Sunday, September 28, 2014

Horizons 5th Grade Math, a review

My daughter, Mary, and I recently had the opportunity to review Horizons Math 5 from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division.

a review of Horizons Math 5 at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsHorizons Math is colorful, workbook-style program that spirals through important key concepts from year-to-year.  After each concept is introduced, the text focuses on it for a few lessons and then it is reviewed periodically throughout the year.   Tests are provided every 10 lessons for assessing your child’s progress.

It is quite comprehensive in its coverage.  You can download a pdf of Horizons’ scope and sequence here, but here’s a brief overview of the key concepts covered in the 5th grade level:

  • place value to the hundred billions
  • rounding
  • addition and subtraction properties
  • Imperial and metric measurements
  • percentages and simple ratios
  • fractions, including least common denominator, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
  • shapes and solids, including perimeter, area, volume, and surface area
  • multiplication properties, multiple digit multiplication
  • exponents
  • division properties, multiple digit division
  • mean, mode, and median
  • problem-solving
  • calculator use

IMG_0305 The 5th grade Horizons Math set sells for $81.95 and includes:

2 Student Workbooks (books 1 and 2)

1 Teacher’s Guide

Note:  Each book can also be purchased separately.  Please see the website for details.

This is really all that you need to teach the program, though there are optional manipulatives suggested in some of the lessons.  We have found them unnecessary so far, but should the need arise, we would be able to use substitutions we already have rather than specific pieces (Alpha Omega does not produce a manipulative kit for Horizons Math, but you can find suggested sets at homeschool retailers).

We have found the program really simple to use. 

The text is written to the student, but the teacher’s guide has teaching notes, activities, and additional worksheets for supporting your child when they struggle with a new concept.  The TG is a little cumbersome to use, as there’s one section with the lessons and then separate sections for the additional worksheets, exercise answers, and test answers---you may find it helpful to keep a bookmark in each section.

view of Horizon Math 5 Teacher's Guide at Homeschooling Hearts & Mindsview of Horizon Math 5 Teacher's Guide at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Mary (age 10) has completed the first 20 lessons and the first  2 tests.  I was a little worried about going into Horizon’s 5th grade book, because she was coming from a different math with a different scope and sequence.  After looking over the placement test, I decided that she should be able to handle the transition with possibly a little extra teaching on my part. 

I needn’t have worried.  Horizons Math is packed with lots of review of previous concepts.  If you are coming from a different math program, as long as your child isn’t “behind,” he/she will probably be able to jump into his/her grade level, but you may want to check out the Horizons placement test to help you to decide.  It’s a  free download, but you do need to sign up for a free account to access it.

A typical lesson in Horizons Math 5:

  • Step-by-step teaching notes (some have hands-on activities or whiteboard activities)
  • some lessons have additional worksheets available to copy and give to your student if extra practice or reinforcement is needed
  • exercises in the workbook---these are a mix of practicing the current lesson and review of previously learned concepts

So far, I’ve found that since the workbook has the lesson written to the student, Mary can read it and then I help her if she doesn’t understand or needs further teaching.  Most of the lessons themselves(up to #20) have covered concepts that she has already learned previously.

The pages are colorful and there’s a nice mix of straight arithmetic computation, review of terminology, word problems, color by answer type thingies, riddles, and so on, all punctuated with cute graphics.  I think most kids will like the variety of activities.

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

If you have a kid whose eyes glaze over when you hand her a black and white page of math problems, Horizons Math is worth a look.

It sounds great, right?  But what do we really think of Horizons Math 5?

I am going to 100% honest with you here:  our feelings are mixed and I’ve decided that if we we continue with Horizons, I will need to make some modifications.  Let’s look at some pros and cons, shall we?


  • It’s colorful.
  • There’s a variety of exercises in each lesson
  • The lessons are a manageable length (although Mary sometimes wishes they were a little shorter, but she might say that no matter how short they were).
  • It’s all planned out for me---we just do the next lesson.
  • It’s mostly self-explanatory, making it suitable for an independent learner.
  • There are teaching notes and extra worksheets for support in the Teacher’s Guide.
  • It’s pretty much painless and yet thorough.  Yeah!


The instruction is a little uneven. 

This is a big one for us.  The lesson itself is often very simple, but then there will be something thrown into the exercises that hasn’t previously been covered in this book and is something I wouldn’t assume the child already knows (and remembers) from a previous year.  And these things are often not addressed in the teaching notes (other than being listed in the “objectives”).

Lesson 18, for instance, reviews rounding numbers to the 10s, 100s and 1000s, a skill Mary mastered a long time ago.  But then one of the exercises involves figuring out the area of a rectangle minus the square inside of it.  Area hasn’t been taught in this book and there is no direction given to the student for figuring this out.

Now, the teaching notes do direct the teacher to “work through one of each problem type in Lesson 18 Practice,” but they also offer no advice or support for actually teaching these particular exercises.  Hmmm…

I can teach someone about area, but what about the teacher who can’t?  I’m a little frustrated that the Teaching Guide offers no help in this area.

Another example is Lesson 21.  The actual lesson is easy peasy (adding 2 and 3 digit numbers with regrouping), but then suddenly finding the volume of a solid appears in the exercises, with no direction given to the student and no help offered in the teaching notes.

Again, I know that V=L*W*H, but what if my mommy brain was a little forgetful?  What good is a Teacher’s Guide that doesn’t help me teach my child?

And here is the really weird thing:  This concept is taught in a later lesson!  It’s taught in Lesson 80-something in book 2! 

This left me scratching my head:  why is this exercise in Lesson 21 at all?  And if it is covered later, why isn’t there a note directing me to that other lesson for help in teaching it?

