Incentives: Part 1

Incentive structures have rarely worked with my older son. We offered to pay him $20 a week if he got 85% or better on his written math work (Singapore). He earned the money for only a few weeks out of the year the incentive was in place. We tried various incentives at different times. Stickers for good behavior. Two weeks vacation from school for every Singapore math workbook completed. Extra electronics time. We tried various disincentive structures such as the removal of electronics time. Nothing was particularly motivating.

Then, this summer, Math IXL, the online math program that I found to give him some routine practice problems, had a summer usage contest whereby the student in each of three grade groups who answers the most questions wins a Samsung Galaxy tablet. My son was hooked as soon as he discovered the contest in mid-June. He really wanted a new computer. I was sure he would not be competitive in the contest, more about this later, so I told him that I didn’t care about the contest. If he completed all the problem sets in 7th grade math on IXL with a smart score of 90% or better by the end of July, I would buy him a computer. He had some bad days, but he only wavered in his commitment to earning a computer once. When I told him it was very unlikely he would earn enough money dog-sitting at age 13 to buy himself a computer, he got back on track for winning one quickly. He had a bad day two days before the end of the month. On the day before the end of the month, I sat with him while he did a double-load. On the last day, he had to work hard because he saved the problem sets that were hardest for him for the end, but he did it. Now he is the proud owner of a 17″ HP Envy! And my husband is envious.

In total, he attempted 7,844 problems with a cumulative score of 23778 out of 26100. Math IXL posted Leaderboards at the end of June and the end of July. At the end of June, the number reported for the leader in my son’s grade group was 21,396, At the end of July, the number reported for the leader in my son’s grade group was 44,831. Whether these numbers are problems attempted or cumulative scores, my son was never going to be competitive for earning a computer from IXL. There are rumors that older children can work pre-K problems for credit in this contest; I do not know whether the rumors are true or not, but, if so, that isn’t what I wanted out of the incentive.

I am proud he stuck with his math and completed all of the 7th grade problems in about 7 weeks. Now we are all taking a well-earned week-long vacation before we start his 7th-grade homeschool year.

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