XtraMath is like better, smarter flash cards

XtraMath is like better, smarter flash cards

The desktop version of the program is available for free • Simple • intuitive interface

Not a comprehensive mathematics curriculum • Offers targeted practice without instruction

XtraMath is a cost-effective, easily accessible way to gain fluency in basic math skills.

As COVID-19 was spreading last spring, I was preparing my 11-year-old daughter to enter middle school. I had already been homeschooling her and her younger brother for years due to their sensory processing differences, and she was past ready to connect with her peers in a physical space. 

The pandemic had inspired families across the world to embrace homeschooling, but I was trying desperately to prepare my daughter for life inside a classroom – albeit a non-traditional one, where she’d be learning alongside fewer than 10 classmates. 

My daughter has always struggled most with dyslexia, and I’m a professionally trained English language arts teacher. As a result, math skills took a backseat to reading within our home-based classroom, and it showed. 

Basic math skills – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – are the building blocks of algebra, geometry and calculus. They are also crucial to understanding the basics of financial management, like making a budget, and the basics of time management, like making a schedule. 

Students who lack fluency in these skills usually have trouble memorizing any equation and solve everything manually by counting blocks, counting their fingers, or drawing a visual aid. Because of their lack of fluency, my children struggled to understand the concept of “an hour” without using a movie as reference, and they needed a physical calendar in order to conceptualize the passage of days. 

I needed a resource that could help both kids gain greater fluency in core math concepts. Ideally, it would be accessible online, and free. I headed to Google in search of my “dream program” and discovered XtraMath

What is XtraMath?

Similar in concept to timed tests or flash cards, XtraMath is a convenient way to practice basic skills so that a student can do them automatically. However, an algorithm is determining which flashcards get shown when., which maximizes the effectiveness of the exercise. The virtual format also strikes a good balance between guiding your children through the program and giving them freedom to progress at their own pace. 

XtraMath is the creation of David Jeschke, a computer programmer and math tutor. He observed that his students often struggled with complicated math problems because they lacked fluency in foundational math skills – including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

In 2007, Jeschke developed XtraMath to help the students he tutored, and he introduced it to their classroom teachers as a resource. Popularity in local, Seattle-based schools followed, and Jeschke grew the program into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

In April 2020, the education industry expert Dee De La Paz became executive director of XtraMath, expanding and enhancing the program as the pandemic brought more families online. 

Today, XtraMath is available to students, parents and teachers throughout the world. It’s a simple, engaging and self-directed platform to help students memorize facts, establish fluency and practice basic math skills. 

How to Use XtraMath

XtraMath is available for free online and as a paid app. Once you’re in, you can set up multiple student profiles. If your family shares a computer, you can click a link from inside the parent portal to log in as your child. Children can also access their profiles on their own devices, including tablets and iPads.

Once your child logs in, a recording of a teacher from the actual XtraMath team will pop up to welcome them to the program and explain how it works. The next step is a timed assessment. The assessment will present your child with a series of basic addition questions. If the question goes unanswered, the answer will appear in light grey for the student to see and then enter independently. 

After completing the assessment, the system will generate a chart that contains the math facts your child needs to master first. The system is self-paced and saves student progress. However, it’s designed with the intention that students will complete at least one round of practice exercises and one round of a feature called “race the teacher” each time they login.

Both the practice exercises and “race the teacher” operate very much like the assessments. Problems appear, and then the answer shows up in grey if the student doesn’t enter a response.  However, “race the teacher” differs in that it tracks how many equations in a row the student solves correctly before the answer appears. 

Students are not overtly penalized for answering slowly or missing questions. However, they are visually rewarded for answering multiple questions in a row correctly, and they can easily track their progress on the chart generated after their initial assessment. 

Benefits of XtraMath 

XtraMath begins by focusing solely on addition. Once the practice sessions indicate that a student’s achieved fluency, the program will repeat the entire cycle with subtraction, followed by multiplication and division. 

However, the Family/Homeschool Quick Start Guide details how parents can override this feature and instead request that students receive practice in a different area each session, or in multiple areas at once.

The guide is also an essential resource when it comes to helping parents understand how fluency is measured and achieved. 

Watching my daughter progress through the program, I noticed that many of the questions within a single session added up to the same sum. Even though XtraMath does not offer direct instruction, the act of repeatedly completing her practice sessions nonetheless gave her a greater understanding of how numbers work together and made her more comfortable with mathematics as a whole. 

My son, an autistic fourth-grader with learning delays, has experienced a similar benefit. He usually waits for the answers to appear in grey, but he vocalizes the equations as he’s watching the screen. When it comes to the “race the teacher” segment, he also responds positively to the game-like interface and enjoys that the video of the teacher remains visible the entire time he’s learning. 

A great solution for extra practice

XtraMath doesn’t replace instruction. However, it’s still a wonderful supplement for students who need extra practice, as well as for students seeking to refresh their memory about basic concepts as they gain fluency. 

XtraMath’s user-friendly interface and simple format also make it a great resource for students like my children, whose sensory sensitivities can make other learning programs feel overwhelming. 

Ultimately, I chose the program because I wanted to help my daughter bridge the gap between her days of counting blocks and beginning middle school. While math is still not her strongest subject, she is confidently tackling long division, long multiplication, percents, fractions, decimals, negative numbers and square roots.

Even though her school year started before she’d made it through the addition section, I still have XtraMath to thank.

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