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FactsFirst.com Review by Dawn Oaks and Melanie BunnettSaxon Publishers
Saxon Publishers, well known for the Saxon Math series, has expanded into on-line curriculum tools. They have recently introduced FactsFirst, which can be found at www.factsfirst.com.
FactsFirst was developed to correspond to the Saxon Math series as an on-line tool to assist your elementary child with the mastery and speed of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. Make no mistake, though. If you use another core math curriculum, FactsFirst can be used as a stand-alone tool.
Students are presented with pre-tests in each area. The application then uses algorithms to determine which math facts your child needs additional practice on for either accuracy or speed. A game forum is provided to engage the student in repetitive exposure to those facts. Post-tests follow several rounds of practice play to reassess your child's aptitude. Parents can log into the Parent Report section to see a grid of all math facts by operation and feedback on how their child is doing.
Our family lives in a rural area where dial-up Internet connections are still prevalent. I was very curious to compare how this on-line tool performed on our dial-up connection compared to the high-speed connection at our library. Our experience revealed that the load time for each section of the program was substantially longer on our dial-up connection, but once the individual section was loaded there were no performance differences. This is critical as the student is being evaluated not just on knowledge of the math facts, but also his or her speed in answering them correctly. My son was definitely more excited about playing FactsFirst at the library, where he could easily move from game to game or game to post-test without the delay of loading the next part of the application.
A secondary issue that arose is that of typing speed. Most students are very quick with a mouse, but not as much so with using the number keypad on the keyboard. This was an initial hurdle for our son to overcome. He felt frustrated because he couldn't find the right numbers with his fingers. As his performance improved when using FactsFirst, I did begin retesting him on timed tests from our Saxon curriculum to insure that the improvements we were seeing were really greater mastery of his math facts and not just improvement in his typing speed.
A plus of FactsFirst, like many on-line tools, is that the students' record and progress go with them and can be reached from any Internet connection. They can pick up right where they left off at home when they visit the library or spend the afternoon with grandparents.
To access FactsFirst, you can purchase a family license for $49.99 on-line, which is for a one-year subscription. This license allows for four student accounts to be set-up. It is our family's feeling that the cost of the application is somewhat high for a tool that strictly rehearses math facts and performs pre and post testing. At almost $50.00, FactsFirst costs more than half of the price of the entire Home Study Kit for Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3; and almost as much as the entire cost of the Math 54 homeschool kit.
Our son's math facts have improved with the use of FactsFirst, and he definitely enjoyed using the program, especially on a high-speed Internet connection. However, my husband and I are not sure that we saw a substantially greater improvement in his accuracy and speed as compared to spending an equal amount of time practicing these same facts with flashcards or other math fact games.
As the homeschooling parent of four children of various mathematical abilities and inclinations, I am always looking for interesting and fun ways to reinforce the lessons we are learning. My children are all different in their abilities, but they are very similar in their love for anything computer-oriented. So I was excited for the opportunity to review the FactsFirst.com website by Saxon.
We have not used Saxon math curricula in the past, but I have often heard good things about it from friends and acquaintances. In fact, I have nothing but good opinions about Saxon in general, so I did not hesitate to investigate a program that is being marketed using the Saxon name.
This particular program is web-based, unlike some others that are stored on your home computer. For $49.99 you purchase a one-year household license for up to four users. Obviously, this program would probably be most economical for homes that are teaching four students. Any fewer and the per-student cost would increase; any more and you would be required to purchase an additional household license. You also need to weigh the fact that the license is only for one year and would need to be repurchased in subsequent years.
The program covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division--skills that form the basis for early elementary mathematics all the way through college level. While this program is obviously designed for elementary age students, possibly through early middle school, a solid background in these skills will serve any student well throughout their educational career and into adulthood. An additional feature that might be appealing to some families is the ability to use an English version or a Spanish one.
After creating a self-portrait in the Character Creator (an image that will be used to represent your student throughout the program), your student will be taken to the lessons section. Lessons consist of five sections: new facts, commutative property, practice, quiz, and scoring. New facts are introduced as the student works toward mastery. He or she must master the facts that are introduced before beginning the next unit.
Prior to each lesson, the student takes a pretest, which gives immediate feedback regarding not only the accuracy with which he or she answers each question, but also the speed. The pretest determines whether the child already has mastery of that particular lesson or if it needs to be learned. Another nice feature is that the program tracks your student's progress and remembers where he or she is in the program. This means no backtracking is needed.
The only thing that bothered me about the pretest section was the inability to leave a fact question blank (i.e., answering with the default question mark for a fact that isn't already known). I prefer that my students tell me when they don't know a fact rather than reinforcing incorrect answers and needing to relearn later. Also, I would have preferred that the lesson sections have a pause feature so that a younger student could take a break if needed, but that was a very minor concern that I'm certain we could work around.
Overall, my children enjoyed learning their math facts in this manner. The lessons were short enough to be interesting but long enough to teach what needed to be learned. The graphics and arcade activities were colorful and fun, and there were many creative methods that reinforced what they were learning.
This is a program that I am seriously considering purchasing for the upcoming year and adding to our regular math program. No more finger counting for our family!