Sunday, December 14, 2008

Time 4 Learning On-line Curriculum

Time4Learning reaches computer savvy kids in a way that holds their interest while they venture through standard benchmarks of most graded curricula. Time4Learning offers instruction in Language Arts and Math for Pre-K and K, adds in science and social studies for 1st grade-8, plus an Odyssey Writer program for students working at grade levels 3-8. Homeschool parents could conceivably purchase their entire year’s worth of curriculum through this on-line resource. Time4Learning is highly recommended voted no.1 by and according to their homepage has received a variety of recommendations and awards. Because it is computer based, the curriculum may be customized to fit the particular needs of each student, easily track student progress for parent/teacher record keeping and allows for school to take place wherever your computer and internet service are provided. I believe the flexibility and computer technology are both extremely appealing to homeschoolers who traditionally love and need their children’s education to be non-traditional, flexible and custom designed for each child.

Since I am so unfamiliar with on-line curriculum resources, I found the brief tutorial provided for me after logging into my parent account a must to help me understand the full scope of the program. It took me about 25 mins. to easily read through the slide show presentation and learn how to navigate the site to its full advantage. During this tutorial I learned about progress reports, lesson plans, answer keys for all lesson plans, the Odyssey Writer program, a Parent Forum for chit chat and networking with other Time4Learning families, and the ability to change the educational level of my child from subject to subject. I found this last aspect extremely appealing since I learned long ago that no two children ever grow or learn alike. For example, your son or daughter could easily receive instruction in language arts at a 5th grade level while studying mathematics at an 8th grade level and work on writing skills at a 4th grade level. The price of $19.95 a month for the first child and $14.95 for each additional child never changes regardless of how many levels you need to access. I think this could be a real savings for parents since they would only be purchasing one curriculum no matter how many changes were required throughout the year to meet the needs of their child.

Our family tested out Time4Learning at 3 different age levels. Micah utilized sixth grade math and language arts, Sierra tested 1st grade science and math and Aidan looked at Pre-K language arts, math and the playground! A unique aspect of Time4Learning is the playground. Parents set a time limit for children in the “lower school” to work on their lessons. Once that time is complete they will have access to the playground for a pre-determined time limit set by the parent. Children in the upper school are not timed during lessons, but are timed on the playground. This allows the parent/teacher, if they are not sitting beside their child, to have confidence that lessons will be completed before access is granted to the easy fun educational games. I had set a limit of 15 mins. of playground time and when Aidan and I were playing a railroad game it did cut us off in the middle of the game once the time had run out. The time limits really work.

I found that Micah could navigate and work through her lessons with virtually no supervision. She signed into the upper school with her account user name and password and then proceeded to choose to work on math or language arts. She chose math and then chose from a list of topics on the next screen. After selecting graphing, a cute cartoon teacher appeared along with catchy music and graphics to teach her the lesson on graphing. The lesson time which included allowing her time to practice the principle and corrected her if she made a mistake took around 12 and half minutes. After listening to the lecture portion of her class she could then choose one of 6 different topics to study more in depth. Each of the exercises took her about 5-7 mins. to complete along with an additional “show me” section which played for 10-15 mins. All the presentations were made with both male and female voices and the bright, clear graphics flowed smoothly keeping student interest high. Two brief quizzes were presented for her to take which timed out at 4 mins. each. I liked that the quizzes offered her a variety of ways to demonstrate knowledge by asking true/false questions, type in the answer and click on the answer options.

The sixth grade Language arts lesson she chose was based on an excerpt of the book Far North by Will Hobbs. A “before reading section” to complete gave Micah background of the novel through an animated slide show and audio script drawing her attention into this intense adventure novel. After completing the slideshow lesson we printed out a KWL worksheet which allowed Micah to graphically organize what I Know, what I Want to know and what I Learned. She was instructed to use this before, during and after reading the literature selection. We printed a PDF file of a vocabulary worksheet for her to work through a vocabulary activity, also to be completed before reading. The activity consisted of the student filling in the worksheet while being taken through a visual vocabulary experience slideshow. Each word had its own slide, could be listened to by clicking on the word, read in a sentence and the opportunity to watch the word, especially in the case of nouns, through a photograph or graphic. I thought the use of traditional worksheets integrated with the computer technology was a wonderful use of integrating old school learning with new school technology.

