Monday, February 1, 2010

Facts First/ Saxon Harcourt

Facts First, an on-line program distributed by Saxon Homeschool and created by Skills Tutor, a sister company of Saxon, had my attention when it showed up on the review schedule for TOS Review Crew. My family has been a fan of Saxon Math since the beginning of our homeschool journey, or rather should I say, I have been a fan, my kids, well.....

Facts First is designed to develop "fluency with math facts". This skill mirrors a major portion of the Saxon Math curriculum, but math fluency complements any math program, not just Saxon. The on-line subscription based computer program drills kids in basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division math facts through timed drills. Students as young as Kindergarten easily benefit from the program targeted to younger students. Students do not need to be able to read independently to be able to use the program independently.

Our family received a 90 subscription to Facts First in exchange for this review. My 2nd grade daughter, Sierra and Kindergarten son, Aidan couldn't have been happier.

After logging into the site for the first time it guided me to register up to 4 students. Students are represented by a basic avatar, labeled with their name. Once logged into the site even a younger child can find his account by simply clicking on his name. Since I only had two students needing to develop fluency in basic math facts I quickly had everyone registered and we were ready to begin.

Although I selected addition to begin our trial, each time a student logs in they may choose to learn and practice addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. These are represented by large mathematical symbols for each, (+, -, X, etc.) on a button. Clicking on the math symbol takes users to the first "Welcome" lesson for the topic.

Non-readers easily continue without assistance as all directions to create a personalized avatar character for the lessons are spoken and written. After creating the avatar by choosing a body, clothes, etc. students are ready to attempt their first pre-test to check their fluency level.

Sierra began her first lesson by watching a teacher explain to her class the concept for adding zero to a number. Next she was asked to practice the concept a few times before taking a quiz to check fluency. Sound effects accompanied her rate of speed encouraging her inner competitive spirit.

Speed is very important with Facts First as students will not be awarded credit for completed work if it is done too slowly. A chart known as The Math Fact Matrix displays students progress when attempted. Facts marked in green note the rating of "excellent", yellow equals "good", red notes "needs work" and blue dashed lines mark the fact as "not sure yet".

Sierra received the award of "not sure yet" despite receiving all checks and check pluses when drilling her facts. She was a bit frustrated with this aspect which basically penalized her for slow typing skills. She had answered all of her facts correctly, but been told by the program her work was less than satisfactory. Unfortunately, receiving a 42% for answering all questions correctly left her discouraged instead of encouraged.

Parent control settings with Facts First allow adjusting the speed required for math facts. This can be individualized for each student in case someone is a slow typist, but excellent mathematician. As I prodded Sierra forward she took the her timed test two more times in an effort to compensate for the lack of typing experience. She began to warm up to Facts First as her scores continued to improve. By her third attemtpt her speed had improved enough to warrant an award of 84%.

Although Sierra struggled getting to know Facts First she said she enjoyed the program over all. "I liked Facts First, because it helped me learn math. I like when you begin the lesson how it puts your character in different places; sometimes it's the school and sometimes it's at the recycling center or at home," she said.

Aidan, a future computer geek, loved every moment of Facts First. He easily sailed through quite a few lessons and I believe learned new addition facts from his time spent with the program. Due to his age, I had not spent much if any time instructing him in addition math facts. Facts First lit a fire within him for reciting addition facts which he now readily shares with anyone close enough to listen.

After spending 20 minutes with a math lesson Facts First rewards students with "arcade" time. A visit to the arcade simply means more computer math games to play focused around a carnival theme. Arcade time is timed and even when in the middle of a really great game a message of "times up" appears and the user is re-directed back to the lessons. I thought this feature was good, allowing me the freedom to set my little computer nut loose with Facts First trusting his time would be well spent.

"I really loved it! I liked the person (avatar) on the screen because he is very cool with his video game shirt. I really liked the math games I got to play at the end", said Aidan.

Facts First is fun oriented for the kids and practical for the homeschool parent wanting to monitor time spent "playing" on the computer. When logged into an individual student account parents can view a detailed report for each time test. Clicking on the title of a time test shows dates of the attempts, whether the student completed the task or not and a final score or percentage calculated by measuring their mastery speed level. The report also details how much time is spent on with each time test.

Facts First is comprehensive in its scope of basic math skills. Within the topic of addition there are 40 different time tests to master, not including pre-tests and final or post tests. Addition topics include:

  • Adding 0
  • Adding 1 and 2
  • Adding 5
  • Doubles (ie. 2+2 and 4+4)
  • Doubles plus one (ie. 1+2 and 2+3)
  • Sums 9 to 11
  • Sums 12 and 13
  • Sums 14 to 17
A one year subscription to Facts First is $49.99 and good for up to four users in one home. A free demo of the program can be found on the company website at

1 comment:

cbaileypappas said...

I use it and I love it!!! In the 8th grade.