Now, here is your warning, there is a lot to this program, so I am going to try to break it down into sections in attempt to keep it simple.
HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS:
The setup was easy. I received an email with a link and after entering our information, I had an account for each child and a parent account for me. I liked the fact that I got to choose their usernames and passwords. For me, a big part of the draw of schoolwork on the computer is that it is independent. And if I have to put in their username and/or password every time they use the program it becomes an irritant. So getting to choose something that I know they will remember is a little plus, but a definite one! I also chose which grade level to put the kids. One brand new perk offered to you is that after you sign your child up, you can move him to another grade (and back) quickly and easily. All six levels are available to every child all the time!
So each child has their own account in their own grade level. (One of the drawbacks of this program is that it only goes up to fifth grade.) And the first thing they do when they start the program is to met the animated character who will guide them through their learning. They are shown in a fun, animated lesson just how the program works and what is expected of them. Each level has its own "backstory" and fun little challenges to engage the kids in wanting to solve the problems. My kids found this a little "gimmicky", especially the weird computer generated voices, but laughed and enjoyed it anyway. They seemed to especially enjoy sharing their level's "quirks" with each other. You can watch a quick presentation of each level here.
Then, once they have been shown how the program works, they get to start the actual lessons. At the beginning, the lessons are locked. But as your child completes lessons, following lessons will unlock for them. Each lesson has three parts:
Instruction, where the concept is taught by the animated guide. In this section, the child is expected to listen and to follow along mentally with the problems. They are encouraged to solve the problems in their head and see if they can get the answer correct. The answer is given to them at the end of the problem so they know if they got it right or not. Nothing is written down nor scored in this section. It is simply to teach and give the student practice at working with the concept.
Practice, where the student is presented with problems relating to that concept. These problems are not graded either. They are to give the child lots of exposure to the concept and experience working through the problems. If the child gets a wrong answer they are asked to try again. If they get it right, they are given a new problem to solve.
Quiz, where the answers are recorded and graded. Depending on how many correct answers the student gets they are awarded a level of "master" or "apprentice" or nothing because they need to redo the lesson. If they do not "pass" the lesson, new lessons are not unlocked, but they can retake the lesson and try the quiz again. Or they can go back and work on any of their previous lessons. Even if you pass the lesson but don't do as well as you like you can take it again and try to improve your scores. You also get a certain amount of points for correct answers on quizzes. We will talk in a minute about what can be done with those points.
The child is in control of the lesson progress at all times. The lessons are broken up into screens and the student can move forward or back just by clicking the arrows. The student can "skip" quickly through the screens if he so chooses although I discourage my kids from doing this simply because I want them to focus and pay attention to all the information they are being given. It can come in handy, though, when the lesson is basically a "review" for your student and they just need the highlights to move on and take the Quiz. Here's a quick screenshot to show you what I mean:
They can also jump around from Instruction to Practice to Quiz at will, but if they don't complete a section, their progress is not saved and they will have to start over when they return to that part.
The lessons themselves are divided into three different colored pathways. Green is for Operations and Algebraic Thinking. Purple is for Number and Operations in Base Ten. Blue is for Measurement, Data and Geometry. The pathways unlock sequentially but you don't have to finish one color before another opens up. All of my kids currently have an unlocked lesson in each color. This gives them a little bit of choice without letting them attempt lessons they don't have the prerequisites for.
So all of this is accessed through the student's dashboard. Here is a screenshot of Kaytie's dashboard. This is just an overview of her account and, to be honest, we don't spend a lot of time here.
We spend more time on this screen, the Learn tab:
She can see at a glance which lessons she has available to her, and opening those up shows her what she will learn in each lesson. The big green button shows the points she has already earned for that lesson. We'll talk about the points in a minute...
With permission from the parent account, the kids can friend other kids if they know their friend code. They can then message each other. They can also message back and forth with me. As you can tell, these messages don't have much to do with learning math, but it was kinda fun nonetheless.
And here is the Motivate tab...
