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Monday, February 27, 2012

K5 Learning, a review


3-part-cartoonK5 Learning
a supplemental online reading, spelling, and math program for grades K-5
$25/month for 1st child or $199 annually
$15/month per additional child or $129 annually

Running a multi-level schoolhouse in your home can be challenging at times. Each kid is an individual with their own particular educational needs…I often wonder how school teachers do it all.

It can be helpful to have a supplemental program for one or more of your kiddos to work on while you are working with another child, and this is where K5 Learning comes in.

What K5 provides…

  • over 3000 leveled activities
  • assessment of current skills
  • an individualized program for your child (students are not boxed in by “grade” or age, but demonstrated mastery)
  • multimedia lessons (animated segments with spoken directions and sound effects)
  • spelling practice
  • reinforcement of phonics rules
  • reading comprehension practice through story sequencing and other activities
  • reinforcement of elementary math lessons
  • math facts practice
  • progress reports
  • automatic advancement through lessons when the child demonstrates mastery
  • lesson selection by the parent if the parent prefers

You can read a little more about K5 on the What is K5? page.

View 30 sample lessons from all areas of K5 here.

Get an assessment of your child’s skills and try K5 free for 14 days here.

I highly recommend checking out the samples to see how you and your children like the animation, voices, music, etc.

What did we think?

I received a free 5-week trial to use with two of my children, Mary (age 8, 2nd grade) and Peter (age 6, 1st grade).

Let me start by saying that although Mary and Peter are only one grade level apart, they are much further apart in maturity and reading ability. Peter is a beginning reader who is not ready for independent reading, whereas Mary is reading much higher than her current grade level (she’s read the entire Chronicles of Narnia on her own) and comprehends higher reading very well. However, they are both used to having much more difficult books read aloud to them and their listening comprehension is good.

The first day we tried K5, I had the program simply give them tasks based on grade level before having their skills assessed. I found that the programed 1st and 2nd grade work was simply too easy for either of them, so I had them assessed.

These were the results from their initial assessments:

Peter's placement is as follows: Mary's placement is as follows:
For reading, For reading,
Phonemic Awareness - Exempt Phonemic Awareness - Exempt
Phonics - High Grade 1 Phonics - High Grade 2
Sight Words - Early Grade 2 Sight Words - Early Grade 3
Vocabulary - Early Grade 2 Vocabulary - Early Grade 3
Reading Comprehension - Early Grade 2 Reading Comprehension - Early Grade 3
For math, For math,
Numbers & Operations - Early Grade 2 Numbers & Operations - Early Grade 3
Measurement - Early Grade 2 Measurement - Early Grade 3
Geometry - Early Grade 2

Geometry - High Grade 2

You will notice that they were assessed as being exactly a year apart, which really surprised me. I work with these kids on a daily basis, and while they are both strong in math and verbal skills, they are definitely more than a year apart in reading level.

And, while Peter is good at math, he has a lot of trouble with abstractions (he’s still much more comfortable using pictures than using numbers and equal signs and hundreds and thousands throw him for a loop). Mary is much more comfortable with computation, can tell time, count money, and more.

Perhaps my personal sense of Mary’s reading comprehension is flawed? Perhaps I think she’s a better reader than she is? Not judging by how well she reads aloud or by the discussions we’ve had about the books she has read on her own.

The results alone, caused me to question the assessment. But as I was present during both assessments, I can also point to at least one flaw in the assessment process: there’s no “I don’t know” option for any of the questions. When guessing is necessary to get through the test, it makes it difficult to determine what is actually known or only guessed at.

I would like to see more information in the assessment results. While it’s great that both kids tested at a grade above their current grade level, as a parent and a teacher, I want to know exactly which skills my child demonstrated mastery of. What exactly does early grade 3 or grade 2 mean, in practical terms? Keep in mind that every program is a little different in what it terms as “grade” level, and cut offs can be pretty arbitrary.

Of course, the true test is how they do with the lessons the program places them in, right?

Mary felt that all the lessons she was given by K5 were too easy.

Her constant refrain was: “I already know this!” And she did. She was getting spelling words that she’s already mastered in her current spelling program. Vocabulary she already knows. Math she has done to death.

Fortunately, K5 does not limit your child to whatever the program automatically assigns. As the parent, you can assign both reading and math lessons through your parent dashboard. Simply select the lessons you wish to assign (you can even view the actual lessons). Here’s a sneak peek at the 2nd grade reading lesson list:

k5 reading lesson list2

You’ll notice, though, that some of the lesson descriptions are not so descriptive. I can’t, for instance, see if the basic sight words in level 2, vol. 1 are words Peter already knows without actually watching the whole lesson…I very quickly became frustrated with this process.

