Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: Factsfirst (Saxon Math)

Mathematics can be used to accomplish some pretty amazing things.  I still sit in awe during that scene of Apollo 13 where they have to figure out the math to transfer the navigation system to the LEM -- and doing it all with pencils and slide rulers!!   As complicated as math can be, it is all based and begins with simple facts like 1 + 1 = 2.  We need to make sure our students have these down cold before moving on to greater things.   Factsfirst is an online math program that helps students with the necessary drilling of these math facts, but in a way that keeps it fun (so that they won't hate math going forward).

The lessons for all four areas of study (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are available in English or Spanish.  On your first visit to each subject  you build a cartoon character of yourself and take a brief typing speed test.  (Once your character is built it will  appear as the base character and you can just save it rather than start from scratch).  

You will then be taken to the menu for that math function.  All the lessons for that function will appear and you can take the lessons in any order.   When you take the quizzes at the end of the lesson, be warned that they are cumulative and will ask questions based on all prior lessons whether you've done them or not.

Your cartoon appears in a scenario that will be used throughout the lesson --for example Fritz's character was supposed to sell tickets to a play for $5 each when we covered the X 5 facts.  With the exception of facts involving zero, only two facts are covered per lesson (e.g. 1 + 2, 2 + 3).  After the new facts are presented, there is an opportunity to practice the facts before taking the quiz.  There is audio for the facts presentation and the practice but not the quiz.  Mastery is determined not only by getting the right answer but typing it quickly so make sure your students know how to use the 10 key pad well.  I found the cartoon environment distracting even though there was no movement, just the changing of the math problems.  Fritz didn't seem to mind it.

After the quiz, Factsfirst provides the student with a visual progress chart. 


This chart is similar to the one used in our normal math curriculum.   Again, a student may have all the right answers but if their keyboarding skills aren't up to speed it might not appear as though the facts have been mastered.  It is possible for a parent to change the timing required to show mastery.  It may take more than one run through a lesson before a math fact is coded green.  I set myself up as a student and ran through a lesson as quickly as possible but the progress chart still showed the facts as striped for "Not Sure Yet."

The carrot pulling the students through the lessons is the opportunity to play in the arcade for five minutes after each lesson.  The student my work on their cartoon character or play one of four games.  Fritz's favorite (the only game we played in fact ) was Shutter Bug--a spot the differences between two pictures game.  In between rounds he had to answer three math facts from his lessons.  

A one-year subscription to Facts Firsts costs $49.99.  You'll be able to set up and track the progress of up to four students.   I'd recommend Factsfirst if you have a student just learning math facts, or an older student who struggles with higher math concepts because he doesn't have these basics down pat.

You can read what my fellow crewmates thought about Factsfirst by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free trial subscription to Factsfirst for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

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