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07 February 2017

Times Alive {Crew Review}

The timing was perfect when we were asked to review Times Tables the Fun Way. I was excited to have a tool to help my son learn his multiplication facts, and Hero(10) was interested, too, though he doesn't usually get excited about learning math facts. Times Alive is online lessons with animated songs and stories to learn times tables the fun way; it's  mnemonics for multiplication facts. Hero had the concept of multiplication down, and was ready to work on memorization of all his facts before we do our speed drills and move into multiple digit work: perfect. 

A review of the Times Alive online lessons for learning multiplication facts in a fun way.

What it is: mnemonics to help remember the multiplication tables through the nines.
What it is not: lessons in multiplication. 

This is an OK supplement. It's been a nice way for Hero to remember things, now that he's built an understanding of multiplication concepts in our regular math lessons, and he likes it, which is important. Learning the multiplication facts is an important hurdle to get over, and this program has done a nice job of making that work much more pleasant for him to get through.

Here's a screenshot of the dashboard. The program marks when you've completed a lesson; you can see here that he'd done the first one and part of a second - those are the yellow circles on the top left - when I took this screenshot. It's really easy to glance at the screen while Hero is working and see how far he has gotten as he progresses through the lessons.

A review of the Times Alive online lessons for learning multiplication facts in a fun way.

There are eighteen lessons, and while some cover a single fact, others cover a group of math facts: the zeros, ones, the twos, the fives, and the nines are all taught as a group. This works well for the zeros and ones, but I feel like it's increasingly problematic for the larger numbers: it's just not that effective. The twos "mnemonic" is just skip counting. For the 5s they offer skip counting and a correlation to the clock. And with the nines it's the trick where the digits add up to 9. Each remaining problem has a little mnemonic and a song to help remember it. You can see a sample from their promotional materials:

Hero started out by taking the pretest. He'd been introduced to multiplication and understood how it works, but we haven't done any serious work on multiplication facts prior to using Times Alive, and that was apparent from the pretest; I told him that I didn't expect him to know it all or to be at all fast, because we haven't worked on this yet. But it was still stressful. Then he started just going through and listening to all of the movies and songs. This took a couple sittings; I let him work through it at his own pace. I felt like the speed of the presentations was overly slow, but he never complained about it, so it must not have bothered him. I can, however, see how the slower pacing would be really advantageous if you had a student that needed that. And customizing the number of repetitions of the various songs and clips is as simple as just clicking on the lesson again.

A review of the Times Alive online lessons for learning multiplication facts in a fun way.

A few of the songs are catchy enough that, after working on his multiplication, my son continues singing, "six times four is twenty-four..." for quite a while. And it's appealing enough that my six year old wants in too, though I didn't let him, since he hasn't got the conceptual framework for multiplication, yet, and this program will not give him one.

A review of the Times Alive online lessons for learning multiplication facts in a fun way.

There's a Student Report for parents and teacher to look at, to see how their student is progressing, which is find and easy to read. It shows the pretest results, and then the results of each little quizzes they have at intervals through the program. After doing the videos he shows marked improvement in both speed and accuracy.

Unfortunately, there are some serious drawbacks to the program. On the Student Report, I don't seem to be able to see what problems he missed on any of the quizzes, which means that I can't ask him to review the specific trouble problems without giving him an additional test outside of the program. I feel like being able to identify and target facts that are giving him trouble is an important function for this type of program, and it's frustrating that it's not there. Also, when it's time to do the practice problems, it's sometimes possible to just hit enter and skip through the problems without doing them, and that could cause problems if your student is inclined to do that sort of thing. I am also disappointed that several of the problems rely on skip counting, rather than having a real mnemonic: I don't want him to continue to have to rely on skip counting; I want him to actually remember the individual problems. He could already skip count prior to starting the program, so there's basically no boost for those sets of facts.

Still, even with these drawbacks, and having been under the weather for much of the month-long review period, Hero enjoyed working on this program (even when he didn't feel good), and his multiplication facts improved dramatically in spite of having several days off school. Using it has been both enjoyable and good for him.

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