It would be wonderful if these lessons were labeled with the actual words introduced. A teacher in a school would want this info, and so does a parent.

You can also fine tune the spelling portions by changing the spelling settings

k5 spelling preferencesand/or adding your own spelling list:

k5 spelling list

K5 is truly a customizable program.

You will have to put some real time and effort into customizing it to your child’s full advantage. I recommend watching as she takes the assessment so you can make a note of areas of difficulty, keeping a list of words she has difficulty spelling to add to the spelling portion, and possibly previewing upcoming lessons.

The interface is easy for the child to use.

Activities are carefully explained, complete with an example and a “?” button is available if your child needs to hear the instructions again.

k5 example 1A progress bar shows your child how many more they need to do in a particular segment.

k5 example 2

Mistakes are gently corrected. Correct answers are warmly rewarded with a little animation.

After completing a segment, the student is given the opportunity to continue or stop.

k5 stop go

When a lesson group is completed, your child gets a little game to play as a reward. The games are short (just a couple of minutes), so not a time drain.

Peter thought the program was too slow, but I think this is a good thing.

The segment lengths are very carefully controlled, as your student cannot answer the question until the instructions are completely given, the example done, etc. He cannot jump the gun. Personally, I think this is a good thing, as my kids have a tendency to think they know the right answer, and impulsively click it, only to find out that it is wrong because it’s not what was being ask for. Having to wait helps to train him in patience.

If your child has vision difficulties, font size is inconsistent within the same grade.

Peter had some difficulty with font size on some of the activities. Here’s an example:

This one he had no problem reading.

k5 font size

This one was a problem.

k5 font size2You’ll notice the extreme difference in font size for the sentence? Peter wears thick glasses, so this may not be a problem for most children with normal vision and we only ran into this issue a few times during our trial, but I would like to see more consistency in the font size.

I didn’t always agree with K5’s method.

K5 teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words, all things that I teach in my homeschool. But I was surprised by some of the words categorized as sight words. “Man” for one. Some others were “best,” “fast,” and “sit”. These are high frequency words, so perhaps the idea is automatic recognition of high frequency words, but it seems like a waste to memorize a bunch of decodable words when there are so many weird high frequency words out there. This is not necessarily a minus, just a difference of opinion.

One of the first math lessons K5 had Peter doing was “text and numbers.” Basically they were teaching him to match up number words with the numbers themselves, starting with 1-10 and eventually working up 120. More sight words, essentially, because they were not teaching him to read the number words or to spell them, just to recognize them and match them up with the numbers. Again, I have my doubts about how beneficial this method is, and he spent so much time on this that he got bored with it. This is one situation where it would be best to assign a different lesson.

We found one mistake.

It was in the math portion, a double dominoes activity where the double 2 + 2 = 4 was transferred to the blackboard as 2 + 2 =8. Oops! Fortunately, Peter answered the question correctly and the program recognized the correct answer, so it was just a “typo.” A button for reporting a mistake or a problem within the program itself would be a nice touch.

The progress reports are nice, but I’d like more detail.

They tell you what grade level your child is working at and the percentage correct they got on each lesson. You won’t know exactly what they are getting wrong or why unless you sit next to them and watch what they are doing. K5 was kind enough to provide me access to a dummy account so I could give you a more thorough look at how the reports look with lots of lessons covered.

Here’s the overview:samantha report

samantha report2You’ll notice it shows you the grade level the student is working at and the amount of time spent in each area.

The detailed reports give you the actual lessons covered, the percentage mastered, and dates accomplished:

samantha reading skills

samantha reading skills2

Again, it would be nice if those lessons had more descriptive titles, instead of things like “vocabulary, level 4, vol. 1.” I’d like to see more detail, like number of times attempted, actual parts mastered (what vocab words did she get wrong?), etc., but if you live in a state that requires a lot of documentation, this would be a helpful report to print and add to your child’s portfolio.

Overall, K5 shows some real promise for a supplemental program.

I like the fact that it’s customizable, the segments are relatively short (good for kiddos with attention difficulties), and that it supplements both language arts and math (both areas that many young kiddos have difficulty with). I like the monthly option: makes it easy to use just for a summer or for a couple of months when you have a new baby in the house (or are experiencing another one of life’s interesting turns). Worth taking a look at if you need something extra, or need a change of pace.

The free 2-week trial to K5 is a great way to check it out (no credit card necessary) and have your kids assessed at the same time.

Disclosure: I received a free 5-week trial to K5 to try in my homeschool for review purposes. I received no compensation, all opinions expressed here are my own, all pics are from the K5 website.

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