The long awaited part about the points... As the kids earn points you can choose to give them physical rewards. (or not, if you don't want to) I love that the parent has total control over this! They earn a reward about every eight lessons and I got to pick and choose what I wanted them to win. There is a nice long list of suggestions or you can add your own. You can have just one or you can have... well, a LOT. I currently have over 20 in our line up. You can have the rewards repeat as many times as you like and you can arrange and rearrange the order that they are earned. It is 100% customizable.
THE PARENT ACCOUNT
This was my favorite part of the program. I got a dashboard just like the kids' except I was able to access each of the kids' accounts from mine with just a click. I could see all their progress, inspect all their scores, and even preview unlocked lessons. From my dashboard I can see all of their messages to each other, message them, control and approve their earned rewards, and move them to a different grade if so desired. I can even manually unlock lessons if I think they need to move forward. But the best part is that I get emails. I get an email when the kids finish a lesson
And I get a weekly update every weekend. And these updates give me information that I understand and that means something to me.
So it's pretty easy for me to keep up with what is going on without having to hover over them as they work.
HOW WE USED IT
This was easy. I told the kids they had to do a lesson every day. And we just added it to their list of independent work. They did the work and I kept up with what was going on through my dashboard and the emails and by listening to them talk about it both to me and to each other. It worked well. Except for them being disgruntled that I would only allow them to do one lesson a day. What can I say? We only have one computer and five of us to use it so they will just have to make sacrifices and cut back on their math fun.
WHAT WE THOUGHT
I loved this. I have never used a computer program before that I had so much control over. I have also never used a computer program that I had to put so little work into. I loved that I could set it up just like I wanted it, the kids could do all the work, and I could easily monitor their progress.
I also loved that they learned so much. We used it in addition to our regular math but it was awesome in that they actually learned new skills and old skills in new ways. I can see that Kaytie, especially, gained a lot of math confidence from this program. She really blossomed under the method of instruction/ practice/ quiz. By the time she got to the quiz she really knew what the concept was and how to solve the problems.
In their own words:
Kaytie: I like it better than any other math program that we have tried. I like that it has rewards. Sometimes I wish they could explain a little better in the lessons, because in Practice they don't do all the types of problems that I do in the Quiz which confuses me sometimes. I wish the voices were less computerized because that is annoying and distracting. I like the engage part, where I can chat with Mom and the other kids.
It has taught me some important concepts that my regular math hasn't yet. I like how it is set up because the process is easy for me to understand and the practice is guided so I know what I'm doing. I like that the lessons are short so that I can do a whole lesson in just one day. I would not recommend it for people who want to use it as a complete curriculum but as a supplement it is great.
Nate: It is really interesting. I actually learned something! More than I usually do when we use computer programs for math. I think the chat is interesting, I liked that part. I like how sometimes it gives you a quest to do. I like that it's interactive and that it gives you rewards to motivate you. I would recommend it for younger kids mostly. I think if you start kids on it young they will like math a little bit even when they are older. It's fun. There was nothing that I didn't like about it.
Daniel: I liked it because it taught me more math than other sites. I liked that I could get awards from my points.
Abbie: It's fun. I like the rewards. I like that we get to fly a hot air balloon at the end of the lesson.
Like the kids said, we have used several online math programs over the years and this one is definitely our favorite. It's easy to use, I have control, they can't just run amuck through the work but have to follow a purposeful path, they are learning and they are engaged. Plus there are some little extras thrown in there just for the fun factor.
The only drawback was that, since this is an online program, there were occasional glitches where weird stuff happened. Usually it resolved quickly. Once, though, Daniel could not get a lesson to play no matter how hard he tried. I shot off an email to tech support and told him that he would have to skip GPA that day because I really didn't expect to hear back for awhile. Imagine my surprise when I got an email a couple hours later apologizing for the issue and informing me that it was all fixed. Needless to say I was very impressed with their customer service!
Unlike Kaytie, I think this could be a complete math program for your elementary kid. We won't be using it that way but we will definitely squeeze every last drop of our subscription out of GPALOVEMATH!!!