Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review of IXL

IXL is one of the first names in homeschooling excellence. Long known for its online math membership, it has recently added an online language arts membership for grades 2-4 as well.

IXL offers state standards and common core aligned math practice skills for grades K-12, including Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. Pre-Calculus is coming soon. Each grade level has a varying number of skills, with grades 2-12 all having over 200 skills included. Students work through skills systematically to achieve mastery, earning rewards and achievements along the way.

Although IXL has always been known for its math practice, it has recently introduced a new language arts offering for grades 2-4, with additional grades to come. IXL's language arts practice follows the same general format as its math practice. There are currently 57 skills for 2nd grade, 70 skills for 3rd grade, and 71 skills for 4th grade. Questions asked gradually increase in difficulty as students answer more and more correctly.

How The Drills Work

For both math and language arts, the practice drills work in the same way. Questions start out relattively easy and get more difficult. For the first question a student answers correctly, he gets 10 points. The second ad third questions answered correctly earn 9 points, the fourth-ninth questions earn 8, and each successive correct question earns fewer correct points as mastery is demonstrated. When a question is answered incorrectly, four-five points are lost. After about 60-70 questions, a student only gets 1 point correct for each right answer, but he still loses multiple points for a wrong answer. As my son says, it's one step forward, five steps back. Trust me, when IXL says your student has mastered a subject - he's mastered a subject! 

At 70% mastery, a green badge is earned. At 80%, a red badge is added to the green. At 90%, a blue badge is earned and you enter the challenge zone. After answering ten questions in a row correctly, you have attained mastery of that skill! Whew!

Parental Reports

One of the best features of IXL is the parental report. Not only can you view every aspect of your child's progress through IXL online (literally every aspect - you can even see every single question your child has been give to answer!), but IXL even emails progress reports to you. I was in bed late one night when I got the email telling me that Nicky (10) had answered 500 8th grade math questions! You can view the reports a variety of ways. A couple of them are depicted below:

You really can have your child's progress displayed any way you choose, though. Your options are almost limitless!

How We Used IXL

Nicky (10) used IXL as a supplement to his math program. He is doing a computer-based algebra curriculum, but because I am always worried about how good his math foundation is since he has worked through some levels so quickly, he was working on IXL's 8th grade math. It turned out to be a great fit, complementing the algebra he was doing really well. Best of all, he loves working on it. In fact, he tries to do IXL before his other math. He actually tries to do IXL before any schoolwork. He is highly motivated by the system of mastery-attainment I described above. Below you can see the skills that he has mastered, along with those he is on his way to mastering.

Therese (12) has been using IXL math for remediation in a couple of areas in which she is not very strong. Specifically, she knows which areas of math are really helpful on the SAT (ratios, for example), so she has sought out those areas on IXL. Working on these areas has shown her where she needs extra instruction, so IXL has actually helped her in two ways: it has given her extra practice where she needs it, but it has also showed her where extra practice is just not going to be enough.

The language arts section of IXL is something about which I am very excited. Fortunately, my twins (almost 9) are at exactly the right age to benefit from it! I know that the Common Core is very controversial, and I am against it in principle. However, in my day job, I actually create language arts Common Core materials for a very well known website for public school teachers. In terms of language arts, I think the Common Core is a good thing (and the standards are very rigorous!). The exercises at IXL are nearly identical to those that I write every single day, but mine are boring old pencil and paper. Michael (my IXL language arts guinea pig) has infinitely preferred the IXL version. Some of the second grade skills are below.

A sample question looks like this:

The language arts is a wonderful new addition to IXL and is really a lot of fun! I actually see it improving my twins' standardized test scores in the areas of capitalization and punctuation. They were in the top quarter last year, but I was still a little dismayed by how many questions they missed in these areas. (N.B. I'm going to add Mary-Catherine to our IXL subscription!).

The Nitty Gritty

A subscription to IXL costs $9.95 per month for math only or language arts only, or $15.95 a month for both subjects. If you prefer, you can subscribe for a full year for $79 for a single subject (math or language arts), or you can pay $129 a year for both math and language arts. Each additional child is only $2 per month, or $20 per year. I have always thought this sounded like a lot of money in the past, and, well, it kind of is...but it's worth it! My kids all love it. Okay, Therese doesn't *love* it, but she does like it. She doesn't argue about having to do it at all. Nicky's verdict: "Awesome!" You get so much for your money with IXL - you really do.

Crew members with children of all ages have been busily using IXL math and language arts, so click the graphic to read all of their reviews!

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