Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lone Star Learning {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I've shared a few times about the struggles we've had with math and finding ways to get Kennady to practice and work on her skills. We recently had the chance to try out a focused problem-solving math program from Lone Star Learning.
Lone Star Learning is a Texas-based company that specialized in educational products developed "by teachers, for teachers". All their products are designed and made in the United States. The product we reviewed is Target the Question, an online daily math program for students in Grades 1-7. It's a digital version of their bulletin board product, designed to help students learn to focus on needed information in word problems, eliminate the extraneous information, and choose operations and problem-solving strategies. And it only takes 10 to 15 minutes a day! We were asked to give this supplemental program a try, and here's what we thought.
At the beginning of each week, the student is given a new story or data set. At the bottom of the screen are the links to the days of the week, color-coded, and on each day there is a new question to solve using information in the story or data set. The student can doodle and figure the math right on the screen using the notepad functions, or can highlight the information they want to focus on using a highlighter tool. After answering the question, the student can check their own answer.

How did we use it? Once we got Kennady logged in, she could use this program all by herself. I printed a few weeks worth of the answer sheets, so that she would have a written and dated record of the work she was doing. She has been working on the program four days a week, on average. Sometimes she can solve the question very quickly, so on those days I encouraged her to just go ahead and do the next question as well. Other questions challenged her more and she would ask me to make sure she was going about figuring it the right way.

So here she is, reading her story for the week and then the question for the day. This particular scenario told about a boy's work and study habits - how long he usually spent reading and doing chores after school, how much he earned per hour doing some work for a neighbor, and how many pages he usually read in his book. The targeted questions required Kennady to find only the information she needed to solve that problem. One was something like "If J.R. earned $x.xx, how many hours did he work in that week?" and Kennady would have to figure out the number of hours based on the hourly rate he charged, and focus only on that information.  Another day, the question asked her to figure out how many days it would take J.R. to read a book of a certain number of pages. Then she had to look at the average number of pages he read (which was different on weekends and weekdays!), and figure out how many days it would take to read that number of pages.
I wanted Kennady to do her figuring on her notepaper, because when she used the notepad and paint features on the website, she wound up just doodling! The template for the weekly workspace that she is using is included in the printables.
Once she had an answer, she could click the "View Answer" button on the screen and see if she was right.  If she'd made an error, she quickly found what she'd done wrong.  Usually, if she'd made a mistake, it turned out to be a careless math error but she'd used the right operation and logic to solve it. Which just tells me that she needs to be more careful and maybe take a bit more time, and that she still makes mistakes in recalling her math facts.  I'm glad to see that she is getting pretty good at finding the right information and knowing how to work with it.

The one thing we really didn't use was the final assignment for each week, which was for the student to write out a word problem based on the scenario and provide their own solution. The first couple of weeks we talked out a few ideas for word problems, but I didn't get her to write those down. She balked at doing that at all, saying she didn't have any new ideas.

I printed out the teacher's pages, so I had a quick summary of the weekly stories, and also an answer page. This was nice for me, because I didn't have to hover over her shoulder to see the information she had to work with.

What we liked best:
  • the word problems were similar to real-life situations, making math practical!
  • the site was super easy to use and navigate, and the paint and notepad tools were easy and fun to use too. Kennady liked to use the highlighter tool to color in the numbers in the data set that she needed to solve that problem.  
  • just a short time needed each day. I found the estimate of 10 to 15 minutes pretty accurate, although there were some days when Kennady got distracted or had trouble figuring out how to solve a question, and on those days she could be working at it for more like 20 minutes. 
  • it was all online, which means I didn't have to install or load anything on my computer. I don't like having to upload/download/save/install stuff if I don't have to.
What I need to mention:
  • only the final answers are provided, not the steps to solving.
  • this is not a teaching program, but a supplement and a practice tool.
Our bottom line: I think this is giving Kennady valuable problem-solving practice, and because it's a short daily time investment for her - only one or two questions a day - and she finds it fun, I think it's a very effective supplement for her.

Would you like to Target the Question? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website:
Useful pages at the website include: FAQs and a page of Conference Handouts with suggestions on how to use many of their products.

Pricing: $59.99 for a one-year subscription. Check out the Target the Question page for specific system requirements (works on both Windows and Mac) and to take advantage of the free trial.

Recommended ages: Grades 1-7

You can also find Lone Star Learning on Facebook, follow Lone Star Learning on Twitter, or see Lone Star Learning on YouTube.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Other Crew members also reviewed Target Vocabulary Pictures, Science Vocabulary Pictures, and Greek and Latin Roots.


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