Math Update for Pre-Algebra

I continued to research math programs, approaches, and sequences, even after I wrote this blog post on math recently. I have discovered that most other countries in the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Japan, China, and Singapore, teach high school-level math courses as an integrated continuum, unlike the United States. Somehow, the United States either never moved towards a more consolidated approach to math, or purposely separated the topics into 2 years of algebra, 1 year of geometry, and a year of advanced math topics like trigonometry and analytical geometry. Until about 2 decades ago, when the United States saw that they were slipping lower and lower in math competency when compared to these other countries. At that point, the NCTM started a movement to switch our math to an integrated series as well. However, at the same time this was in the process, the NCTM also introduced the ideas that have resulted in the “fuzzy math” movement. This movement was where students were no longer taught proven algorithms to solving math problems and were instead encouraged to come up with their own ways to solve problems, figuring that if they “intuited” the math solutions themselves, that they would understand the concepts behind the algorithms much better. (This was something that took the human race about 3000 years to figure out!) Unfortunately, this method has been shown to have failed an entire generation of math students and many school districts around the country are still trying to recover from the “fuzzy math” failure. However, what that means is that our experiment in integrated high school mathematics has also failed, but for reasons not related to the integration of subjects. Additionally, many of our “integrated math” courses were not truly integrated in the same manner as those other countries teach. All “integrated” meant in this country was that the books had both algebra and geometry chapters in them – but there was no effort to show how they each build on one another and develop the concepts in such a way as to show how algebra and geometry support each other. So the idea was good, but the implementation was not.

So why did I become interested in integrating the high school math topics for my boys’ math education? Well, it first started because Alex Rider was beginning to hate anything to do with algebra just because he reached a point in his pre-algebra book where the algebra was beyond his “math maturity” level. Originally, I had the idea that maybe in the fall we would try geometry first, allowing him time and distance from algebra while allowing his “math maturity” time to grow to be ready for it. Plus, that meant he could do algebra 1 and 2 back-to-back, making it much more efficient and easier because he would not be interrupted after algebra 1 to do geometry and then have to spend the first 1/3 or ½ a year of algebra 2 reviewing all of the algebra 1 that he had forgotten. It was in the process of researching geometry programs to find one that was appropriate to use BEFORE algebra 1 that I started reading about how other countries integrate the math. I thought, gee, maybe that would be the best of both worlds for Alex Rider! A course for 8th grade that includes algebra and geometry, integrated in such a way as each supports the other, and provides some variety of topics throughout the year so he doesn’t get burned out on just doing algebra (or geometry) all year long! This really started to interest me, so I started researching the popular math programs used by homeschoolers that are from other countries. The 2 that are most used and considered the top programs are:

1. Singapore’s Secondary Math Programs

2. The Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP), designed and used in the United Kingdom

For those not familiar with Singapore Math, all of their courses are taught in British English and their Primary program has recently been adapted (slightly) and approved for use in California public schools. Prior to that, the biggest “issues” with using Singapore’s program was that the Singapore dollar looks different and that they use the metric system exclusively, so standard measurements would have to be taught separately by the parent. (To meet CA standards, they did have to move a couple of topics from one grade to another and add some probability sections that are not taught in Singapore until middle school.) These are the same issues that we encounter when considering a British math program – the use of the British Pound symbol instead of the US dollar sign, and the use of the metric system (though I know that the British also still use standard measurements, too, I just am not sure if they are in this particular math program done by MEP.)

Of the 2 programs, the one I first decided to pursue was the British MEP program. For one thing, the entire program is available online for FREE! There are the student books, detailed teacher’s lesson plans, teaching notes, overhead slides, activities for developing concepts, mental math exercises, extra exercises for those needing more than provided in the student books, solutions books, chapter tests, and periodic diagnostic (cumulative, 3 times/semester) tests with answer keys! All of the files are PDFs, and they have even implemented the Year 7 and Year 8 books as an online program that Alex Rider can do on the computer. Some of the more advanced lessons, those usually reserved for their advanced (or “honors”) track students, are not in the online system, but are complete in the PDF files. As for the Singapore programs, I like the Discovering Mathematics series the best because it appears to build up the concepts a little more incrementally for the student and it is the only series that have solutions manuals available for all levels (versus answer keys which don’t show HOW to work the problem.)

