Educational websites can be a fun break from workbook exercises. You can use them to supplement your learning, either to learn new material, apply learning, or drill facts being learned. I prefer to use such sites for computer “play” time, a reward for getting work done, rather than an integral part of our day.
Members of the TOS Crew were given two premium subscriptions to Big IQ Kids, a website with award-winning programs for students in grades K-12 (though the premium math and geography programs are aimed more at K-8) in spelling and vocabulary, math facts mastery, and U.S. geography.
Designed for daily drill
The idea is that your student works 10-15 minutes daily on the site, practicing facts. The math portion drills math facts already learned, while the geography portion of the site actually teaches the state locations, capitals, state name spelling and abbreviations through interactive exercises.
The spelling and vocabulary programs allow you to add your own word lists, or to use pre-loaded word lists.
Once you’ve finished a lesson, you are given access to a reward: games. I haven’t seen all the games on the site, as we tend to play our favorites, but some are definitely challenging and exercise logic and critical thinking skills.
Before we got our subscriptions, I checked out the website and found quite a bit of free material, including SAT vocabulary preparation.
With a premium subscription, parents get regular progress reports whenever a student completes a level. You can tailor their math lessons, selecting how many and what kind of problems to include each day. Problems can go from very simple (one-digit addition) to fairly challenging (triple-digit addition and subtraction, double-digit multiplication, and division with remainders).
The website is big, bright, and colorful. There’s a lot to explore. For example, just today, after a month of using the site, we discovered a spelling contest, a sort of virtual spelling bee.
Your child gets to create a customized Big IQ Buddy. This buddy appears on the screen during exercises and games to cheer your student on. The girls really don’t pay much attention at all to this feature, but for the cost of a coin (you earn coins by doing lessons) you can re-design your buddy (hair, face, clothes, accessories) to your heart’s content.
Computerized male and female voices provide much of the direction on the site. These took a little getting used to on our family’s part. The voices are flat, lacking emotion, seemingly without enthusiasm. The girls tend to turn off the sound when they don’t need it (obviously when someone’s telling you which word to spell, you need sound).
Input can be done using the keyboard or the mouse (point and click). We found keyboard input to be faster and often more responsive. When entering letters to spell a word, the on-screen keyboard is in alphabet order, not like a QWERTY keyboard.
In the math program, there’s a scratch pad (a little awkward to use), where you can use the mouse to jot down problems if you need to. In truth, we hardly used this feature at all. I think we’d be more likely to use pencil and paper than to draw with the mouse, but it’s kind of a neat feature, with its different colored inks and quick erase.
Here’s a screenshot of the math drill portion of the program:
In the math portion, I like the way the problems are presented, complete with boxes where you can enter “carries” and “borrows” and the intermediate steps in long division. On the other hand, the program does not require you to put in the carries and borrows if you can do the math in your head; you can just put in the answer if you want to, and it will give you immediate feedback whether the answer is correct or not.
Here’s a screenshot of the geography program menu:
We haven’t used the spelling and vocabulary portion of the program as much as I’d like. I need to type in some customized lists so that the girls can practice on vocabulary from their academic studies. Here’s a look at the menu spelling portion of the program:
Eldest found the site “pretty interesting” but wishes the math were a little more challenging. (That’s my fault — I could have set her up with more difficult problems.) She likes the games that you get to play after completing a lesson.
Youngest took a long time to warm up to the site. I think the monotone computerized voices and oversized “feel” of the website was off-putting at first. Getting her to use the site was difficult, and she sat down under protest, though once she won through to the reward games she started doing lesson after lesson, just to earn more coins for games.
Since she already knew a fair amount of geography, she found the states drill a bit dull. (However, she still learned things she didn’t know about each state as the program presented state facts as a part of the lesson.)
We found a few typos here and there, though none of them seemed critical to using the program. (“Your ready to move to the next level” is one that I recall.) Sometimes the site was hard to navigate. I remember one screen where an arrow was pointing to a button that would take you back to the main menu. The only problem was, the button was off the screen, and there didn’t seem any way to scroll to it in the pop-up window. The site wasn’t always intuitive. The girls had to prompt me a few times to scroll down in order to find information or functions.
The site features a lot of free material, as I’ve mentioned. Click here to start exploring.
You can find out more about the premium math program, see a comparison of the free and premium math features, and sign up here. The premium math is $9.99 a month or $49.99 for a year (which works out to $4.17 a month). A seven-day free trial is available so you can try before you buy.
The interactive U.S. geography program is $39.99 per year, which works out to $3.33 a month. Click here to see a comparison of free and premium programs, to sign up, or to get a 7-day free trial.
To read more TOS Crew opinions of this product, please click here.
Disclaimer: Big IQ Kids provided our family with two free one-year premium accounts to the website. No additional monetary compensation was involved.