Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Challenged by Math

I'm feeling challenged (and a bit obsessed) by math in my homeschool lately. I'm very attracted to Living Math, but concerned about my ability to implement it in a thorough way. With my oldest I used Singapore for 1st and 2nd grade. In 3rd grade I used MEP.

Singapore is fine,but I didn't find there was much explanation (maybe I needed to buy another book). I like MEP, but I found it difficult to implement. First, we had to print it. Last year we printed all the files for years 1 and 3 -- that's 18 files per year. Then to teach it, it requires my time using the Lesson Plan booklet (which I had to print myself) which occasionally refers to unnumbered Copymasters, and then I have to figure out where the corresponding practice is in the student's Lesson book. The whole system is poorly referenced, in my opinion. Perhaps if we did math five days a week it would work for us, but we don't. Also, the in-depth study of the metric system, the fact that my student's measurements of items in the Lesson book would be off because we use a different size of paper in the US (it's a British program) is a problem. The use of British money is a small issue also if your child is very concrete. I love the price (free), and the I think the math is good, but I found the whole thing hard to use, and at my house that means that it doesn't always get used.

I'm also challenged by math by the boys. My oldest especially shuts down at the sight of math, which makes me sad. On the other hand, in fourth grade his mother also shut down at the sight of math, and went on to work far ahead of her class in 7-9th grades (yeah, that's me). At that point the system reined me in. So I try not to think I've wrecked him permanently. I'm not currently challenged by math. Generally I like finding patterns and such, and I do a fair amount of math for my sewing and knitting. I took calculus in college and had to use it in grad school, but always needed the help of the engineers on my team to make it through the problem sets.

I find he needs more practice than I think he does. I may think he's learned a concept (say, borrowing) but if he doesn't use it for awhile, he forgets. When that happens I think one of two things -- I either think we need to buckle down and be more rigorous, or I wonder if we should just leave it for awhile, and when he's ready it will stick. I'm not sure dh would really be okay with leaving it. He often teaches more difficult topics on the fly as they come up. I'm afraid my job may be to make sure they don't get forgotten.

So I'm eying other options. I'd really like to do more Living Math. I have to make time for it. (This is a good article on using more living math.)I'm hoping that I can do living math with multiple kids -- doing one at a time for three different kids gets difficult, and that's also part of the problem with MEP. I worry about Living Math being enough, especially if for some reason the boys ended up going to public school. I know that I'm not very good at working without a plan -- too often I end up not working at all, and I'm not always eager to make my own Living Math plan. However, I found this article very interesting, although it doesn't provide a curriculum by any means, even as revolutionary a curriculum as it outlines. Part of me hopes we're already doing it with our literature-rich approach to learning. I'm also familiar with the claim that K-8 math can be learned in less than six weeks by a motivated student. But so far I can't completely let go of a formal approach, at least with my oldest (who is 9). My youngest has a great time figuring his own stuff out.

So what else am I looking at? Math on the Level (MOTL) is very appealing. It provides books on major concepts, and the books cover all levels (K-8). Theoretically, I could cover the same concept for all three boys and provide questions for them at their own level. I could find teaching ideas for whatever topic seemed to be appropriate for us at the time. However, the down side seems to be that I have to come up with the questions. I think some may be provided, but the 5-a-day concept requires me to pull together five problems on a variety of topics for three boys. That's probably 60 problems a week. Plus record-keeping. MOTL is starting to sound pretty mom-intensive. It's also quite expensive.

I'm also looking at Math Mammoth. MM has a variety of options, of which I've been looking at the Blue Series and the Light Blue Series. The Blue books are by topic, which I think sounds quite similar to MOTL -- however they provide problems. They also provide enough text for a child to potentially teach themselves. It's also very affordable. It is available as downloads which can be printed, but that doesn't bother me, especially as I can print off different copies for all three boys as they are ready. The Light Blue books are full curriculum books, also potentially good for self-teaching. They are slightly more expensive than the Blue books (approximately equivalent to Singapore, I think) but I would only have to buy it once, not once for each child. From what I've seen, I think MM is a thoughtful program, and far from being simply drill. It may not be quite as innovative as MEP, but I think it may be far easier to use because explanations and problems are together in the same place.

So having put my thinking into writing, I'm going to leave it alone. We're going on vacation and the boys are doing a daycamp this month, so we won't be doing much until at least August. At that point I may buy the MM multiplication book to get a sense of how they work and to see if we like them. I'll also think about buying MOTL and looking at it for the 60 day free trial.

P. S. One inspiration for an imaginative approach to math instruction is this article: Lockhart's Lament.