I presented my findings to Alex Rider to get his input on whether to pursue a modified American sequence of geometry, algebra 1, algebra 2, or to try one of the foreign programs. Right away, he wanted to do the British program because he just likes “all things British” right now. 🙂 He has several online friends in his online game RuneScape who are British because the game itself is created and run by a British company. He has often told me that he has found when playing RuneScape, it always seems to be the Americans that have the worst sportsmanship in the game and act like jerks, while the British folks are there to have an honest good time. So he has a much better image of the British than Americans. As for the Singapore math programs, he has no familiarity with anything related to Singapore, so kind of discarded it at this point as not being an option (but I haven’t. 😉 )

So, MEP it is! I found a Yahoo Group specifically for homeschoolers using MEP in the US and have learned more information there about how to use it. It appears that much of Year 7 is pre-algebra, with about half of the topics being review for Alex Rider. I also learned that if he does one lesson/day with it, that he will probably finish it all by the end of this year, even though we are past the half-way point. If it weren’t so much review, he wouldn’t be able to go as fast as one lesson/day, so normally it would last a full school year. Then he will be able to start Year 8 in the fall, which will be mostly algebra 1 and geometry topics. If he continues with MEP, he would do Years 7-9 and then have another decision to make:

· Switch back to a US program and pick up with Algebra 2 (using placement tests to make sure he is placed appropriately)

· Take the placement tests from Singapore’s Discovering Mathematics to place appropriately there to continue their series through pre-calculus, or

· Start the MEP GCSE 2-year math program which would pretty much take him through algebra 2 and pre-calculus, as well as some other topics not normally covered in US high schools.

At this point, we are doing the Year 7 program as a “trial” to see how we like MEP in general, and how well he does with it, before making any real commitments for the long term. It will provide him with a thorough pre-algebra foundation while giving his brain time to mature some more before jumping into higher math too early. If he isn’t doing well by the end of the year with MEP, my backup plan at this point is to use the Singapore Discovering Mathematics program. I plan to periodically use their placement tests to gauge how his learning in MEP is coming along and to compare the 2 programs. Incidentally, even though the Singapore program is not free, it is still much less expensive than an equivalent program by one of the major publishing firms here in the US.

In the fall, Alex Rider will either be doing MEP Year 8, Singapore’s Discovering Mathematics 1, or perhaps, Key Curriculum Press’s Discovering Geometry: An Investigative Approach. We’ll just have to wait and see what works out best for him!

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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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6 Responses to Math Update for Pre-Algebra

  1. Kim says:

    Hi, Cindy.

    This was a wonderful and informative post. Thank you for sharing that information. I had already heard a lot about Singapore (though we’ve never tried it), but the Mathematics Enhancement Program was something completely new to me. I followed the link, and that is some great stuff.

    The program looks a lot more palatable than Singapore to me, and I would love to try it with my 12-year-old this year. She’s done most of the pre-algebra “stuff” through several different sources. It has been so hard to find one curriculum that suits her learning style, but this one might work. She went through the first two Strayer-Upton books (loved your post on that, too) and absolutely hated them. I’ve been using a spiral approach since then (without realizing it), but she has recently stated vehemently that she much prefers the mastery approach (without quite as much repetition as Strayer-Upton). The MEP seems like it offers a lot to learn but in a fun way. I like that Singapore is such a strong program, but it strikes me as very intense.

    It looks like your original post was about two years ago, and I was wondering (1) how it’s going now and (2) if you know if there have been any changes with the MEP site. I clicked on a few things and the links to tests (the ones I tried) weren’t available without a password. I would love to buy the program, but that doesn’t look too easy to do from the states either. Maybe you have some words of advice. 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to share this. What a treasure to find on the internet.

    • Cindy says:

      I am so glad you have enjoyed my posts about math!

      I haven’t used the MEP program in quite a while. My son used it for a few weeks and it became evident that he really needed me to work through the lessons with him in order to get him to understand what he was doing. I was working full time and was unable to do so. That also meant that the other programs I mentioned would not work for him either. I told him he was going have to get over not liking video lessons because he was getting into more difficult math that would be hard to understand by just reading a book. So not long after that, I switched him to Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra so that he could have video lessons to teach him. He still didn’t like those much either, but at least he understood better with “someone” teaching him.

      This school year, he started attending the public high school by his choice. He really loves being in high school – he is an extremely socialable guy. As a result, he is doing Algebra 1 at school and I only help him with his homework now. If he had stayed home for high school, I probably would have given VideoText Algebra a try for him. I think it has more depth than Teaching Textbooks, but is more expensive, too. (Well, if you add up TT Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, and Algebra 2 and compare to the complete VideoText Algebra, then not really! LOL!)

      As for the MEP program, if you join the MEP Homeschoolers Yahoo Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/mep-homeschoolers), you can get the password from them. It’s either in the Files section or you can ask for it. Or, you can send me your email address and I will send you the access information.

      I hope you find something that fits your daugher’s learning style!

  2. Ms.B. says:

    Thanks for this post. My 11th grade daughter hates Algebra and is struggling to get through whatever we have tried thus far. I am going to look into these resources. I appreciate your time to post this!

    • Cindy says:

      I am glad that this post was helpful for you. It just shows that there is more than one way to teach high school level math – and the way Americans do it isn’t really the best way. 🙂

  3. Tracey says:

    Cindy,
    This was a really interesting post and am so glad you shared this information. I look forward to checking into ( and in depth) the MEP program. I have many friends who use this program with their own children and really love it.
    I also look forward to checking these article links out as well. Keep us posted on how things go ~ I will be interested in learning more! 🙂

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