Friday, March 20, 2009

Success! Homeschooling 101-- Math

Sarah officially finished 7th grade math! This is a big accomplishment for a girl who doesn't think as mathematically as her closest sibling. And she won't be 13 till the end of May!

She is the daughter who has most challenged me in this area, forcing me to look at many ways of teaching and many curriculum. One thing I know for sure I must use a spiral method. There are many great texts that are not spiral and work well for a child that needs few reminders of past lessons. They cover one topic: perhaps adding 2 digits to 2 digits with carrying in one column, for a full week using every possible number combination the child will run into. The problem with these programs is the child forgetting what they have not worked on in a month. The parent must take care to provide their own review with many of these programs.
A favorite is Singapore Math. More affordable ones are the MCP Plaid series and Rod and Staff. MCP is simple to use and secular. Rod and Staff is also simple and is produced by the Mennonites. I use their Pre K program almost religiously! I found it when my David was 4. It is only $25 for a full Pre K curriculum, gentle, focused, family friendly. (There is only one page in the Bible Stories that needs editing for Catholic teaching.)
Back to Math. My very favorite for Kindergarten to 3rd grade in Abeka Arithmetic. I know I know--- Pensacola State the producer can be anti Catholic. However, nothing in the 4 levels is anti Catholic despite great efforts to include Scripture Quotes in Grade 3 and to show real world Math. Missionaries discussed travel all over the world in Grade 2 with a fun exploration of Geography. They cover interesting facts about animal sizes, tallest mountains, longest rivers, maps and graphs early in second grade. The workbooks are colorful without being cluttered.
Best for me is the use of the spiral method. Here new ideas are taught in small chunks, practiced over several weeks. Past ideas are not forgotten but are reviewed regularly. The available Speed Drill and Test book is very useful.
By Fourth grade we always have switched to Saxon Math. Often dreaded by moms without a math background it is always worth the time and money. It covers Mental Math. It has supplemental exercises for areas that are more difficult. It is very strong on word problems under the premise that in the real world ALL math is word problems. Consumer math, including tax and budgeting is done very well. In the upper levels Algebra and Geometry are not separated -- a unique aspect to their program. As soon as one learns an Algebraic formula its uses are taught. The new DIVE CD's available are getting good reviews. They show how every single problem is solved.
For my difficult Sarah I started Saxon at grade 3. She needed the intense one on one learning and I love the script like text--- I always knew what to do next. Grades K through 3 use lots of manipulates: hands on math. These include a clock, coins, flash cards, number blocks and a calendar the children. It can be tedious for mom and appears very time consuming when you have little one who need you! However now I only sit with her an hour a week! The intensity of that year paid off.
We tried something new the past 2 years: Teaching Textbooks. Its a text with a teacher on CDRom. David only uses the text except when stuck on a problem. He really wasn't challenged by math until doing Algebra II this year. Sarah does very well with the CDRoms: seeing the numbers on the virtual blackboard and hearing the teacher, being able to go back has been wonderful. The program also tracks her grade for me.
I have some issues with how the math is taught. I believe once they have been exposed to estimation they should use it to make the most educated choice in say long division. The teacher seems to be letting them guess. I also liked how Saxon teaches as though the child will study Algebra in the future: Ideas like adding the same number to both sides of an equation to solve for a missing number are not beyond most children. Teaching Textbook, in an effort to be gentle, babies them too long.

I have not attempted the high math despite the fact that my husband and I have both succeeded in Calculus, Physics and Chemistry. We have both also spent a lot of time with business math. My older 2 went to the public high school. Suddenly you have the same problem that keeps many from trying homeschooling: homework. Not knowing what technique the teacher is using, what was taught so far, not having access to the solution make parents less effective the once a week we are asked to help.

So congratulations Sarah! (Yeah me!) Thanks for putting up with me Jeff and Lissa!

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