My only complaint with the sixth grade curriculum I actually perused was that the literature was only an excerpt and not the entire book. Students could choose to read silently or have the selection read aloud to them. As a teacher of literature based home education, however, I cringe at the word excerpt. I love whole books, but for many this may not be an issue. I am equally sure there would be nothing to stop a student from checking the entire book out of the library after being enticed through the Time4Learning exercises.

Sierra, grade 1, chose to study Earth Science after logging in and clicking on lesson time. From Earth Science she chose the subtopic "Water Cycle". As the program loaded she was “entertained” by the computer asking her 4-5 simple questions. A simple presentation of the water cycle commenced followed by a small game activity where Sierra had to put the “parts” (words for the different stages) of the water cycle in order. This was followed by a brief quiz to test her memory of the different cycle events. I was a bit unsure whether the information was truly being absorbed by Sierra, but when I asked her for her opinion she said, “I liked learning about the water cycle. I liked using the computer”.

Sierra’s math lesson was a bit more dramatic in presentation. She chose the topic of capacity from 18 different options of math topics. Within the topic of capacity she had the option of choosing 4 different lessons, selecting customary units. I noted an accompanying worksheet, The Potion, which printed out easily to use after computer time was up. Because we had worked for 15 mins. on lessons, when Sierra clicked on The Potion, it instantly took her to the playground which allowed her to play a matching game with shapes. I thought this was interesting as I had set the limit of working for no longer than 15 mins. on a lesson without a break. Integrating play with learning is one of the selling points of Time4Learning. Once Sierra’s playground session expired an interactive video presentation instantly began without prompts teaching her the concepts of liquid capacity utilizing the U.S. Customary system. The video was very cute with a silly monkey and gorilla dressed as scientists, lab coats and all. They were placed in a lab setting complete with containers filled with green bubbly liquid and a smiling venus flytrap plant. A short 5 question quiz completed the lesson, but I used the previously printed worksheet as a review for her after she had completed her work on the computer.

Aidan, age 4, is a computer geek in the making. He loves, loves, loves all things video so I knew he would really enjoy his Time4Learning lessons. We looked at a math lesson titled Different Fish after logging in under his account. He needed very little help from me understanding clearly the directions spoken to him through the program. He was required to identify, then create different fish through the use of a basic paint design program. He seemed to really enjoy and understand this, however sometimes a gentle reminder from me to “click here” or “finish this first” was necessary to keep him focused on the task at hand. I’m not sure if he was just wanting to create his own activity or if the topic was a bit too repetitive for him and boredom was settling. Although I was not impressed by the sound quality or the graphics of this particular lesson, Aidan seemed extremely enthusiastic and uttered a series of “Yeah”, “Yes!” and high fives with me as he answered questions correctly. The best experience for him was a “fireworks” display at the very end of the lesson to show us it had concluded successfully. Aidan said, “I love it when I win!”

I also spent some time looking at two Pre-K language arts lessons. One covered the concept of over and under and another explored the sounds of A and D. Both lessons seemed a bit repetitive to me with similar graphics and sound quality of the aforementioned Different Fish lesson. Interestingly, however, the things which did not impress me did impress my 4 year old son, so I encourage parents of preschoolers to take advantage of Time4Learning’s 14 day free trial option. It was great fun viewing the site through the eyes of my son and watching him play the different educational games. If you need another recommendation you couldn’t have a better one than from Aidan. When asked what he thought of the Time4Learning website he said, “I would use it all the time!”

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