Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Brief Opinions of Homeschool Math Curriculums

Here's a short explanation for those who have been asking me.

We started teaching homeschool math with Math-U-See starting with Kindergarten level. I loved Math-U-See. Both kids learned well despite different learning styles and one being very left brained and one very right brained.

After many years of success and loving it, both kids got frustrated at learning some concepts and started to hate Math-U-See. Honestly they were just blaming the curriculum with what was their issue/challenge. Both begged to change curriculums.

My younger son did two grades of Singapore Math (grades 2-3). We found this very easy despite doing what the placement test said. I felt the units were too brief. For example spending less than 30 minutes doing math he did all the measurement lessons with high scores then the topic was never covered the rest of the entire grade. This went from his short-term memory into the black abyss. I have issues with the way Singapore clusters the lesson topics then never revisit them (ever). They do start fractions early but they are simple. I felt this encouraged mental math by giving easy problems but not necessarily had much practice with writing out all the steps in the operation, which some find a pro and some may find a con.

My older son did Teaching Textbooks 5 to start (when in grade 6). He loved the switch to learning from the computer program not from me. I liked that the computer does the grading of the work not me (which is true for TT up to their grade 7 level). However by me not teaching him I felt out of touch with what he was doing. I was not able to explain things well coming at the material cold since I'd not done all this math (especially in the grade 7 level) in years.

At the end of TT5 I assumed the next step was TT6. He started on it and complained of the review. There are about 120 lessons in each level with the first 70 lessons being REVIEW OF LAST YEAR'S MATERIAL. We were starting TT7 right after finishing TT6  (not taking a summer off) so this review was busywork and annoying. I stopped him doing TT6 and gave him the placement test for TT7 which he passed, so he went on to TT7. I note again the first 70 lessons or so are review of the same old materials (addition, subtraction and all the basics).

During use of TT7 I realized something I'd not seen because I'd not done a careful inspection of the program. TT uses a spiral approach. A new concept is taught then a few problems are practiced. Then they do a lesson that is graded, about 22 problems long. Only 2 of the problems are the new material so over 90% of the content is old review of totally unrelated stuff, measurement, easier math, division, whatever. So the student can get a low A grade and you think they are doing well but really they could have flunked the 2 new problems and may be lost on the new material. I realized my son had gone many lessons messing up all the new-to-him fraction work. This builds up over time so they may be lost for 5, 10, or more lessons and it just never clicks.

I also didn't feel enough practice was done on fractions and it moved too fast to the next concept. By the time my son got to the complicated fraction work he was all confused about when to reduce first, when to flip the second fraction, when to convert from a mixed number, and was doing all these crazy things. Is there a word for when everything is futzed up in your mind? That is what happened to him.

We are trying Aleks.com math right now. I don't feel this is a full curriculum. It doesn't do enough teaching. It is more for review. A friend just told me her son loved Aleks but needed more teaching on the concepts sometimes so she bought The Teaching Company's DVDs for basic math. When he needs one concept she finds it on the DVD and he watches it, gets it, and does the work on Aleks. She stated she felt weak in teaching math so didn't want to take any time or energy to teach it to him (she likes the videos). I'd not realized that TTC made videos for middle school math topics.

Right now to try to get the fraction work remediated my 7th grader is using the Key to Fractions set of workbooks (under $15 for the set).

I had always thought Saxon had too much repetition and the thick teacher manual scared me away.

I looked at Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra side by side with TT7 and TT Algebra and note the first 68 lessons in Pre-Algebra are review of everything that comes before including stuff in TT7, then the second half is the first half of the review material in TT Algebra's curriculum. It is almost word for word, and is sometimes. Some of the examples and problems are verbatim.

Two friends are trying to convert me to use Video Text Algebra, which teaches via DVD then work is done on paper. One friend's child hated this with a passion and her advice turned me off. I am going to look at the Video Text Algebra and see how my son likes it.

My plan is to move my to-be 8th grader into Algebra for fall 2010. I don't know what program we'll use. We might continue to pay for Aleks.com as a supplement especially since I feel like our budget can handle it. This is my very visual-spatial learner who gets math concepts in his mind but often dislikes the way the books want him to write it out. He invents his own methods for solving problems (not all of them actually work out correctly). He gets messed up on writing out the operations sometimes, silly errors in penmanship (like sloppy alignment of columns or illegible handwriting) that goof up the answer when the concepts in general were done correctly. In general he usually felt math was easy to learn, loves it, plays with numbers in his head and is not scared of it. When he has a challenge he gets annoyed but so far he doesn't hate math.

