Math, 2012

We’ve been enjoying Math this year, and I wanted to offer a bit of what I’ve learned being a math teacher these past 8 years.  I have twelve years to go, but it’s been a great journey so far.
When J was five and we decided to take the homeschool plunge, I bought a math curriculum based on the recommendation of three good friends, homeschoolers all.  Their kids all seemed good at math, and I respected their experience (and still do).  But when it arrived and Sam opened the box, he read through it in silence for about an hour and asked me to return it.  It was not going to work for us.  I am still friends with these wise women who advised me; their children are much older now, all in high school and college, and are successful in math.  But that curriculum would not have worked for us– for Sam and me– as teachers.

Lesson one: what works for one family (or even one child in a family) may not work for another.

Two of my children have flown through math with joy, but O needs more time to feel confident with his skills.  Once I figured this out, I slowed him down– repeated things I knew he knew, even though that was what I hated about math in school: too much repetition.  For him, more practice on each skill has made a huge difference.  This year for the first time, he told Sam math was “kind-of fun.”  Hooray!

Lesson two: for skill-learning (math, writing, foreign languages) each child must go at his own pace.

We recently participated in a national math challenge online.  During a practice day, one of the children came across the commutative and associative properties of multiplication, a concept our curriculum had never addressed (or had used different language to describe).  I remember noticing this with J.  I had to go looking for a different way to teach the properties and came across Why U, a non-profit organization which makes free youtube videos on pre-algebra and algebra concepts.  These videos have been requested daily since we found them, and the math in them is really good.  I’ve heard the same of the Kahn Academy, though I haven’t checked those out yet.  But I highly recommend Why U. Here’s their video on The Dawn of Numbers.  Prepare for giggling.

Lesson three: no curriculum will cover everything.

When I started homeschooling, I was so desperate to make sure there would be no gaps.  I thought I had to cover everything.  No wonder I was so stressed out!  But sticking with one curriculum– instead of jumping around to try to find the perfect one– has allowed me to find the gaps and fill them in with supplemental material… or not.  Some of the gaps are going to be there, and the kids will have to fill them in later.

Because you will ask, we happen to use Singapore Math.  I really like this program, but not because it’s perfect.  I like it because it works for us.  It is student-intensive, teacher-light.  It introduces word problems very early (really, before my kids could read them).  J is now in the third year of their high school curriculum, and he essentially teaches himself because that’s how the curriculum works.  It might not work for you, and it has holes.  But we like math around here, and a big part of that is because they like Singapore Math.  (No, no one has asked me to review it, and I didn’t get any free goodies to recommend it.)  Another program might have worked as well for us if we had stuck with it– I’ll never know.

What are the keys to making math work for your family?


3 thoughts on “Math, 2012

  1. Whenever Dan or I are making something, we talk about the math involved. The kids sort of picked up the atmosphere? With an engineer and fiber writer around, there are a lot of numbers, patterns, problems, and graph paper swirling in the house.

    We also got some read aloud suggestions from the Living Math site (games, picture books, biographies of mathematicians, the Marcus de Sautoy films) For a while I was folding the formal Living Math outline into history, but I got stressed out and let it slip. “The Number Devil” is a huge favorite, “the Man Who Counted” not so much, (the frame story has romantic love in in it. Mom how could you?)

    For formal stuff we use Miquon, Key-to, then Jacobs. I like buying Miquon from Currclick because if I’m printing the pdf worksheets anyway, I can present them in the order M is curious about, or in the order it’s printed in if he has no particular fancy. Sometimes I use Math Mammoth sheets for extending an idea.

    The word problems don’t come up as much in Miquon, but so far with B and M that hasn’t been a problem because they come up with word problems to discuss on their own. I’m guessing the atmosphere again?

  2. I had to slow down math with Owen, and it was such a hard call for me. He has never once encountered a math concept he has struggled with, but he cannot sit at the table and “do math” very long. He was hating it, but it had nothing to do with math, and everything to do with having to sit there FOREVER (maybe 10-15 minutes). I only have him do one page a day now, which is only half to a third of one lesson, but we get thru it peacefully. I am dying to speed it up, but this will have to do while we work on the skill of sitting at a table with a pencil without falling off the chair, eating the pencil, removing any clothing, or folding the lesson into a paper airplane…

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