Among homeschoolers, I have heard many talking about the online math resource IXL.com for math practice. IXL currently offers Online Math Membership for Pre-K through Algebra 2. Recently, IXL added an Online Language Arts Membership component for grades 2-4. The language arts portion covers topics like grammar, spelling, prefixes and suffixes, and punctuation. A subscription to IXL costs $9.95/month for one subject or $15.95/month for both subjects. Each additional child adds $2/month. Yearly subscriptions are also available for $79 for one subject or $129 for both. Pumpkin Pie and Butterfly were offered the chance to review both portions of IXL.
IXL is primarily a review and practice resource. IXL does not really do much in the way of teaching concepts. For our review, Pumpkin Pie did grade 2 math and Butterfly did grade 4 math. They each tried the appropriate language arts level as well. Be sure to poke around the website because there are sample questions for all levels as well as complete topic lists available on the website without logging in.
For each account, IXL creates each student name as well as a parent login. These logins are customizable with icons and passwords. The parent page allows turning off grade level as well. The parent page is also the one stop location for all the reports for all the children listed on the account. From the parent page, I can see how long each child has practiced, what she has practiced and in what grade level she worked. I can also see graphs and specific topics about what areas a child works and how much time is spent and how much has been mastered.
What does it look like from a child’s perspective?
A child has access to all the levels at once so she can work in as many grades as she desires. This is both a positive and a negative to me. It is positive in that if a child moves quickly, there is nothing stopping her, but it can also be a temptation to work at stuff that is far too easy or to skip around levels a lot. When a child chooses a topic, he will be presented with a series of ever changing questions. Mostly these questions are similar except for different numbers. If a child gets a problem wrong, an explanation will be shown with a button that says, “got it.” The child will then return to the questions. Also of note, the Pre-K through 1st grade math contains a speaker button for non-readers to hear the instructions. As a child gets the problems right, a “SmartScore” is issued. The higher the score, the more problems correct in a row are required to reach 100 and the more damage a wrong answer does to the score. The SmartScore is intended to demonstrate enough practice to master a problem. Once the score equals 100, an "award” is issued. The awards are tiny icons which are revealed on the awards panel. If a child desires to uncover a specific square, he can hover over the square with a ? in it and a link to the topic will be revealed. Click through, master the topic, and return for a prize. Each grade level has a different theme from toys to ocean, to seasons and more.
What did the girls and I think?
Both girls really like the math portion but neither one of them enjoyed the language arts portions. While topics were mastered, there were no prizes awarded despite the computer stating that a prize had been won. Also, the practice was very repetitive. How many times can you change the present tense to a past tense verb in a sentence with 10 words? I felt that for our style of schooling the language arts portion was not in line with my philosophy. It reminded me too much of getting ready for the test and not enough relevant or inspirational learning. If I were worried about test scores I can see using IXL language arts, but the reality is that I believe that standardized tests in elementary school are next to worthless and I don’t believe in teaching for test success. I believe in teaching for lasting knowledge. Since the topics covered were out of context for my children, they were not meeting my goals for my children.
The math portion, while still repetitive, was received with more excitement, probably because it included the prizes to uncover and the topics the girls chose to work on were more relevant to them. When it was time to get on IXL I had to set a timer for the girls so the next one would get a turn. Otherwise, someone would spend a really long time working. Also, the SmartScore was a motivation to them to “finish this topic.” It helped them know how much more they needed to do before they were awarded their prizes. Ultimately, I think I would opt for the math and skip the language arts.