Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Math Problems

I've been planning for next year's curricula and we have a Math Problem: none of us likes the curricula we've been using.

In the beginning, I began John Mark on Math-U-See, which he loved and I loved and life was good. The problem was that Math-U-See is very non-traditional (not "fuzzy"- just non-traditional). When John Mark got old enough to actually start solving real problems (multi-step multiplication, division and fractions), his father, Mr. Math Engineer, said, "That's not how you do math!" So to preserve family harmony and allow Father to "talk math" with Son, I continued to let the younger kids use Math-U-See until they hit they hit the that point, and then we switched to the classic, no-frills, well-known Saxon Math. And over the years, the kids and I have begun to dislike it more and more.

Now, in all fairness, I know there are many families who use Saxon and love it, and Saxon definitely has a proven track record of success. But what good is a "successful" curricula if it's teaching my kids to hate math? I am not a math whiz by any stretch of the imagination, but even I can see that there are often simpler appropriate algorithms than the ones Saxon uses. In addition, Saxon uses an "incremental" approach, so the student only does a few problems in each lesson that teach the new concept and everything else in a lesson is review. For my kids, this means that they sometimes don't get enough practice on the new concepts, and there's lots of "busy" work with all that review. Math has become a trial for all of us and I just cannot take another year of Saxon. What to do?

I don't have all the answers yet, but I went ahead and switched John Mark mid-year to Videotext Algebra. We haven't been using it for too long, but he is enjoying it much more than the Saxon. He watches a short video segment, reviews the concepts in his workbook, and completes either the even or the odd problems. Videotext uses a "mastery" approach, which means that all the problems in a lesson deal with the new concept, and subsequent lessons build on top of this one. I suppose that's what I learned as a child because it just feels a lot more natural to me. If John Mark gets his problems right, he doesn't have to do the other half of them. If he isn't quite clear on the concept, we work through the ones he missed and he does the other half. The next day, he takes a quiz on the previous day's material and if he does well, he moves on to the next lesson. So far, so good, and we are both much happier (which is a really good thing because the down-side of Videotext is that it is rather pricey). Videotext also combines Algebra I and Algebra II, without breaking them up for Geometry, which comes next in the series. Since John Mark is talking about becoming an engineer like his dad, he has begun to work with me on planning his high school curricula, and part of the appeal of this curriculum is that he will be able to make up some time and complete Algebra II by the end of his Freshman year.

My plan for Becca is to switch her to Teaching Textbooks next year. Teaching Textbooks is what math ought to be! The curriculum consists of the student worktexts (which could be used by themselves) and a set of CDs that work through the lesson step-by-step. After the student reads the lesson in the text, he has the option of going ahead and completing the problems, or he can view the lesson on CD. Then he completes the lesson problems and grades his work. For any problems that were missed, the student can go to the solution CD, which shows how to work through every problem step-by-step! I spent about an hour yesterday afternoon playing with the sample lessons on the website. The books and the CDs are funny, engaging and very kid-friendly. This is the first curricula which was written specifically to met the needs of homeschooled students, who often work independently when they get to higher grades. Currently, the levels available are 7th grade, pre-Algebra, Algebra I and II, and Geometry. They will have 6th grade math available soon, and I hope that they will continue their product line into at least pre-calculus. For now, Chalkdust Math follows a similar format and covers upper-level math through college algebra.

I am so encouraged at the thought of having my kids enjoy math again! I still haven't decided exactly what to do about Philip and Ben for next year, but the search continues!

1 comment:

Karen said...

We're using MUS right now.... My 8yo just started Gamma (multiplication), the 6yo is almost done with Alpha and will start Beta in the next month or so, and my 11yo will begin Epsilon soon as well. BUT... someone I know from a homeschool group just started the Teaching Textbook with her 7th grader and it really does look intriguing! I am considering switching to that when Noah is ready. I'm looking forward to hearing more about how that works out for John Mark.