Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: QuarterMile Math

We had just finished reading King of the Wind, the story of a "fiery little horse from Morocco," when the mail lady pulled up with a package containing the software for Quarter Mile Math Deluxe, which is an online subscription to their math drill programming. My boys, of course, immediately wanted to do the horse race aspect of it, having just finished reading about such things!

What is it? Think about doing math drills with computerized flash cards, and every time you get the answer right, you make your horse speed up (or car, but I'll use horse throughout this review!). After the first few times, the other horses represent your own most recent scores. That means you are competing against yourself, not some "standardized" student, or even your siblings. You try to be just a little faster than last time. And wrong answers don't slow you down, so it is only positive reinforcement.

The website has some fantastic videos. On the homepage is one that is about 3 minutes, including some testimonials from kids and parents, a short demo and an explanation of some of the theory behind Quarter Mile Math. Go through the pages to find other videos. Probably my favorite is the key features one, here.

I think I'm going to summarize the rest with pros and cons, and this is for the Deluxe version, unless otherwise indicated:

  • Incredibly easy to install
  • Can access from anywhere, since the score data is stored online. So, you can have more than one student using it at the same time if you install on multiple computers, and the student doesn't have to use the same computer each time. They actually encourage you to install it on multiple computers -- at Grandma's house even -- so that you can practice from anywhere.
  • Can be used for everyone, for one price.
  • Is basically straightforward math, with no flashy animations or smart-alecky virtual kids
  • Has levels available for everyone. My 3 year old has topics that are easy enough for her; my K, 3rd and 5th graders have appropriate elementary topics; my algebra student has great options at the upper end; even I can find areas to drill.
  • The new reporting options are fantastic, and help you to really see what your kids have been working on, and how they are doing (not applicable to the standard version)
  • You aren't limited to working on any set schedule of topics. Have an 7th grader who isn't automatic with his times tables? It doesn't matter that the multiplication topics are considered to be 4th-6th grade level, he can still work those topics. But doing things "below grade level" doesn't stop him from being able to work on equations with integers, or other "level 3" topics.
  • There is a new homeschoolers page, where you can print off a progress chart, read testimonials from other homeschoolers, etc. This page looks like it has serious potential to be a very valuable resource.
  • Progress Chart - I printed one, handed it to my 7th grader, and gave him some ideas for how to use this. I told him that I do not want him doing things that are "Level 1" (K-3) except for the keyboarding topics. He can work on 4th-6th grade materials (improving automaticity on his basic facts sounds like a great plan). I love that I can print this over and over, for everyone, and I may keep these as part of our homeschooling records each semester.
  • I can have my kids work mostly independently. I don't need to pull out flashcards, print off drill sheets, set the timer, check their work, etc. All of that is handled by the computer. This is the only drill (and we've tried LOTS) that my kids can actually continue to do when I'm busy with life. And they aren't bored to tears. (They don't LOVE it, but they do it without complaint)
  • Will supplement any math curriculum. Whether you are doing a traditional scope and sequence, or using a non-standard one (Math-U-See, Right Start, Singapore), you can choose what to drill, so you don't have to have kids drill things they haven't covered.
  • At $3 per month, this can be a great short-term option, for use during a maternity leave, over a "summer" break (we take off November and December instead of the summer), for use just to work on drill of a specific skill, or as a supplement when you are dealing with other life issues.
  • Quarter Mile Math has been highly recommended as long as I've been part of the homeschooling community (a decade now), so it has a solid track record. And it is continuing to improve.
  • Places outside the homeschooling community see value in the program as well, with it being used in Sylvan Learning Centers, for instance.
  • Does not work on modern Macs, either the software version or the subscription (will run on OSX 10.4 with Classic, but nothing with an Intel processor)
  • Needs internet access for the subscription, as scores are scored online (but the student is not "going online" to play)
  • There really isn't any guidance about where to start, or where to go next, as far as the topics go. Nor is there anything explicitly pushing a student to move on to a more difficult topic.
  • For kids who have done video or computer games, this definitely isn't going to be high on the fun factor.
Pricing: The subscription runs $3/month for access to all their material, from K-9. Longer subscriptions are now available too -- $20 for one year, $35 for two. Or you can purchase software which would not need the internet, at $40 for one level (discounts if you purchase more at once, three levels total).

And as a special for Review Crew readers, they are offering the following code worth $5 off: 7P7J7. So that is even more of a bargain!! This is good through Sept. 30.

For us, $3/month is only sixty cents per child, or about fifteen cents a week. If you pay for an entire year, you are paying something under forty cents TOTAL per week, for all of the kids (and you! I know I can use some drill in math too!)

We haven't been using it long enough for me to report any results, but my plan is to require about 10 minutes a day, at least four days a week, for the school-age kids. And I will watch what topics they are choosing and suggest moving on to something different when that is necessary. I feel very confident, from watching their work this past couple of weeks, that they will be gaining math fluency. They are showing improvement already, and it has only been a couple weeks.

If you are needing math drill in your life, I'd encourage you to try it for a month, for $3 if you can download it and not get a disk ($5 shipping is added if you need a disk). See how it works, be sure to play with it yourself, make sure to print out the topics list. After a month, you can decide what to do next. Continue at $3/month, get a longer subscription, buy the non-subscription based software, or discontinue.

And I will link to other posts later this year, to give updates as to how it is working out more long-term. So watch for more from me!

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about QuarterMile Math at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

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