Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Time 4 Learning

I approached this Time4Learning (T4L) trial with curiosity and a tad of skepticism.  Computer-based homeschooling is so opposite of what we do around here (not that I'm opposed to the computer -- seeing as I'm using one right now).  My children have used math fact drill programs online and my 11 yo participated in four science webinars last winter.  But to have all his major content classes online?  That is so different from what we do.

My curiosity was piqued because I have a dear friend who used T4L last year for their main curriculum.  Faced with an infant and major construction on her home, she used T4L for her two school-aged children.  She had mixed success with it (one child loved it, one did not), so I was interested to have my own try with it.

The Basics.  From their website, T4L's main emphasis is on language arts and math;  science and social studies are "thrown in" as freebies. You can sign up your child at a specific grade level (they recommend first signing them up at their traditional/ expected level), but you'll then get access to a grade level above and below, so that you can make adjustments.

They seem to have a lot of up-front help for those families considering T4L:
T4L costs $19.95 per month of use for the first child, and $14.95 for the second (and subsequent).  That averages out to about $180 for the first student or 9 months of school and $135 for the second student's tuition. Monthly tuition payment is automatically debited against your credit card of choice. You can view billing FAQ here.

The Program.  My curiosity was greatest for my 6th grader.  I was pleasantly surprised that the math  material for 6th grade dovetailed nicely with our progress in Singapore Math (we're using 5A this fall).  Topics included estimating, fractions, decimals and percents, graphing, among others.  It is similar to Singapore in that it is mastery based. (link takes you to a forum discussion about it).  I was also pleased with what I saw of the Language Arts programs.  They have two components:  Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions.  I appreciate that many language arts skills are taught within the context of contemporary children's literature.  For example after reading Growing Up in Coal Country, my son was asked to write a letter of complaint, compare and contrast information, and learn about prepositional phrases.

Arithmetic practice for my 2nd grader seems a bit light, but topics also mimicked our Singapore Math 2A/B curriculum for this year.  I would definitely need to print out additional worksheets for my son. Both boys really enjoyed the science and social studies lessons -- and I suspect the nutty, multi-media presentations were a huge part of the reason why.  Multi-media quizes and activities sure are way more fun than paper-and-pencil tasks. 

The K-level material that I worked through with my youngest was just plain fun for him.  Much was review for him (along the lines of a basic skills workbook you could purchase at Walmart), but I'm hopeful that it increases in content as the K year goes by.  Although we didn't use the Language Arts program (I'm trying to focus on phonograms with him versus letter names), by the end of the program, children are given the opportunity to read short vowel CVC words in story format.

How it worked for us.  In order to check my children's progress everyday, I had to sign into each of their accounts and look in their "backpack" icon.  There, I could see which activities they'd attempted and completed for they day and see their percent accuracy on quizzes and tests.  I really, really wish I could log into only one account (the parent account) and view all my kids' progress in one spot -- it would make the program so much more efficient for families with more than one chid that is using the program.

You can print out reports of your child's lessons and learning activities on a weekly or monthly basis, This would form a "lessons completed" log of the child's progress.  The logs report the child's quiz and test grade (in percent).  The program sets a 70% or better criteria for advancement-- anything less than that and the assignment is not considered complete, requiring a re-do by the student. Unfortunately, the 70% criteria cannot be changed at all.

I was not pleased that I couldn't view my child's responses on their quizzes or tests -- only percents are reported.  I'm one who gleans information on my child's errors, so I'm not able to analyze error patterns and assess progress.

On one math quiz (about rays, lines and planes), my son got nearly all the answers wrong.  Aaack! After talking with him and re-starting the quiz, he realized that he'd typed in all the answers in lower case vs. upper case letters.  It's too bad more specific directions weren't given to the child to prevent something like this.

My friend warned me to watch the wording of some questions, as she found questions that were worded so poorly she couldn't figure out what they were asking.  Now, I didn't notice this problem, but perhaps that's because we weren't methodically working through every lesson in all four subjects.  Or, better yet, perhaps they've made some corrections.

One of the things I (wrongly) expected about a computer based curriculum is that I could be more "hands-off" than with the resources we currently use.  Now that I've had a chance to use this (albeit only for a short time), I can see that I would still want to monitor my children's progress.  Add in potential internet connection issues or pages not responding (an issue we didn't deal with during our time using the program), and I would certainly want to stay in the area while my kids' worked.

I can certainly see us using T4L as a supplemental item for certain subjects (especially math for my oldest or science for my middle son, who just. can't. get. enough.).  I wish there was a way to purchase just specific subjects.   After our trial month, I'm much less skeptical of the computer-based educational alternatives and can certainly appreciate their use for a variety of homeschool situations.

If you'd like to read more T4L reviews, click here

FCC note: I was given a month's free membership to Time4Learning in exchange for a my honest opinions and thoughts about it.


Elizabeth said...

Hey :)

Fellow mini-crew mate 'checking' out the reviews. GREAT post!

Have a great weekend.

Catherine said...

I enjoyed your review. Thanks for all of the great information.

Michelle Smith said...

Good, thorough review. I like all the strengths and weaknesses which you detailed you found with this online program. I can really tell a lot about this program from your own as well as your children's detailed responses to it.