Explode the Code Online

As I mentioned in a previous post, we did a last minute switch in our homeschooling plans to use Explode the Code Online.   The Explode the Code workbook series had been recommended as a fit for Bailey’s learning style, but I had never felt compelled to look into purchasing it.  Then I found out that there was a new on-line version and just started casually checking it out.  The more I learned the more I felt that this would really be something good for Bailey, but the price was a bit steep.  Plus, I already had our plans made for the semester.  But I kept thinking about it and thinking about it.  Finally, I had Bailey watch the video demonstration with me to see if she even seemed interested at all, and she got really excited.  That decided it for me.  In the first two days of having the program set up, Bailey completed 40 units and played for 68 minutes.

Overall, we really like it so far.  My biggest complaint is that there are a lot of things that you have to kind of figure out on your own after you purchase it.  For instance, the video demo only tells you a little bit about two of the four buttons a child can earn for completing a unit: the butterfly and the bee.  The four buttons (paper airplane, butterfly, ladybug, and bee) correspond with four levels of mastery (advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic).  [The whole thing kind of reminds me of the O.W.L. grading system in Harry Potter.]  Another piece of important information they forget to tell you is that the program doesn’t just monitor completion speed, but it also grades according to it.  The child earns a butterfly if she gets every question correct, but she can only earn a paper airplane if she is correct and fast.

There is also a “Fun” button that the child can earn each day after completing a certain number of units and/or amount of time as determined by the administrator/teacher.  This is obviously designed to keep students in a classroom setting from trying to get too far ahead or sitting around being bored and disruptive once their work is finished for the day.  The “Fun” button basically takes the child to a list of links to other websites with games.  Some of the links were ones we already visit frequently like Noggin and Disney, but there are some new ones that Bailey is having fun exploring.  There’s a mix of educational and non-educational websites.

There are also more exercises than what the demo shows.  As Bailey explained to me, some include copy-work; she reads the word, clicks on the matching picture, and then types the word.  There is an exercise that works kind of like a spelling test or bee, too.  Another exercise includes a list of words that must be matched with one picture at time.  So, there is enough variation on the theme to keep it interesting.

Being unfamiliar with the Explode the Code workbooks, it’s taking me a while to get a grasp on just how well Bailey is doing so far.  I learned that there are eight workbooks, but I wasn’t really sure how relevant that was to the on-line version.  However, the on-line version basically follows the scope and sequence of the workbooks.  I think the online version has the advantage over the workbooks due to automated feedback.  It can automatically tell when a child needs more practice on a skill or can skip to the next level.    For instance, after Bailey earned a paper airplane for unit 5 of lesson 4 in book 1, the program automatically skipped her to unit 7 of that lesson.  The computer can customize in a way that a teacher/parent may not be able.

I originally thought that Bailey could probably start somewhere around Book 3.  After discussing it with her, though, we decided to start from the beginning.  Actually, the program started with the assessment for Lessons 1-4 of Book 1 rather than the “beginning”.  I’m glad we did this for two reasons.  First of all, as with any new computer game/program there’s a certain adjustment period as you figure out the controls and the rules.  For instance, the first day Bailey earned several butterflies instead of paper airplanes because we didn’t understand about the whole speed issue, so she kept walking away between questions to tell me things about the program without using the “pause” button.

Secondly, Bailey is learning a very important lesson that has nothing to do with Phonics.  She’s always had a tendency to look for short cuts in her work.  Especially when it has come to reading, she has been very sloppy, often making wild guesses about what a word was rather than taking the time to sound it out.  In math she looks for patterns and assumes she knows the answer based on what the previous ones were.  Well, it is coming back to bite her on this program.  She’s earned three or four bees where she’s completely bombed the unit because she didn’t pay attention to the directions; she just rushed into the exercise without really looking to see what she was supposed to do.  This was a real problem during the initial assessment, so the program really did put her back at the beginning.  A little review won’t hurt her, though, and it is well worth it if she learns the importance of thoroughly reading and following directions.

I’m still trying to dig through the myriads of information in the student summary report.  There are graphs that show her Quality of Unit Completions (how many of each type of button she’s earned) and her Progression Pattern,  as well as a chart showing her performance and a skill description for each Lesson she’s worked on in that workbook.  I can also get an even more detailed break down of each lesson by clicking on the skill description.  There’s a similar page for each workbook, or I can track her overall progress and performance level for the entire series.  There’s also a Usage Calendar so you can see at a glance how many days your child has worked with the program, and you can click on a date to see a “comprehensive daily session report” for that day.

I can also see how Bailey is stacking up compared to the California State Standards (they plan to include other state standards in the future).  On one hand I am leery of “state standards”.  On the other hand, it’s kind of reassuring to get an objective assessment of Bailey’s reading skills.  She’s pretty much where I figured, and where she would need to be to get by in school.  She’s proficient at the majority of Kindergarten reading skills.  She’s struggled a little bit with 3 of the 7 First Grade tasks that she’s tried so far, but as she is just starting First Grade I wouldn’t expect proficiency in everything yet anyway.  Surprisingly, though, she is kicking butt when it comes to spelling.  She even has shown advanced performance with Second Grade spelling tasks.

I do wish that a more detailed scope and sequence for each workbook, lesson, and unit was available without going into change the settings.  Otherwise I’m really happy with the program and I think it was the right fit for my daughter.  We’ll see how much she accomplishes in the next year before our subscription runs out.  Right now I only plan to require two sessions a week, but I have it set up where she can access it whenver she wants.  I think the “Fun” button adds an extra enticement since she has already found several new websites that she can only access through Explode the Code, and her access to them resets each day.

Explore posts in the same categories: Homeschooling/Education

2 Comments on “Explode the Code Online”

  1. I have always been a fan of folding paper particularly making paper airplanes. I started with a software called The Greatest Paper Airplanes published by Kitty Hawk. Unfortunately the software is no longer distributed today. It teaches how to fold 50 different paper airplanes. It’s a good place to start learning origami.

  2. What would otherwise be thrown as thrash (used sheets) can be turned into fun and education toys for kids. You would be surprised at how many designs are available. For example, there are 50 different paper airplane designs at http://www.paperairplaneshq.com and that’s just one websites. There are thousands of websites that teach how to fold a paper airplane.

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