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exSTEMsions Essentials Review by Jennifer LadewigSara Torpey and Elizabeth Sieminski
exSTEMsions is an online critical thinking program aimed at helping children become better math students and stronger problem solvers. The mission of exSTEMsions Essentials is to come alongside parents to help them build a stronger foundation for their children in mathematics through their teacher-created problems that engage the child and require them to think critically. The program gives the students the tools needed to be successful by giving helpful hints and helps as they work through each problem. It is suggested that the family become involved in solving the weekly problems.
The cost of the program varies depending on the package you choose. There are three packages to choose from. The first package, Essentials Package, is $6.00 a month which includes access to; the Problem of the Week, access to easy to understand solutions and supporting materials, unfinished problems remain available for up to a month, access to the exSTEMtions private Facebook group for problem/solution discussion.
The second package, Essentials + Package, is $9.00 a month which includes; unlimited access to your unfinished & solved problems, access to the exSTEMsions Problem Archive, for more new problems, solutions, and their supporting materials.
The third package, Total Package, which is $18.00 a month includes; Everything in Essentials + Package and One-on-one support through your exSTEMsions dashboard. Our team will be able to assist when you are stuck or have questions related to problems and their solutions.
exSTEMsions is for children around ages 10 and up; or students in 6th grade through high school. Every week a new problem is put up on the site for the student to work through. In addition to new problems there is an archive of older problems that students can access at any time.
I will say that these problems were very challenging and exSTEMsions turned into a family affair, including the grandparents. There was plenty of laughter along the way as we labored though some of the more difficult problems. I had my 5th, 8th, and 10th grade kiddos working on the problems. In addition to the three of them my daughter’s nurse, myself, and my mother worked through the problems. Sometimes we would all talk through the problem together. Other times we would briefly talk about the problem and then work independently through the problem and then all come together to see what everyone came up with for solutions. It was so fun to see the reasoning behind why each of us came to the conclusions that we did.
For all problems there are Resources that are available to help you work through the problem. There is an option to print out the problems so that if you have multiple people working on the problem, they can all have their own copy of the problem along with any extra graphs, maps, etc. that may be necessary to go along with the problem. There is never a need to type any information into the program. The problems are all solution based. After you complete each weekly problem you have the option of going on to challenge yourself by working through a challenge question.
Each weekly problem will have a math connection. For example, this week’s Math Category is Graph Theory. The Thinking Skills help section clues you in on how you’ll be thinking about the problem. In a nutshell it is like having a teacher sitting with your child thinking out loud, reading between the lines the intricacies of the problem helping it make more sense. It is like breaking the problem down in chunks.
Last, Supporting Questions is a way to look at the problem from all angles. By asking various questions the student can then logically more easily solve the problem. All of these help aid the student in solving the problem.
Once the student thinks that they have the solution they can then click on The Solution to see what the answer is. On the solution page you will see the solution broken down into multiple parts with explanations and reasons as to why a solution is correct and how that solution was reached. Sometimes even if you have been totally stumped and were way off on your answer after reading the solution page it all makes sense and comes together.
Once you have an account you have a home base which is your Dashboard. This is where you can see all of the problems that you have solved and the dates that you completed the problems. exSTEMsions also runs a blog which can be found at https://exstemsions.com/blog. The blog post for today is entitled, “Your Favorite Mathematician Should be Euler!”
My 12-year-old said, “The problems were REALLY hard and there was no way that I could have done the problems by myself. You would have to be a genius to be able to solve these problems! It was fun working through the problems as a family. I really got into it once we worked together as a team. It was really fun trying to figure out the problems. It was like putting together a very difficult puzzle. It kind of made my brain hurt but in a good way.”
My 16-year-old said, “These problems are most definitely very challenging. I appreciated how they really make you stretch your thinking skills. Some of the problems I was able to do on my own but others were way too hard and I needed to bounce ideas off of others in order to solve the problems.”
My 10-year-old said, “Way too hard. Ask me in a couple of years and maybe I will have a different opinion.”
In my opinion, this program is definitely a great way for students to stretch their minds. Our core curriculum doesn’t include anything quite like this which makes this program even more appealing to me as a homeschooler. exSTEMsions is without a doubt challenging!
If I had to find a negative about exSTEMsions it would be that it is definitely very challenging. For the average student younger than upper high school level trying to work through the problems I would say that it would be quite difficult. This is without question a program that could easily cause a child to be easily frustrated and discouraged.
As a mom and home educator for nineteen years I believe that it is extremely important that children learn to think critically and outside of the box. exSTEMsions most certainly does a great job bringing relatable topics that will interest children and turn them into problems that engage the child and require them to think critically.
-Product review by Jennifer Ladewig, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2018