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Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Week: Re-evaluating Math

Don't you hate it when you put a lot of time, money, and energy into a good program...and it turns out it really won't work in your situation?

I feel like I'm playing musical chairs when it comes to math programs. And the approach I like at any given moment just depends upon where I'm at when the music stops...or when Emma starts dismantling the book shelves again. Right now I'm really liking the independent workbook approach. Not really, since I know that workbooks really don't teach anything, at least not on their own. It's the independence I'm craving.

So, to re-cap. In September we started Mary on Right Start Level B and David on Right Start Level C. Hubby and I did a ton of research on math programs and decided that we needed to overcome David's math deficiencies. He has to potential to do well in math, but we need to get him past his feelings of inadequacy in that department.

Now let me clarify here...David is super intelligent when it comes to math, he gets concepts pretty well. But, while 90% of math is getting the concepts and making connections, there is still that 10% that involves memorizing the facts. This is his stumbling block. Timed drills don't work for him. They cause too much stress and lock up his brain. He just freaks out (I had the same problem with timed drills when I was in school, so I can relate). I have no doubt that once he has developed automaticity, timed tests will no longer be a hurdle.

There are also some small holes in his conceptual understanding (he's forgotten stuff). So, the hope was that a very one-on-one program with the emphasis on learning and cementing the facts through games and other activities would work for him. We like the idea of using the abacus to help with his visual learning, not as a crutch but a temporary scaffold.

So, we gulped, paid the cash and took him to Level C (he started with Transitions first, which is designed as a bridge for students coming from a different math program), which we knew would have a good bit of review. Ok, a lot of review. But once you've got the basics down, you can move on.

And since we want Mary to also have a strong conceptual understanding, we put her in Level B.

And this week we decided this really isn't working for our homeschool. The first problem: in early October, 19-month-old Emma decided she no longer takes naps. Not only that, she decided that since she no longer takes naps, she will just climb out of her crib, open the bedroom door and run on downstairs to continue to wreak havoc. Makes it a little hard to get all the one-on-one time in, if you know what I mean? And we have other things besides math that require one-on-one time. Like Mary's All About Spelling. And Peter's reading. Although I have had David work with him successfully.

Second problem: too much review, for both children. Mary is bored to tears with representing addition problems with pictorial base-ten cards, the abacus (she absolutely hated using tally sticks) and the like. Some of the lessons just seem, well, overkill. How many little bitty triangles can I honestly expect a 6-year-old to cut out to construct a 6-foot high Cotter Ten Fractal, even if we did it over a few days? And what does that really accomplish? And where would I put it, anyway? We have skipped over or abbreviated some lessons for both of them. And Mary has done some workbook pages, just because she likes workbook pages. Really.

Third problem: I'm sick of the spiraling. There, I said it. I think spiraling review is necessary, particularly for topics that won't be used often (like Roman numerals, and measuring), but if you can teach a 1st grader the 1/2 and 1/4 hours, you can certainly teach them to the 5's and even the actual time. Mary can certainly count by 5's. And if I'm going to show her how to add together 4-digit numbers using base ten and place value cards in lesson 30-something, why does she have to wait until lesson 90-something to do it on paper? She wants to do it on paper.

So, after having a heart-to-heart with hubby, we've decided we need a less formal approach for David that can be fit into little chinks and chunks of time as they come available. Hubby will be working with him in the evenings on mastering his multiplication facts. We'll continue to review addition and subtraction facts. Meanwhile, I'll peruse the rest of the RS book and see if there are any concepts he is missing. I'm thinking up some activities to reinforce that work. And none of them require the expensive Right Start manipulatives. The abacuses will come in handy, though.

For Mary, I'm seriously considering go to a (shudder) workbook, but using the workbook as reinforcement and concentrating mainly on getting her to memorize her addition and subtraction facts...she has drill-o-phobia, too. But, she'll write out math facts all day long if you ask her to, just don't put a time limit on it. We'll also be doing some less formal learning. Today, we were working on counting money. Quarters are hard, but she's got the dimes and nickels down.

What I've learned from this experience that I needed to know:
  • I am totally capable of teaching any and all of these concepts in my homeschool (we'll see how I feel when we get to Algebra 2). Even without a fancy math program.
  • Mary has trouble with spatial relationships (she can't visualize, for instance, that if she flips 2 triangles around the right way and puts them together, she'll get a slanted parallelogram, she just keeps turning them the same way), not something to worry about, since she's still young (almost 7) and girls tend to have more trouble with this area than boys, but something to work on.
  • Both children have very different learning styles. Mary doesn't even like manipulatives.
  • David understands more than I realized.
  • It's not the end of the world. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, he will get this. He won't be mathematically crippled for life.
What areas do your kiddos struggle in? What ways have you found to get them through?


  1. It stinks when you have to keep re-evaluating doesn't it. I'm using Right Start Level A with my special needs dd but I am also using MUS Alpha. She just needs things presented in different ways. Hope you find your groove with your son and that you find some workbooks/worksheets to use with your daughter.

  2. Thanks, it seems I'm always re-evaluating. But, this is actually an advantage to homeschooling. We are not obligating to keep keeping on with something that's not working for us.


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