I don’t like labels, but I have to look at the facts. My daughter is 3 years 9 months today, and she is reading at the 4th grade level. That makes her… shall we say, unusual. When I was looking to try out Time4Learning.com, I was intrigued by the promises to address the needs of gifted children. Here lies the first problem – Anna’s spread in various subjects is probably 4 years or more. I chose to focus all my review time (1 month) on kindergarten math, since I don’t feel that we need any help in reading at this point and not quite ready for spelling or grammar yet. Maybe other courses are set up differently, but the scope of this review is exclusively kindergarten math at Time4Learning.com from the point of view of an academically advanced preschooler and her parent.
First experience of my child. I set Anna in front of my laptop and let her go over the tutorial. She does not have mouse skills (she is more used to my iPod than to my laptop), but after about 10 minutes and my instruction, she managed to manipulate the trackpad reasonably well and went through the tutorial. Then we started on the very first lesson in the math – matching “same” pictures.
- Anna (after a few screens): Mama, why do they keep asking me the same questions? It’s all the same.
- Me: Umm… That’s a mouse learning lesson. That’s for you to learn to control the program.
- In the end of this first activity I said that it’s enough for today in the hopes to look for something that would match her skills better. I asked Anna what she thought. She said, Well, it was a little long and a little boring, but I still want to play more.
Second experience of my child: It took Anna some time to figure out this activity. What annoyed both me and her is that “the magic hand” will show you a full answer if you make a mistake and then will ask you to redo the problem. I understand that essentially every activity is glorified drilling, but this is too much drilling for my taste. It would be good to be able to skip the repeat of the activity or to reintroduce it later. She also kept asking why “Bunny and her friends” don’t show up any longer. I am with her – the virtual world is not consistently designed. If you have four characters that represent this learning world, it would be nice to see them in every activity in some way. I think this kind of consistency is important to young learners, especially to ones like my daughter who likes predictability. The good news is that she still wants to play more as long as “Bunny and her friends” are present in the activity that I select next.
So do I feel so far that the K math program addresses the needs of the gifted student? Again positives first. It does to a degree through “acceleration”, because Time4learning.com allows access to 3 grades at the same time (I now have access to PreK, PreK2 and K and can change it by contacting customer support). I suppose I can bump her to the first grade and find through experimentation a combination of activities that would fill the gaps in her preK knowledge and move her further.
However, I’ve seen a lot of negatives, and some of them could be fixed relatively easily:
The delivery of the material is excruciatingly slow. I kept thinking, Is this what she is going to experience when she goes to K next year??? As I mention, one cannot skip an introduction to an activity, and sometimes it runs very slowly (not because the site is slow, because the voice speaks very slowly) for 2-3 minutes. I wish I could configure the option to skip introduction (to have a “go on” button enabled while the introduction is running).
Unnecessary Repetition. On every screen of the activity the voice says exactly the same thing explaining what needs to be done. I don’t see it needed at all after the first screen, since you have a button that a child can use if he or she needs to listen to instructions again. I wish the child could proceed directly to the task and the talking would only start after a certain period of inactivity on the page.
Not adaptive. This is obviously more difficult to fix. After spending now probably about 4 hours total on K math, I feel that every activity essentially is a translation of a workbook page into a multi-media world. Some are done very well, some are done so-so. In all of them one cannot skip one multiple-choice question without completing it, and they all seem to run in order of simple to more difficult. My ideal program for gifted student would start this kind of a drill with a question of medium difficulty and then adjust up or down based on the correctness of the answer.
The rest is completely unrelated to Time4Learning.com, but working with this curriculum made me wonder how Anna’s future school will meet her needs. I read that academically advanced preschoolers typically “even out” with average peers by the third grade. But maybe they even out because they are forced to sit in the classroom through the same curriculum as this K Math without being able to “skip” anything or to go deeper into any of the topics. Just a thought for the future, but I am still committed to public kindergarten.
Stay tuned for my vision of how an ideal math program would look like to me and how Time4Learning stacks up to this vision :)
Since I am reviewing a math program, I am linking this post to Math Links at Joyful Learner.