Due to COVID-19, I became very aware of what little learning my son was getting through his 2nd grade teacher. When the school switched to remote classes, she simply passed out links to various free resources (like Khan Academy) and my son was teaching himself. Sometimes her questions, weren’t even related to the content she was having the kids lookup!
When I started looking for an online curriculum I came across a lot of sites aggregating the “Top Online Homeschooling” programs. I believe that most of these pages online are fake reviews. They often say very little about the online homeschooling solutions and in the end, I tried a few out with some significant problems.
Worst Options (IMO)
Homeschooling, as it turns out, is a big money machine. There is so much marketing behind many of these online solutions, that it simply seems these are the only systems around.
The really good online curriculum is harder to find, but well worth the effort. I almost gave up, after checking out many of the big solutions out there, but I did find some amazing options for online homeschooling.
Many websites and posts rave about IXL. Most of these sites, I’ve found, are overly hyping specific sites. Most often you’ll see IXL and Time4Learning as listed as the “top solutions” for kids to learn from home.
Since IXL offered a free trial, I jumped in to check it out. My son was engaged at first, until he came across content he wasn’t ready to learn yet.
My son hasn’t dealt with fractions, or division yet. IXL doesn’t teach. IXL is a guessing game of education. I’m not fond of the approach, “guessing until you get it right.”
There’s no curriculum at all. I couldn’t believe it. I thought there must be something I’m missing. Below is a screenshot from their site, showing all the skills they teach:
What I saw (above), compounded with the image below (detailing the complete focus for various grades) gave me the impression that they offered a full curriculum.
Above, there’s a tabbed screen showing various classes for my son’s grade level. Math, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Spanish and Common Core. Yet when he started doing the work he grew frustrated. He kept getting answers wrongs because he didn’t know how to do something and wasn’t getting any information.
When my son got a question wrong, he did get a quick note about how the real solution works. But it’s so hidden, that often my son was moving on and not reading the solutions after failing a question.
I reached out to IXL asking where the curriculum is. This is the response I got:
At this time, we do not provide tutorials on IXL, as it is designed as a tool that children can use to practice and develop fluency in topics that they’re already learning at school or at home.
However, we do provide detailed explanations after any question is answered incorrectly. These explanations illustrate general concepts, provide useful reminders, and include step-by-step solutions to any question a child misses on IXL.
With these explanations, children are given immediate feedback so that they can learn new material while practicing. We also offer an example question and explanation at the beginning of every skill.
Please let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to help.
I was a bit turned off by the language here… “we do not provide tutorials.” I don’t consider a full curriculum a “tutorial.” A quick YouTube video on a specific focus is a tutorial. I asked about actual training/teaching.
Then the letter reads that IXL is used to supplement content they are learning in school or by the parents at home. Why would I pay for that? Khan Academy could do the same.
Finally, the approach at IXL is when a kid fails a question, the solution is provided only after. The closest to teaching they offer, is when you miss a question. The problem with this, is the usability. When my son clicked an answer and got it wrong, he didn’t take the time to stop and read the solution. I kept impressing on him to do that, but he kept skipping to the next question.
The whole flow was off. After that letter I requested a refund and moved on.
Time4Learning is one of the more common sites that pop up in marketing links. Advertisements for this homeschool solution are everywhere. Yet when I checked it out, it looked more like a poorly drawn version of ABCMouse.
To me, it looked like children were talked down to, as though they were in pre-school, rather than 3rd-6th grade. That’s my bias, but I encourage anyone interested to check out their website and see for yourself.
Content wasn’t engaging for my 8 year old. He watches better animation on TV, plays better games online (for free), this solution just didn’t reach him.
The Best Options (IMO)
No one is paying me for these opinions. I simply wanted to find an online curriculum that was graded through an automated process, with instant (or near instant) result. A place where I could assign tasks/work to my son and have him learn concepts, then get tested on those concepts.
This isn’t a solution you’ll see in mass marketed hype. I’m not even sure how I found it. That .co domain probably doesn’t get a lot of relevance with Google. What I like about MiAcademy.co is their full curriculum. It’s an actual curriculum.
Like Khan Academy, MiAcademy.co has actual teaching through video lessons. The lessons then transition into a practice system. Students practice what they learned and attempt to level up.
They have a gaming aspect with learning, via a point system. The more you learn and answer correctly, the more points you get.
After doing the practice, a student is then offered to test what they were just taught. Scores are logged and easily discovered through a nice reporting system, which can be printed out for a parent’s records.
Parents can assign specific lessons to their kids, or allow their kids to start at the beginning of a course and work their way through.
What’s taught appears to be standard material by grade.
Above is the current assignment screen, although they are working on a redesign of it. Here I can see tasks I’ve assigned my son, for his grade level.
Attendance is also recorded, as seen above.
Class topics, like Math, break down into the respective topics taught, along with the any grading my child went through. I can spot is strengths and weaknesses from the screen above.
Unlike Khan Academy, MiAcademy.co has all their content broken down into grade specific categories. My 8 year old son can learn about the weather, physics, US History, Art History and even Economics at his reading and comprehension level.
As for foreign languages, MiAcademy.co covers Ancient Greek, Chinese, French, Spanish and more.
They do have “bible study” courses, and while I am looking only for a secular homeschool curriculum, the Bible part is separate and optional. It isn’t influencing their other content.
For $20/month, I’m very happy with MiAcademy.co.
I first came across ALEKS, while I was taking a college level math course from Arizona state. They used an online AI Driven math application called ALEKS. I didn’t know at the time, but they provide grade level specific curriculum.
The only downside with ALEKS, is that it only works with Math.
Unlike Khan or MiAcademy, Aleks doesn’t have video lessons. Instead it uses a robust interface and is AI Driven.
A child first runs through an assessment test. They get a score and a pie chart loads, showing how much of the grade they are attempting, they currently know.
After that a child is then given questions to fit the areas they need to work on and improve.
The reporting in ALEKS is very impressive!
By the time school official starts for Fall of 2020, my son will probably be nearly complete with his 3rd grade math level.
The ALEKS system doesn’t use video lessons. Instead the student is given problems to solve. If you aren’t sure how to solve, you click an explanation link, and the whole walk through of how to calculate the solution is provided.
Price wise, ALEKS is $20/month, or $50 for 3 months. That is a bit on the pricey side, as Miacademy.co not only covers Math, but several other topics for only $20/month. Miacademy also allows a student to explore higher grade level content. When you purchase ALEKS, you set the grade level you are buying.
At this point, I subscribe to both MiAcademy.co and ALEKS.