Mid-Year Math Changes

I guess mid-year is as good a time as any to change things up in math a bit! Really, though, this was not planned. It’s just that the boys are growing and changing, so what worked 15 months ago may no longer work or be the best program right now!

Let’s start with Dragon Rider. I never thought I’d be saying this, but I have moved him into a math book that actually spirals instead of spending long units on one overall topic! When he was younger, most spiral-based math programs jumped around too much for him and confused him. So the book he recently finished up, Making Math Meaningful, Level 3, was the exact opposite of a spiral program, and it is what he needed at the time. It had 5 units that covered an entire year, and each unit focused on one major topic set: Place Value, Addition/Subtraction, Multiplication/Division, Fractions, and Problem Solving. When we got to the Multiplication/Division unit, we backed up and did the equivalent unit in the Level 2 book first, to give him a good foundation, and then moved into the Level 3 unit. It took him 6 months to complete this unit! Granted, it was a long unit, designed to take about 3-4 months, but he also dragged his feet quite a bit and would say he could only finish 1 page in the 30 minutes I assigned him to work. This would have been fine if it had been true, but he was just getting lazy and bored with math. So I had to change how I assigned his work and require him to complete 2 pages/day. After finishing that unit, it only took a few weeks to finish the last 2 units that were much shorter (and easier for him.)

That’s when I decided we needed a change. He was hating math because each day was computation-intensive with no change or variety in subject matter. Now I know that I could have provided this myself by having him spend 2-3 days/week in MMM and the other 2-3 days/week doing something else in math, but that would require more work on my part. As a full-time working homeschooler, I didn’t need to add that to my weekly planning load. I needed something that does that for me, but that also works for him. About that time, I stumbled across a review of Mathematical Reasoning from Critical Thinking Press – a full math curriculum from the company that specializes in logic and critical thinking products! We already use several of their logic books – Mind Benders, Balance Benders, and Balance Math – so I was quite intrigued that they came out with a full math curriculum for the elementary grades. (I just noticed that they just released the Grade 5 book. I think I read somewhere that they intend to take it through 6th grade.) I did my research, reading as much about it as I could, and ordered 2 Levels to review – Levels D and E. After reviewing it thoroughly and deciding that he should start with Level E, I presented the idea to Dragon Rider of using this new book. Of course, he likes new things and he was bored with the old program (and becoming fed up with math), so he jumped at the idea!

Now, even though this is a spiral program, it is not the kind that also includes continuous review on every page and jumps around from page-to-page. Rather it spends 2-4 pages focusing on a topic, then moves to another topic for the next 2-4 pages. It mostly alternates between arithmetic topics and other math topics that he finds more fun and interesting – measurement, geometry, fraction concepts, and probability. Because of the way the topics are presented, he never goes more than 2 days before returning to one or more of the 4 operations of arithmetic for practice and more instruction. This is giving him a little break from the “hard stuff” every few days, but keeps returning to it often enough that he doesn’t forget how to do it. The book is pretty much self-teaching, with the lessons and instructions at the top of each page. It is colorful with some graphics without being too busy and distracting. He enjoys how much more “fun” the pages look compared to the pages of MMM. He has been using this new book for about 3 weeks now, and still likes it better than MMM. I cut out the answer pages from the back of the book and put them away so that I can still use them for faster grading, but he is not tempted to cheat. He is doing 3 pages/day in this book and finding that means that some days, math is short, and other days, math is kind of long. But he accepts that now and is OK with that. We are trying to keep him on a good pace so that he can move a little faster, hopefully while still understanding the math, so he can achieve his goals for math by the time he finishes high school. I have caught him trying to skip his math a couple of times so far, but all it took was making him do it before going to bed at night, when he is tired and just would rather watch TV or read, and he has decided it wasn’t worth trying to get away with it anymore! And about that time, the “fun” math showed up for the next day’s work, so he didn’t mind so much!

Alex Rider has reached a point in the last 2 weeks where I have had a hard time getting him to do his math, he has complained about how stupid solving algebraic equations are, he says they are confusing, and he is struggling overall. He is about half-way through his Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics book and has, I believe, reached the point where his “math maturity” level isn’t quite ready for the work. I have been tutoring him at night on the work, but since he is struggling with the lessons, there are not enough practice problems to cement the ideas into his head. I am of the mindset (for him) that if he is mentally ready for the work, then he won’t need pages and pages of repetitious problems in order to “get it” . That is why the Life of Fred books have worked so well for him thus far (this is his 4th book in the Life of Fred series.) Add to that the stress of some Boy Scouts activities last week (prepping and going to their annual snow campout/competition), and he was a basket-case by last Friday!

So when he got back from his campout (and had a good night’s sleep), I talked to him about taking a step back from LoF and doing something else for a while. I asked him if he thought spending some time getting better at his pre-algebra skills and building back up to solving algebraic equations a little later would be what he needs. He readily agreed that he wanted to do that, because he just isn’t ready to solve algebraic equations involving distance and rate variables! While he was gone camping, I had spent some time perusing Amazon.com and the library online catalog for some options. I also revisited the idea of some of the video-based homeschool curricula for pre-algebra. By the time we had sat down to have our little talk, I had some examples of both to show him. He still is adamant about not liking video-based instruction, so that’s out. (It’s OK with me since those would have run $150 or more, and I really don’t think he needs an entire year-long program for this math curriculum “side-trip.”)

