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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: factsfirst by Saxon Homeschool

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As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received free 90-day access to factsfirst for review purposes. I received no other compensation. This review reflects the experiences of me and my family.

factsfirst is an online subscription program designed to review and practice basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts (up to the 12s). Math facts are covered in a systematic way, with each subcategory beginning with a pretest to determine which facts your child may already know. Your child will be directed to the next activity by the name of that activity being highlighted in yellow. The program is designed so that if mastery is demonstrated in a particular area, that area is skipped, though there will be plenty of review problems later.

When your child enters the program for the first time, he will be prompted to create an avatar who will appear on-screen as he practices:

screen_avatarMaker_smFrankly, I found the avatars a bit creepy. While it’s neat to be able to make them totally individual (there’s lots of options for changing skin-tone, hair color, clothing, adding braces and other accessories), the flat illustration simply didn’t appeal to me or my family much.

After creating an avatar, your child will begin his first pretest to see what he already knows. I expected that the first pretest would cover all the facts in that topic (ie, addition) to get a baseline for improvement. Instead, the facts are divided into subcategories (for example, adding 0, or adding 5) and there is a pretest for each. Problems presented in each session are divided up into “sets” so that your child will not be answering an endless stream of problems. There is an indicator at the bottom of the screen to show how many problems remain in the current set, but you do not know how many sets there are in a given activity (it varies quite a bit) until you have finished them.

After taking the pretest, if there are any facts he has not yet mastered, your child will be directed to those for practice. An explanation of the facts will be given (if you have the sound on, it will be read to him) and then some practice problems. Practice continues by mixing those problems in with some he’s already mastered. Again, the problems are divided into sets, but there’s no indication of how many sets there will be. Correct answers get a checkmark. Correct and very quick answers get a check plus. If he answers a problem incorrectly, a message comes up stating his answer was incorrect and giving the correct answer. After completing a practice session, your child will be given a 5 minute “game break.” He can either change his avatar or choose from a few different games to play, all require practicing the math facts he has already practiced.

His progress will be displayed for him as he completes each practice session so he gets visual affirmation of how he’s doing:

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Each family account supports up to 4 users and all four profiles are accessed from the same main page.

factsfirst home pageAs you can see, there is a profile button for each child and a place for parents to check their progress. Parental input is minimal. You can view (and print) charts that show you which facts have been mastered and which facts need more work, but there’s no record of how much time has been spent on any of the activities. You can also adjust the amount of time your child has to answer each problem to show mastery or set it to “untimed.”

Overall, a well-thought out program for what it is designed to do. If your child understands the basic concepts but just doesn’t seem to be able to memorize the facts, take a look at the demo.

A 1-year household license (up to 4 users) for factsfirst costs $49.99.

To read other reviews of this products, please visit:

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