just an amazing way for moms to have their students drill and practice what they've learned, keep track of what they are doing, and let the students earn prizes and certificates.  And being able to move around to all of the grade levels was very helpful for us--although might have been more helpful if the grades weren't so clearly marked.

What Did My Kiddos Think?

"I did not like it so much.  It sort of stressed me out because it was timing me and usually when I'm getting timed I get frustrated.  I didn't really like either the math or the language arts.  But I did like the language arts a little bit better than the math.  I liked the certificates."  (Bug, age 8)

"It was fun to win the prizes.  Some of it was really hard, and I liked the language arts better than the math.  I really did like winning the prizes though.  It was a good review of some of the stuff I've already learned.  I would want to keep doing it some days, but not all the time."  (Firefly, age 11)

Find Out More About IXL:

Family memberships cost $9.95 / month, or $79 / year for one subject, or $15.95 / month and $129 / year for both math and language arts.  Each additional child is $2 / month or $20 for the year.  This gives you access to all grade levels and all skill levels.

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Also, make sure to see what my fellow Crew-Mates thought about their time with IXL...

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