And these are just a couple of examples, there were others we encountered just in the first 20 lessons.  Mary frequently found that the actual lesson was easier than the other practice exercises. 

I do expect that this will improve as we get further into the program and more and more concepts are taught in the lessons.  My solution for now will be to have her skip things that she doesn’t already know/remember and that haven’t been formally introduced.

The explanations given in the lessons are sometimes imprecise, incomplete, and/or confusing.

Lesson 15 is on Roman Numerals.  The explanation given for writing and reading them is as follows (emphasis added by me):

The letter values are added to attain the desired amount when writing some numerals.


50 + 30 + 4 = 84 1000 + 1000 + 1 = 2001

In other numerals, the first letter value is subtracted for the second letter value to attain the desired number.

10 – 1 = 9 5 – 1 = 4 50 – 10 = 40

There are no further rules or explanation given as far as when you add or subtract, or the fact that you only subtract a number in the same place value from a number---for instance, you can say XL (50-10=50), but you can’t say IC (100-1=99).

The Teacher’s Guide offers a couple of activities to do to practice working with Roman Numerals, but it does not add any clarification on how they work.

Mary has learned Roman Numerals previously, so this was a refresher---she remembered the rules on her own, she just needed some practice with remembering which letter is which. 

I anticipate that this lesson might be difficult for a student who doesn’t know/remember the rules or a mom who was not familiar with them.  Perhaps they plan to explain Roman Numerals more completely in a future grade?

This is only one example where the lesson was incomplete in its explanation.

Geometric problems are often not drawn to scale.

This may seem minor, but I think it’s confusing for a child to be directed to find the perimeter of  shape when one side is labeled as measuring “20 cm” and another is labeled “10 cm,” but the one is clearly not 2x as long as the other.  This happened in more than one lesson.  I think it’s important for a math book to have somewhat accurate diagrams.

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Repetitious puzzles that require coloring might be a snore for many kids this age.

I’m must going to give you a picture for this one.  Some kids hate to color anyway---this is not going to inspire any interest in doing the puzzle:

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

The Teacher’s Guide could be more comprehensive.

There are a few activities given for some of the lessons, but you will need to refer to the workbooks to teach your child.  As I already pointed out, you will often find that there is something in the “practice problems” that is not addressed in the teaching notes.

Answers are given for exercises and tests, but just answers---no step by step explanations.

If you are accustomed to using elementary math texts without a teacher’s manual, you can probably safely skip it for Horizons Math 5.

Overall, Horizons Math 5 isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good.

I have yet to find the perfect math program.  They all have some minuses and some even have glaring pedagogical problems.

Horizons has many pluses.  It’s self-explanatory and easy to use with an independent learner.  It provides lots of practice and review of concepts and procedures.  It’s open and go, for the most part.

For those areas where it seems lacking, it is easy enough to skip an exercise or provide my child with additional instruction on my own, but if you are uncomfortable teaching math, this may be harder for you.

I recommend taking a look at the samples to see Horizons Math might be a good fit for your 5th grader.

Definitely want it? 

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Disclosure: I received the product mentioned in this post from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division to facilitate my review. I received no other compensation and all opinions presented here are my own.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

When the Real World Crashes through Your Ideal Vision

A little while back I listed my ideal plans for our homeschool this year.  But our first day was simply awful.  Awful to the degree that even after 7 years of doing this home education thing I was really thinking that I’d made a horrible mistake.

My Album 3-001I was having really serious doubts.

Maybe the 9th grader should have gone to public school this year?

Maybe the kindergartener needs a classroom to keep her busy-ness occupied?

Maybe the 3rd grader is never, ever going to get math?

Maybe the 5th grader really does get her shrillness from me?

So what happened?

My ideal vision of what my homeschool should look like once again hit the brick wall we call real life!

Real life is never going to fit that ideal. 

Confession time here…maybe I spent a wee bit too much time lurking on homeschool forums and blogs and got too wrapped up in what a good homeschool looks like.  Oi!  You would think I would learn my lessons.

Sometimes Mom’s vision of where her kids ought to be just doesn’t match up with where they are, whether it be academically, emotionally, or even physically.  Sometimes, she gets her head turned and forgets where she really is in her homeschool journey.

The first couple of weeks of school tends to be full of revelations.  Be open to them.

Maybe spelling, plus handwriting, plus a writing program, plus written narrations every day really is overkill.

Especially if the kid is of the meticulous-perfectionist type who goes above and beyond whatever you were expecting in the narration department, anyway.

Maybe the kid who spontaneously writes out (long-hand, mind you) sequels to the Wizard of Oz stories that are pages and pages long, with nary a punctuation or spelling error in sight doesn’t really need a formal writing program at all.

Maybe the youngest really does crave more workbooks and maybe there’s nothing wrong with loading her up with colorful printed stuff. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with initially planning too much (or even too little), because I always have the opportunity to change what I’m doing to fit our needs a little better.

After giving it a fair shot and conferring with the kids, I slowly made some changes and will be revising the plans I posted here to reflect those changes.  It’ll take me a bit, but I will revise them.

We have dropped a few things and switched out a few others---the good news is that we are getting very close to our magic balance.

You know what I’m talking about…the point at which each child is kept intellectually busy enough that he’s progressing, but not so bogged down in requirements that he lacks the internal motivation to continue on and pursue more interests on his own at the “end” of the day (instead of zoning out). 

The routine that ceases to feel like a box and becomes just the right support for my particular kids.

The school day that you not only don’t mind doing, but look forward to.

What changes have you made in your plans for the year?