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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Outsourcing High School Math on a Shoe String

high school math-001I admit it.  My 9th grader has switched Algebra 1 programs twice this school year.  Why, oh why, is it so hard to find a solid math program that I can teach well?  If I were a mathematician, maybe that would help?  Or if he was particularly mathy (he’s definitely not), that would help. 

But alas, I am who I am and he is who he is.

David started in September using Discovering Algebra, because it had been recommended to me for its exploratory qualities (he is a creative soul).  This text proved to be:

  • too slick (hip pictures that have nothing to do with the actual text and so distract my easily distractible boy---he was too busy smirking)
  • too dependent upon graphing calculators
  • too little math (really, even my math hater said so)

So we switched to an old Algebra 1 text from Dolciani.  Now, when I first introduced my son to this serious looking, dense text…I worried he would run away.  But he actually kinda liked it.  It didn’t have any distracting nonsense in it---it was simply a math book.  It was a nice change from the previous text and he grooved on that.  My husband, who has taught some math to college students, gave it a thumbs up, so we went forward.

We stuck with Dolciani for a few months (right up until Christmas) and were making ok progress, but here’s the thing---I can’t get a teacher’s edition for this book.  I tried, but it’s old and the TEs come at a premium (a high premium) and are hard to find. 

The book does have answers to the odd problems in the back, but no solutions.  That’s ok, because I can work the problems myself.

As we got deeper into the text, my son was able to do less and less independent study for the lessons, which was also ok, because I can teach from the book.

But then I was finding that even with me explaining it to him, he wasn’t getting it.  He became discouraged.  He did poorly on the next test, so we went back and reviewed.  And reviewed.

I started pulling my hair out.  It was taking too much of my time and energy to teach this one subject to one child and he seemed to have hit a brick wall that he couldn’t climb over. 

That’s not to say that my oldest child doesn’t deserve as much of my time as he needs.  He does.

But the reality is that there is only one of me and I have four kids and they all need to learn math and other things.  Those other three kids are no less deserving of my time.

And we weren’t getting through the course.  He was good and stuck.

Then a little light bulb went on.  What if the problem is not really the text or the material, but the limited way in which I am presenting it to him? 

We live in the new millennium, y’all. 

We aren’t limited to chalk, dry erase markers, and red pens.  We aren’t even limited to physical manipulatives (although physical manipulatives are wonderful). 

We have technology at our fingertips.  Someone can produce a dynamic video online that actually interacts with the student.  They can create a system that automatically grades the student’s work and gives them instant feedback (so the poor kid doesn’t have to wait until mom has time to grade the problem set).

And so, after talking it over with my husband, I decided I needed to outsource this subject---it’s been awesome!

Let me step back a minute…

As I said, we were at midyear and I had already tried two different math programs with this kid. 

My homeschool budget was spent.

I COULD NOT spend a couple hundred dollars (or more) on a live online course.  Even if I could have, many of the year-long courses started back in September and used a different text/sequence than what he had done so far, so he couldn’t jump in midstream.

I really couldn’t afford over $100 for Teaching Textbooks or one of the other self-paced cd-rom or online options.  After already having two programs fail on me, I couldn’t take that big of a gamble, anyway.

I was also a bit leery of using an expensive video-based program, because I have tried a couple with him in the past and the fit had been…well, not great.

So I started looking at free options.

I was feeling desperate.  I looked at a lot possibilities, including Khan Academy and videos that had been put together by teachers for their classes.  None of these was quite what I was looking for (he does use Khan for other things, including Java programming).

We settled on using the Saxon Algebra 1 course on Virtual Homeschool Group.

VHSG algebra 1 screenshot

I purchased a used copy of the text on Amazon, but the actual work is done online.  We can refer to the text for extra practice or for review.

There are video presentations of the lessons, some have an interactive element to them.  The problem sets are completed online and instantly graded.  There’s a test after every 4 lessons. 

The site keeps records of what has been completed and grades.  There’s a checklist that shows my son what he has finished.  You can even contact them for more help if you get stuck on a lesson---VHSG is dedicated to help homeschoolers.  How cool is that?

I do nothing except keep tabs on whether or not he’s completed the lessons and how he’s doing, but he can always come to me if he has problems.

This has been great for both of us

He is able to do his math independently and on his own schedule (he doesn’t have to wait for me to be free).  He doesn’t have to wait for me to grade his work.

I don’t have to tell him that he flunked a test (so far he’s getting As on VHSG, but if he ever flubs it, the computer can tell him that, I don’t need to break the news).

Either one of us can go in and see exactly what he got wrong on a test and why.  It even gives partial credit on some things (one minor quibble we have is that sometimes this is inconsistent---on a test he just took he got one wrong when he left the units out of his answer, but partial credit on another where he did the same thing).

Using this site has removed the frustration and I think it is helping to preserve our relationship.  Not bad for a free resource.

Of course, he’s only completed the first 3 weeks (which is mainly review for him), but I foresee us continuing to use this site for high school math and possibly for science also next year if he continues to do well with it.  They offer some live courses as well.

So, while outsourcing in many cases may not be affordable, this is one high quality possibility that will fit a shoe string homeschool budget.  Give it a try if you are struggling in the high school math department.

Have you ever made a midyear math switch in your homeschool?

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