Saturday, November 8, 2008

Developing Our Math Strategy

The groundwork: really and truly, I like math. I did well in high school math classes (offered in my school was algebra, geometry, algebra 3/trigonometry, analytical geometry/algebra 4 for those on the "regular" track). It clicked for me there.

When I chose a math program for Ben -- who was at the wee age of 3.5 -- I wanted one that would give him good math reasoning skills. I wanted him to have an uncanny ability to do math in his head (something I'd hoped was passed on to him from his dad). We used Singapore Math Earlybird's 4 book series. I did not like the Earlybird books that I used with Ben (they seemed haphazard in their topics and there was little teacher help). Not sure of my choice (something that I still deal with today -- did I make the right curriculum choice for my children?), we dabbled in Scott Foreman's Exploring Mathematics (not at all to be confused with the arguably horrible Everyday Mathematics) and Math U See during the later part of Kindergarten into 1st grade.

I admittedly made many mistakes in our early homeschooling journey, and pushing MUS on Ben when he was too young was one of the biggest mistakes I made; I started him with the old primary book and bypassed the primer-level introductory course for him. This set Ben up for failure in that he was not at the maturity level to handle what I was asking of him. So, we dropped MUS, Exploring Mathematics and -- having seen that the grass was no greener on the other side -- we returned to Singapore Math.

Recently, I have begun to notice that Ben needs a lot of review in math. This was more pronounced in the fall when I discovered that Ben had forgotten practically every math fact he knew. Instead of making steady progress with our math lessons this summer, we didn't even crack open a book for the entire month of July through August 25. In that time, he forgot all but the most basic fact. Since August we've been very diligent to work on the Flashmaster and the MUS drill website and Ben has achieved sucess in addition, multiplication and division up through all the levels and we're almost there in division (yea, Ben!)

So, I though about switching Ben over to Horizons for the remainder of his elementary math program. Why Horizons? I am using the K program with Luke this year and rally like how some practically life math is folded into learning. He's learning to tell time by the hour as he is learning to print his numbers; he is learning about the value of coins as he is learning to count by 10s. There is a spiral of skills that is appealing. Ben took the grade 4 placement test. Outside of missing all the fraction problems (we haven't studied anything past the concepts of 1/2 and 1/4 and maybe 1/3), he would've been appropriate for that grade level placement. I also borrowed Horizons 3 IG so I could see how math concepts are developed and the guidance given instructors in teaching children.

I am SO glad I did borrow this, because after 5 years using Singapore, I now so appreciate of the education I've received in teaching math to my son. I have regained a new respect for SM's concrete -> pictorial -> abstract teaching continuum (something that I didn't always use when teaching ds#1 but will be more diligent with when I instruct ds #2 and #3). I appreciate that hand-holding that is available in the HIG to teach concepts that Ben might be having trouble with. I like the variety of angles that are given for tackling math problems (especially for mental math techniques). And, while I don't have to have the HIGs to teach SM, I do like it for the amount of additional helps that it gives to me. I feel armed when I have the HIG on my desk.

To Ben's delight, I've thrown away his placement test for Horizons. We are sticking with Singapore math.

I just returned from CBD with the extra practice book for 3B and the textbook for 4A (something I didn't have yet) and the HIG for 5A and 5B. I will be pulling out the Challenging Word Problems 2 book and assigning assorted problems periodically for the rest of the year. I'll be looking through the extra practice book for supplementary lessons to fill in areas of weakness that Ben still has.

I am hoping that this is the last "Math Freak Out" that I have with Singapore (I've been known by a local homeschooling friend to have at least 1 or 2 every year since 2nd grade). I know that it is and excellent tool to teach mathematicall reasoning and problem solving to my sons. It is up to me to use these tools to their fullest.

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