My to-be 5th grader is finishing up TT5 right now and will probably move into TT6 but he is starting to have the issue with high scores but confused on the new material so I'm feeling annoyed about TT in general. That son of mine is a fast learner who thinks math is simple. Not only is he unafraid of it, he thinks it's simple but doesn't really enjoy it either. He's more about doing the operations correctly than understanding the concept. This kid is the one who wants everything graded, likes to get high grades and wants to be perfect at everything. His reason for liking math is to try for a perfect score on a paper.

I also am wondering what if we go back to using Math-U-See? I have no complaints about MUS. In fact I felt it focused more on the new concepts so mastery could be achieved rather than the spiral approach were new material is not a focus of mastery.

We also use the FlashMaster electronic hand-held math drill game for quick recall or memorization of math facts. This has simple algebra on it too. The kids used it daily for a long time but I don't think they've touched it since Christmas break.

The plan is to do math all summer for 2010, in between camps and family vacations and other fun in the sun.

The major thing weighing on me is my older son is going to have to do pre-calculus and preferably calculus in his high school years in order to seek college admission for an engineering degree. So we can't take math lightly for him.

P.S. (added 5/26/10) I forgot to mention last month I bought Life of Fred Fractions and the Decimals/Percentages at a homeschool conference. I keep hearing how great it is. I need to figure out how/when to use this. I'd thought it would help fix any gaps with TT7 or help with general understanding of concepts versus doing math operations. But somehow I got sidetracked to try Aleks instead and Life of Fred sits here unused at this moment. I am happy to hear that some people love Life of Fred.

Update March 2011: My older son did a pre-algebra class in spring 2010 and that confused him more. He did Key to Fractions all the way through finishing up in late fall 2010. He then asked to do Key to Algebra which starts with pre-algebra concepts and is doing well. He tried Art of Problem Solving and did some but we stopped as it was not something he could guide himself through and he was asking to do Key to Algebra. We have not tried Life of Fred for him. I am going to either have to go back to Art of Problem Solving or find some other Algebra text eventually (perhaps a text commonly used in school).


Andrew Elizalde said...

I have experience teaching in public and private high schools in CA and VA as well as more recently teaching precalculus and calculus at a homeschool co-op in Richmond, VA while launching my own tutoring and consulting business. Do not underestimate the importance of a precalculus course as it is foundational to any further study of mathematics. You might consider using a book published by Wiley & Sons written by Sheldon Axler titled "Precalculus - A prelude to Calculus". The book is in its first edition now but the soft cover preliminary edition is still available used online for under $40. The book is not marketed to homeschoolers but can serve as an excellent supplement and may help you determine the academic integrity of another program through a comparison of contents.

Feel free to visit my site at www.richmondmathlab.com or email me directly with any questions at: andrew.elizalde@gmail.com

- Andrew Elizalde

Carrie Schmeck said...

Thanks for the breakdown of your experiences. It always helps to hear how others fared. So far Teaching Textbook is working for us because it IS so simple. Years ago, my daughter had success with Saxon but I've heard many teachers have issues with it. Aren't we fortunate to have so many choices?

Diane said...

I too have had trouble finding the right math curriculum. We have used Horizons, Making Math Meaningful and early on the math from Christian Liberty Press. A couple of months ago we purchased Life of Fred the fractions book. I would recommend it for lots of fraction practice. I couldn't decide for next years math so made my own. I looked at table of contents for many other curriculums and printed up all my own worksheets free from the internet and will purchase the next Life of Fred book that is all decimals and percentages.

Madere said...

I just got rid of TT Pre-algebra for the reasons you mention -- my kids did not want another year of identical math after TT Math 7. We are switching to Thinkwell Pre-Algebra, an online video course with text/workbook that is significantly more advanced than TT Algebra. Thinkwell also has courses for Math 6, Math 7, and Math 8. Thinkwell's Math 6 level is more comprehensive and complex than TT Math 7. Homeschool Buyer's Co-op offers an attractive discount on many Thinkwell courses. We will also be trying Thinkwell biology next year.

christinemm said...

Madre I'm making a separate blog post to answer your question.

CoffeeShopBloggers said...

I am a big fan of Singapore Math and my kids do it to supplement what they learn at school. I blog on math workbook curriculum at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?page_id=1927

I also like Daily Word Problems and Life of Fred.

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World

I blog on education, parenting and children's literature