Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Time4Learning

As Gess has gotten older I have found that computer based lessons are a great way to give her some independent learning experience.  I hear many parents who have children with Down syndrome say they love using Time4Learning so I thought I might try it again and see if it worked better for Gess now that she was older.

Time4Learning is a homeschool, after school or summer online study program for preschool through high school covering math, language arts, science and social studies.  It can be used as an entire curriculum or an addition to your current program. 


One of the nice things about it is that your child not only has access to their grade level but they can also access one level above and below it.  This enables you to modify learning according your child's personal skill level.  They even let you choose different levels for each subject which was really nice since Gess' skills vary greatly between language arts and math. I had Gess in 1st grade for math so she could access the two levels around it and I had her in 3rd grade reading so she could access 4th grade which is closer to her current reading level but also 2nd grade for some review and items she may have missed.

When you click to start your learning portal opens where you can see all the subjects available to you.  As you click on each subject you are guided by an arrow which keeps track of where you are and what lessons you have completed.  If, however, you do subjects out of order the arrow will remain where the program expects you to be.



The lower level classes are taught through animated videos that explain the content and then allow you to practice.


 There are 5 question review quizzes as the end of some lessons and a special quiz at the end of each section as well as a test at the end of each unit. 



All of the grades are stored in the students records through the Parent Administration section.  I liked the fact that all activity was immediately viewable in the Student Records as soon as it was completed.  Gess would be doing a lesson in the classroom and I was able to check it and see if she did the right lesson, completed the lesson and if it was a graded activity, what score she got.  That was very handy! 

The activities are also repeatable so if they do not do well on the lesson they can try it again later.  It appears that the questions they ask are the same but they do appear to randomize the order.  Here is a look at Gess' daily work report. You can see where she repeated some lessons that she struggled with and showed great improvement.  There were also some she repeated for review and didn't always do as good the second time.  That is why the review is really nice!  Here is a section of her weekly work record.

 
Here is a report of just her scores.


The animated lessons did a good job at explaining the topic and Gess seemed to learn well from them.  They had characters that first explained the topic then they would lead you through some practice.  Here is one of her language arts lessons.  These ladies are explaining what synonyms are.


I thought it was a great idea to be able to choose an option that said you didn't understand the topic.  Even when you did understand they always explained it further for you.

In math Gess was working on counting money and I was really pleased with the graphics on their animations.  It made it very clear what each coin was.  Gess can often confuse nickels and quarters when they are written on paper but does pretty well with the actual coins. These were very easy to discern. 



The quizzes didn't have the same high quality animation and often they asked questions without showing the coins on the screen for you to count.  During those times I let Gess use her own coins so she could actually count them out to get the answer.

While we really found the lower level animation videos helpful as the child gets older and is expected to be able read more the lessons stop being animated.  Instead the units have about 8 pages for you to read.  There are some questions along the way.  I didn't really care for how those worked because you have to check each individual answer yourself instead of answering them all and then checking whether you got them right or not.  It will also let you mark the lesson complete even if you didn't answer any questions so there is no way for the parent to know if they actually did the activity or not. 


I sat with Gess and did these lessons with her.  Some of them had you keep track of information in a notebook or do other activities.  For social studies we learned about communities and Gess had to make a poster about rules in her own community.  Here is the poster she made which had to do with traffic and litter laws.


What I liked about Time4Learning was that is had a great reporting system.  My daughter could work on lessons independently and as a parent I could know immediately how she did, or if she did it at all.  There were times I caught her leaving her lesson before it was complete or choosing to do a different lesson. It was great!

While there is no assignment option for homeschool I would just write down the subject, level and topic (if it was different from where the arrow pointed) down on the board and she could find it easily enough on her own that way.  For example her assignment might look like this and she knew just what to do: 

T4L Language Arts Level 3 Vocabulary Skills
T4L LA Extensions Level 2
T4L Math Level 2 Money

I also liked the fact that they called them levels instead of grades.  Gess knows what grade she is supposed to be in and she would not like doing work from lower grades, but the word level never seemed to phase her!

Gess also found the lessons entertaining.  The game shows like Word Herd were her favorite.  The animations really made learning fun and are helpful for students with special needs.  I love that Gess can have some independent learning with these.



There are also worksheets with many of the lessons that you can print off and other great resources like a parents forum online.

There is also a playground section that the child can play in after so much time spent doing work.  Gess really liked that at first and wanted to play the games.  After awhile the novelty wore off but she was still eager to do her lessons.  I was pleased with how the parents were the ones who controlled both how much time the child spent doing activities to earn the playground and how much time they were allowed to play once on it.


What I didn't like about Time4Learning was the fact that while the videos were entertaining they were awfully busy, flashy and noisy.  Entertaining a student is a good thing but sometimes the entertainment can distract from the point of the lesson.  For instance, in trying to describe a summary they used an example of a message a college student gets from her roommate.  She talks about a cute boy she ran into and how their party has changed dates and themes.  First of all, I would prefer it if they did not encourage third graders to be acting like college students and be worried about cute boys and parties.  I think the topics should be more suitable for children.  Secondly I do not think you should have people speaking in slang when the purpose of the video is to teach proper language.  I understand wanting to make the video relevant to the student but you can do that without being ridiculous.  As I mentioned Gess enjoyed the videos and most of them were OK but I do not think they are always great examples, even when they get the point of the lesson across.  It seemed like the videos from 2nd grade to 3 grade were vastly different as I felt the 2nd grade ones were much more age appropriate. 

Time4Learning is a secular program so you might keep that in mind.  Part of the problem with the above example is that my world view believes differently about how children should be behave. I am sure many parents would have no problem at all with that particular video.  The science and social studies had some views that differed from my belief system as well.  It wasn't enough to make me not want to use the program all together.  It makes it a nice supplement but it would not be my core material.  It is just something my readers may want to know.

I was somewhat disappointed with the science and social studies lessons.  The animated ones didn't seem as interesting nor did they hold Gess' interest near as much as the other subjects.  Gess usually loves science but they don't offer much at the early levels until the lessons stop being animated.

During 3rd and especially once in 4th grade the videos stop being interactive and more reading is expected.  That is probably a good thing for typical students but for Gess it provides a problem, especially since you don't really have to do the lesson or even attempt to answer the questions to get it marked complete.  Since Gess doesn't grasp the material as easily just reading it I have to start sitting with her and explain it to her which defeats the purpose of helping her become independent. Since I have no way of knowing if she really read the material or just clicked the arrows it really isn't helpful. I wish it was a mixture of both animation and reading and had graded quizzes at the end of each lesson so a parent could know if they grasped the concept or not.  I think that would make a huge difference.

We also felt that the non-animated lessons were not very interesting to read or interact with. It was just a dry reading of the facts with very little to peek your interest.  There were a few activities that were suggested and we did them, but Gess did it because she had to, she didn't really seem to enjoy them very much.

Overall Gess did enjoy the interactive videos and willingly did her lessons.  She really enjoyed answering the game show questions and has done well counting her money.  I love that she can review those things on her own.  I also love that the program offers a variety of subjects and has an excellent reporting program.  I will continue to use it this year as a supplement to my current curriculum.  I am just uncertain how long it will be beneficial for us since many of her lessons will not be animated as she moves up.

Time4Learning is $19.95 per month for grades PreK-8th grade and it costs $14.95 for each additional student.  Their High School program is $30.00 per month and they all come with a 14 day money back guarantee.  If you would like to learn more visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review thought about it by clicking on the banner below.  There you will not only get to read other opinions but you can see what some of the other grade levels were like.

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