He has some experience using Barron’s Painless series of books since he has been working one day/week in the Painless Fractions books. I also showed him books like the “Idiot’s Guides”, the “For Dummies” books, the “Easy Way” series, and the “Demystified Series”. These are the kinds of books that he likes – straight, to-the-point, show plenty of examples, and then have some problems to practice with. Except that he doesn’t want to actually USE a book that says it’s for idiots or dummies! LOL! So with my help, he has chosen to use a combination of Math Word Problems Demystified and Pre-Algebra Demystified. I think these are going to be perfect for him! It will review stuff that he mostly knows, while cementing some of the processes more (like fractions, percents, and ratios), and give him new instruction on solving equations for ‘x’ that may help make it “click” for him when we get to those chapters. All while giving him more time for his brain to mature a little more and “get ready” for the more abstract stuff. Also, thanks to Tracey at Learners at Home, I just learned of a web site that we might also use for pre-algebra skills and practice: Free Ed.Net’s Pre-Algebra: A Complete Course of Study. This will give us plenty of resources for his study in pre-algebra! Once he is through Pre-Algebra Demystified, he should be much more solid on his skills and be ready to crank through the rest of the Life of Fred Pre-Algebra 2 book without much difficulty.

I think it is a good thing we are doing this now so that he doesn’t move right into regular algebra before he is ready. This is what I believe the year of pre-algebra is for – reviewing and expanding on all the previous math skills, making sure that the student has a firm foundation, before moving into the upper level, abstract math. I have seen time-and-time again where kids struggle in algebra all because there is something missing in their foundation of arithmetic (usually fractions) that is causing them to trip up on solving the algebra problems. That, and the introduction of letters in their math problems as placeholders for an unknown that they have been doing since 1st-2nd grade when they had to solve 8 + ___ = 19 kinds of problems! This seems to trip up many students, all because no one has sat down and shown them that the letter is serving the same function as the blank, or box, or whatever was used in elementary school! (OK, I’ll get off THAT soapbox now! LOL!)

I hope sharing our journeys with curriculum can help you or someone you know!

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About Cindy

I am a wife to a wonderful hubby and mother of fraternal twin boys (born 6/28/1998). I enjoy family vacations/travels, my photography and acrylic painting hobbies, and anything else I feel like writing or sharing!
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4 Responses to Mid-Year Math Changes

  1. Janet W says:

    It’s always fun starting a new book in school (for me anyway – maybe not the kids). I’ll have to check out the Free Ed site. I’ll have one starting Pre-Algebra next year & one in college who still needs some occasional math help.

  2. cdallow says:

    I just want to comment on changing math curriculum. We are using Math-U-See and its working fine for my son (3rd grade) but my daughter hates it. I’m wondering if trying something new might help her. Math-U-See is very dry and the workbooks have no color and no graphics. It may be that that is all she needs! Have you used MUS? Really like your blog – I’ve been skimming back posts and really like it (and we’re neighbors – we’re living the high life in Colorado and my name is Cindy too 🙂

    • Cindy says:

      Hi Cindy! (Yes, that feels weird writing – like I am writing to myself!)

      Yes, we used Math-U-See back in part of 3rd and part of 4th grade. For Alex Rider, it was too boring and he is too impatient to want to sit through the video – even back then. He got bored doing the same thing – multi-digit addition and subtraction – for so many months without other math mixed in.

      For Dragon Rider who was also doing the Beta level, it went too deep into the larger numbers and numbers of numbers to add so that it became overwhelming. His “math maturity” for larger numbers was not there and it overwhelmed him. So when we got to the pages where he had to add columns of 4 digit numbers, he shut down. So I gave up on it, too. *I* really liked the use of the manipulatives and thought it was amazing how Steve Demme used those to even teach algebra, but it didn’t work for the boys. Too extreme mastery-based on the mastery-vs-spiral scale.

      Honestly, if I had it to do over with Dragon Rider, if I had known math was going to be such a long struggle with him, I would have spent the money and time and used either Shiller Math (Montessori-style math) for its great hands-on program, or RightStart Math with it hands-on, abacus, and games. At the time, I just didn’t get what it was going to take for him to understand math and was hesitant to spend so much money on those programs. I am a math-y person and thought, “how hard can it be to teach basic arithmetic? I’ll just show them what to do, have them practice it, and move on to the next thing.” I didn’t think he would need all of that work and time to digest and understand numbers, so I thought it was overkill. But it would probably have avoided some of the issues we have had with math over the last few years, and saved time in the long run because of it. Now because of his age and because I work full-time and can’t do one-on-one lessons everyday, I have had to find programs that are more self-teaching at a level and pace that is comfortable for him so that he can work mostly independently, and still continue to make progress in his math education. It helps, though, that because he is older now, his math maturity has increased and it *seems* like lately he is getting things easier. So maybe a lot of the struggles were more developmental than true learning disability. As they say, hindsight is 20-20!

  3. Tracey says:

    I love hearing about your changes~ and I couldn’t agree more about holding off hitting the algebra at this point. I think it is easy to just push ahead and think oh, well we will work at it when we get there… that really doesn’t help to create a solid foundation.
    Great Post! I will have to check out the pre-algebra books you found over at Amazon.
    I also commend you on your efforts in changing things when something doesn’t work ~ I do the same as you know~ our boys are forever evolving, its what makes homeschooling so adventurous~ lol 😉 You will have to keep us posted on how these new books work out with them.

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