Math is one of subjects that helped to drive us towards homeschooling. P struggled greatly with it during 3rd grade and went from being ‘okay’ at it to receiving low scores that had him convinced he’d never ‘get it.’
When making the decision to homeschool, I took a decent amount of time investigating how to teach math in our homeschool. After recommendations from a few homeschoolers I knew, I ordered the demo DVD from Math U See to get a better idea of their scope and sequence.
Math U See (Our Primary Program of Choice)
What really appealed to me about Math U See is the mastery approach. The fact that they operate on a scope an sequence quite different from most programs did not bother me. I was more interested in making sure that the boys had a firm foundation rather than speeding through a concept with the thought that they’d have a chance to ‘catch’ it again in the next spiral through.
R was just entering 1st grade and I decided to just start him in Alpha. I figured he’d have a few lessons that seemed easy as they’d review a bit of the math he had in kindergarten. Alpha’s entire focus is on single digit addition and subtraction with a few other topics (e.g. basic ability to read a clock.) He is also much more kinesthetic of a learner and the ability to use blocks made for the program helped him a lot.
P had never gotten the hang of multiplication before they’d thrown division at him in 3rd grade. Since Math U See’s Gamma book walks the student through multiplication at all levels, this is where we started. He flew through the first lessons as they were review for him. I actually let him just take the test after we viewed the DVD with no need to dwell on practice pages if he understood the concept well. But, eventually we hit some brick walls which corresponded with where he’d struggled during his previous years studies. However, we still managed to finish Gamma in under a year and dove into Delta (division) right away. That book proceeded at a similar pace to Gamma. It wasn’t until the next book which covered fractions (Epsilon) that he slowed down quite a bit.
Until recently, D was flying through the material. He was part way through Beta before he’d finished his 1st grade year. And, he started Gamma part way through 2nd grade. But, this fall he hit his first brick wall when we reached the lessons with BIG multiplication problems. So, we’ve taken a little break for now and will be starting back this next week on those problems. I’ve found that using graph paper to do those larger problems helps a lot for maintaining place value. That’s where all of the boys have struggled as putting a number in the wrong spot throws off the answer.
While I love the manipulative blocks for helping to ‘get’ different concepts, I have found that the boys tend to also dedicate time in building creations with the blocks. They work a lot like legos, but do not lock into place.
Filling in the Gaps
As I mentioned, Math U See does not move on the same scope and sequence of most math programs. While it does not bother me, personally, I can say that it presents a challenge for anyone who has to administer standardized tests for state requirements. There are definitely gaps present that can affect the scores until the student has reached pre-algebra. So, I’ve found ways to help bridge those gaps and help the boys feel less perplexed when they do take a standardized test.
When we lived in Maryland, P took the state tests through the local school. He didn’t have to do it, but I really wanted the feedback and reassurance that he was learning at or beyond grade level. Before sending him to the test, we took some time to look through test prep books for 5th grade so I could cover some of the topics he’d not seen. That approach helped some, but he still came home telling me about all the things that were unfamiliar to him.
Through the years, we’ve also added in math games to help mostly in drilling of basic math facts. Some have been on the computer (e.g. Quarter Mile Math) and others have been played as a group. I’ve printed out play boards where a dice is rolled and the child tells us the math fact on the given square. We’ve also done games where the dice are rolled to determine the numbers to be used. The past fall, we were able to attend a workshop that was all about math games by Box Cars and One Eyed Jacks. We even ordered a few of their materials and need to start implementing them now.
For the past year, we’ve had a subscription to ALEKS through our charter school. The boys had their first introduction to ALEKS through the TOS Homeschool Crew. They enjoyed the change of pace from our regular math when we used the program as well as the fact that they got to do math ON the computer. I loved that ALEKS is an intelligent program that continually evaluates what the student knows and only allows them to attempt topics they are ready to learn.
Being able to have this program through our charter school has been a blessing on many fronts. First off, ALEKS follows national math standards (and has the ability to compare progress against your state’s standards) which means they are introduced to all the topics that might pop up on those standardized tests. Secondly, the boys enjoy seeing how much of their pie is filled in and how quickly they progress through the topics.
Finally, I have felt reassured that it could be a complete math program if we needed to take time away from our regular math books. That’s been the case when we traveled to Louisiana for a few weeks a little over a year ago. We didn’t drag books with us, but the boys were able to do math using ALEKS. Also, there are times when they hit that brick wall in Math U See and need to take a step back. We can do more review and drill, but doing just ALEKS for a few days helps them as well.
Things We’ve Tried and Others We’re Considering
Last year, P tried Teaching Textbooks for pre-algebra. I’d heard other homeschoolers rave about the program and how the kids worked independently. While I can see that appeal, what I found is for someone who is not especially self-motivated to do the work and continually questions their ability to do it, it just wasn’t working. He originally started with a copy of Math 7 we were gifted. He liked the computer aspect, but didn’t want to go back and see why he missed the problems he’d missed. And, he didn’t always want to watch the instructional videos. This pattern continued when he switched into pre-algebra. In the end, I had a student who was still struggling with math and felt like I’d wasted money on something that wasn’t being used anywhere close to how it was intended to be used.
So, while I can’t say I’d completely steer clear of Teaching Textbooks, I would carefully consider its value for you if either budget or student’s personality are a poor fit. However, I know my middle boys are much more about ‘computer work’ and might fair better. Plus, the company is updating their programs to make them able to enter the answers on the computer and keep records that way. The copy of pre-algebra we have is an older one without that capability. I doubt it would have significantly increased the likelihood P would have used it properly, but it might have helped.
The other ‘program’ I am on the verge of ordering is Life of Fred. Part of P’s ‘complaint’ about math in the past has been a desire to see how it is used in real life and why he should learn about it. Life of Fred works through math with lots of ‘word problems’ that help make it more alive. I view this as a supplemental program or way to make sure they really ‘get’ the concepts from a different math program.
That’s a bit about what we use and our journey in learning math over the past 5 1/2 years of homeschooling. I’d have added about science here, but will just have to write on how we’ve approached physical sciences at a later time. (I did start a series on physical science learning that just needs some attention!)
**************************************************************************** This post is being linked up with other homeschoolers as part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair hosted at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds. Visit other responders tackling the topic of
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