Time4Learning is a website for homeschoolers for PreK through high school that covers math, language arts, social studies, and science. It is built around CompassLearning Odyssey®, an online, interactive educational system that has been in existence for many years. CompassLearning Odyssey is used by many traditional schools, and it was previously available to homeschoolers through ChildU. While CompassLearning Odyssey is used by schools through other interfaces, Time4Learning provides the interface that works for homeschoolers.
Students pay a monthly membership fee. The cost is $19.95 a month for PreK through eighth grade. Additional students from the same family in these grade levels are $14.95 each per month. Discounts are available if you pay annually or semi-annually. High school students are $30 a month for high school (four core courses) plus $5 a month for extra high school courses such as Economics or Health. There is a discount for a younger sibling (in PreK - 8) of a high school student but no discounts for additional high school students.
Parents have their own login where they can set up student lesson plans and assignments as well as access records of student work. Student schedules and records can be printed out. Parents can select default grade-level courses, select particular courses, and customize lessons and assignments within courses.
Time4Learning has students sign in to one of three levels: lower (PreK – grade 3), upper (grades 4 – 8), and high school. While Time4Learning registers children by grade level and offers courses based on the parent-provided grade-level designation, they will set up special configurations if needed. For example, you might have a child working at third grade level in most subjects but fourth grade level for math. I was able to set up a student with some courses for the upper level plus a few high school courses.
While Time4Learning concentrates on core curricula for the four main areas right now, their website says that they intend to gradually “broaden its product offering over time with some advanced math programs, art education, music education, foreign languages, and increased choices in the writing areas.”
The curriculum is non-sectarian and is tied to national and state standards, so you will encounter some of the same issues you would with any public school curriculum such as conflicts with their treatment of evolution. For example, the middle school life science has a unit on evolution that is totally one-sided in favor of evolution—so much so that it presents inaccurate and slanted information. For example, it talks about some of the famous hominid fossils as being intermediate forms between man and a common ancestor while that has been disproved. It talks about vestigial organs as evidence of evolution while failing to acknowledge that scientists often discover unexpected purposes for those organs. In both science and history, the origin of the universe and the origin of man are presented as certain knowledge most of the time rather than as theories; alternative theories are not mentioned. A secular outlook shows up elsewhere in subtle ways. For example, one history lesson teaches that religion arose out of societies, reflecting societal needs (rather than through divine revelation).
The design of courses varies by grade level. Graphics and teaching methods are generally age appropriate at each level, generally fast-moving with a lot of variety. However, in the lower level, it seems to me that there’s a bit of wasted time. While the courses teach the necessary content, lessons are slowed by cartoons and transitions. Concepts are taught, practiced and repeated, which is an appropriate teaching strategy. However, sometimes there's too much repetition at the lower level. For example, students answer math questions, and even if they answer correctly, the answer is restated by the computer and the explanation of why the answer is correct is given. It seems to me that the child who answers correctly should be able to move on without the reteaching. The redundancy might be helpful to some students and boring to others. On the other hand, students can review prior topics or retake lessons whenever necessary—a very helpful feature.
While lower level courses vary in design from course to course and even from lesson to lesson, upper level courses tend to follow a similar pattern. They begin with a lesson presentation by a real person, usually aided by computer graphics, images, diagrams, and white-board problem-solving. Short lesson segments are followed by a one-screen summary of key points. Then students are presented with one or more questions to answer. A quiz usually wraps up each lesson. Some activities take a while to load, so the system has quick questions or activities that appear on the screen while the program loads. This keeps students engaged in the interim. These extra activities are not included in student assessment.
High school courses have more traditional teaching than do lower level courses with an actual teacher presenting some of the lesson material.
Math coverage aligns with national standards for PreK through eighth grade. As the math starts to get more difficult, students will need to use paper and pencil to do some of their work off line then enter their answers on the computer. For high school, students can choose to study Algebra I or II, Geometry, Trigonometry, or Pre-Calculus.
