My Opinions about Two Major Math Resources

A MiddleWeb Blog

I am always looking for new resources for my math classes. But before I spend time incorporating a resource into my classroom, I want someone’s honest opinion and an idea of what it can do.

As a result, I’m always looking for useful teacher feedback and advice about resources – and I think it’s a good idea to give back (and pay it forward) too.

I use IXL and Delta Math regularly in my own classroom, so I thought I would share some information about each of them in case you would like to try them in your own classroom. This is not a paid advertisement or anything like that… I’m just sharing what I’ve learned.

There are four basic questions I always want answered before I implement a new math resource:

(1) Is it free?
(2) How much prep time will be involved?
(3) Is it instructionally sound?
(4) Do students like it?

Here’s my breakdown for IXL and Delta Math.

The IXL Mathematics Platform

What Is IXL?

IXL is billed as “immersive adaptive learning.” According to their website, they offer “3,700 distinct math topics.” The skills range from Pre-K all the way to Calculus, sorted by grade level. Questions are algorithmically generated, meaning “students will never see the same question twice no matter how long they practice.” Students start out at 0% and each correct question ups their “score.” Conversely, every wrong answer drops their score. (See the explanation here.)

Is It Free?

There are a free version and a paid version. I used the free version of IXL until our school bought a subscription for the service a few years ago. The free version will only allow students to complete five problems in each topic, and the teacher cannot view students’ progress. I thought the free version was useful, although obviously it doesn’t have the features the paid version has. According to the IXL website, “the standard classroom license is $299 for up to 25 students for one subject.” If a license is needed for more than one classroom, you have to contact an IXL representative for a quote.

Pros

There are some days that I feel like IXL saves my life. It is such a great tool for when I have to be out of class on the spur of the moment. I can assign my students an IXL and can rest assured that they will have an assignment that they can complete. If a student misses a problem, IXL will provide a tutorial explaining how to solve the problem correctly. I can view their progress immediately and see who did the work and who didn’t.

Cons

Of course, nothing is perfect. I have found that students can pick up patterns and will be able to answer questions correctly without really understanding the concept. Also, students will try to answer questions without writing anything down which can hinder their understanding. Not writing down any work is a bad habit to get into in math class!

What Do the Students Think

The students at my school are very familiar with IXL. They have been using it for at least three years. Recently I had them complete a survey for me. I asked them if they liked working problems on IXL, and about 60% said yes and about 40% said no. An impressive 67% thought IXL helped them understand concepts, which seems pretty conclusive to me.

I also asked students if anything about IXL frustrated them. Students found several aspects of IXL to be frustrating. Many students said they did not like the scoring system used by IXL. Missing one problem “takes you down a lot of points” was a common comment. In fact, about 75% found the scoring system for IXL to be frustrating. Other students found the explanations given to the problems that they missed to be unhelpful or confusing.

Final Thoughts on IXL

I am careful not to overuse IXL. I found that it works best as a tool that is used in addition to classroom instruction. I have learned from experience to require that students write down their work if they want to receive credit.

I do like to use IXL for whole classroom discussions. I project questions on the smartboard, and we answer the questions as a whole class. Interestingly, 86% of students said they preferred doing IXLs in class as opposed to doing them at home.

It has been my experience that if I don’t work through every IXL all the way to completion before I assign them to students, I will get an unpleasant surprise, such as a question that requires students to know a concept that we haven’t gotten to yet. It does take me some time to work through the IXLs before I assign them to the students.

At this point I have found the best use for IXLs is to practice basic skills that students need reinforced. We recently used it in my Algebra 2 with Trig class to brush up on factoring out a monomial, and I think it really helped my students.

Delta Math

What Is Delta Math?

Delta Math is an online resource which allows students to practice problems covering topics from middle school, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Cal, Calculus and computer science. I have only recently started using Delta Math, so I’m not as familiar with it as I am with IXL, but what I’ve seen I really like!

Is It Free?

Yes! It is completely free! There is a place for donations via Pay Pal, but I had to look to find it. You’ll need to set up a free account to get access to the details. Here’s a short review by Richard Byrne at his popular blog Free Technology for Teachers.

Pros

It’s free! It is very user friendly. It has topics that cover every standard that I teach. The problems on Delta Math seem to fit seamlessly into my lessons. In fact, I used it last week to help students learn how to factor trinomials.

Typically when I teach factoring trinomials, I start with puzzles (usually on paper) that help students find two numbers that will multiply to give a certain number and the same two numbers that will add to get the same number (a necessary skill when factoring trinomials with a coefficient of 1). I was so happy and surprised to find that Delta Math had a game exactly like that; it’s called The X Game and it has three different levels. I used it to introduce my lesson and the students were able to transfer that skills easily to factoring trinomials.


Another great feature is the “Create Test Correction.” It allows you to go in and pick specific problems for students to work based on the problems they missed on the test. The teacher can decide what percentage of the points a student can earn back to go toward their final test score. I haven’t had the chance to use this feature, but I plan to after I give my next test.

Cons

The only cons I have found are the ones common to these kinds of resources. A couple of times it was tricky to get the answer in the form that Delta Math would accept; however, I think that can be true for most online learning platforms.

What Do the Students Think

I asked my students to work through some assignments on Delta Math and to give me their opinion. The majority of students really liked Delta Math. They said the explanations that were given when they missed a problem were more succinct and understandable than what they found on IXL. The students really didn’t have anything negative to say about Delta Math. To be fair, they have only started using it this school year.

How I Use It in My Classroom

While I like IXL for helping students brush up on needed skills, I think Delta Math can do a little more than that. With the test correction feature which allows students to pinpoint their areas of weakness, I think Delta Math can be used to really move students forward.

Every day I continue to find new features on Delta Math that I like. Today I found the “random student caller” feature which allows me to randomly pick a student’s name.

If you want to know what other math teachers think about Delta Math, just search Delta Math on Twitter. Lots of other math teachers seem to like Delta Math too!

If you are interested in using Delta Math, follow this link to a YouTube video which explains how it works.


Do You Use Delta Math and IXL in Your Classroom?

I would love to hear how your opinions about Delta Math or IXL. Or if you use another resource, I’d love to hear about that too!

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School, where she serves as the Academic Leader of the math department. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. For the past nine years, she's taught high school math, including Algebra IB, Algebraic Connections, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, Algebra with Finance, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. She is currently involved in the Laying the Foundations initiative and the Mathematics Design Collaborative. In her free time, she enjoys reading blogs and tweets from other math teachers.

5 Responses

  1. Stephanie Eastwood says:

    Thanks so much for your thorough, reflective reviews. Student opinions valuable too. This is so helpful, Michelle.

  2. Sara Goldrick says:

    I am an Instructional Coach and have just started researching DeltaMath as an alternative/supplement to IXL, which our department uses. Thank you for your insight regarding both programs.

  3. Caitlin Hamner says:

    I had not heard of Delta Math and am now very interested in testing it out! We use IXL frequently and, while I like it a lot, my students have the same feelings as yours. I’m looking forward to looking into Delta Math, thank you for the insight.

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