Language arts courses includes phonics and reading skills, comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary in the lower level. They stress reading comprehension and fluency rather than phonics in the upper elementary grades and above, while also adding grammar, study of word roots, literary analysis, and critical thinking. Time4Learning has a built in writing component called Odyssey Writer for students in third grade and above. Students click on an icon to access it. Writing prompts appear, and students can then write within the program. Since the program is not able to evaluate student writing, it includes a simple scoring rubric for parents to use for grading. In the high school English courses, there are detailed scoring guides that parents can use to help them evaluate writing assignments. Writing seems to be one of the weakest areas of the curriculum since students will often need more guidance than is provided for some writing assignments.
High school courses for language arts combine literary analysis with composition, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and communication skills. Students begin writing research papers in English I. Again, parents need to evaluate high school students’ compositions.
Social studies cover different topics at each grade level. Go to http://www.time4learning.com/social-study.shtml for more information about what is taught in each grade. In the younger grades, social studies coverage is not intended to be a complete course covering all the standards. Topics covered at any one grade level are often a hodgepodge of topics rather than a logical progression through a chronological study. While content is a little light in the primary grades, at fifth grade level and above there seems to be plenty of content for a year-long course even though Time4Learning has a disclaimer that says the courses do not cover all state standards. Topics are very eclectic in fifth and sixth grade levels, but seventh grade offers a chronological study of U.S. History. You should be able to use these levels as complete courses as long as they are covering topics your child needs to learn. There is no social studies content for eighth grade; instead, students are given access to the seventh grade course material or they might choose a high school level history course. High school students can choose from five courses: U.S History I, U.S. History II, World History, U.S. Government/Civics, and Geography.
Science courses up through fifth grade are considered supplemental add-ons rather than complete courses. Like social studies, younger level students are presented lessons on an assortment of topics. At sixth grade level, middle school science is presented in three complete courses that align with state standards: Earth and Space Science, Life Science, and Physical Science. An add-on “Nature of Science Supplement” can (and should) be used along with any one of the middle school science courses. These courses combine animated lessons with instructional videos, worksheets, quizzes, and tests. They include some online and offline projects for students to complete. At high school level, students can choose Biology, Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, Chemistry, or Physics.
Quizzes and tests are built into each course to insure comprehension. The program shows when students have completed activities, quizzes, and tests. Time4Learning has an automated reporting system that tracks test and lesson scores as well as the time spent on each activity. (The latter feature might be important for those who have to log hours. Parents can easily print weekly reports, customizing them by date, subject, or type of activity—a big help for record keeping and portfolio documentation. There are also tests that simulate standardized tests, although scores on those tests are not factored into the student’s achievement in Time4Learning.
Some of the material for PreK through eighth grade seems rather easy for the designated grade level, with quizzes that students can pass with little effort. But this isn’t true all of the time. For example, math lessons for middle school are quite demanding.
Some activities have printable worksheets. If the screen shows “Resource” under the title of the activity, you can click to access a worksheet. Worksheets are also accessible through the Parent Administration section.
Time4Learning also has an “online playground” for students up through eighth grade. The lower level includes a timer that allows children to play these "safe" games for up to a time limit set by the parent. Playtime can be set to zero if parents don’t want children playing games at all. (There is no timer for the upper level.) Games are actually ones that children will enjoy, and they might well be used as rewards to motivate children to learn.
The Time4Learning website has many pages with details, screen shots, demo lessons, course outlines, and other information that you can investigate to learn more. Time4Learning will run on most computers with internet access, although a fast internet connection will surely be helpful. Because it uses Adobe Flash, if you want to run it on an iPad, you need to used the Puffin Academy app that is available free at iTunes.
Time4Learning might seem a little confusing because it is such a complex program, but there is plenty of help on the “Getting Started” page as well as within the courses. I could always find pertinent help somewhere when I needed it. Also, Time4Learning provides support by phone and by email.
Time4Learning is one of the most thoroughly developed educational websites. While it is possible to use it for a large part of your curriculum for some grade levels, you will generally need to be using other resources alongside it for a complete program.