Monday, February 7, 2011

Free Range Math

Math is one of Bean's favorite subjects and has been the hardest to settle into a good learning routine.  So far, we have tried Envision, Right Start, various workbooks, including those from Critical Thinking, BrainQuest, and Math Made Easy.  She quickly rejected Envision, Critical Thinking, and BrainQuest, complaining that the illustrations were distracting, or the work was too easy or encouraged the student to use a method she could work around.  Sometimes she complained that the directions or set up made no sense - and she was often right.  By September, we finally settled into Math Made Easy workbooks, but she wanted to pick and choose what she did and I worried about how I would keep track of what she knew and what needed work.

When we bought MBtP, I looked into RightStart Math, the program they recommend and sell. (There's a great description of the program on this blog).  I accidentally bought the 3rd grade level (Level D), but ended up deciding this was okay, since we were beginning the program in the middle and RightStart has a very specific methodology and way of using manipulatives.  Also, it seems rather arbitrary what each different math curricula considers skills for 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders.  I liked that I finally had a script for teaching math and had some guidelines, since I'd just been winging it before.  I also liked that the curricula used a lot of "real world" examples, such as using the calendar to practice 2 and 3-digit addition, using analog clocks for adding time and practicing fractions, etc.  The program emphasized understanding the concepts, rather than understanding a specific methodology.  Also, memorization and timed facts practice was de-emphasized. All good things.

Bean liked that the teacher guide and student worksheets were straight-forward black and white with no embellishment.  She also liked using a white board to work things out and enjoyed learning calculator tricks.  That was it.  She found the sheer scope of each lesson overwhelming and did not appreciate the repetition that formed the Warm Up for each lesson.  After the first week or so, I could tell her energy was flagging and this was starting to seep into the rest of the day.  She finally told me, tearfully, one evening at bedtime that she thought the math program was too hard and she just wanted to work on grids and coordinates.

Okay, it's time for an aside.  And a confession.  Along the way, we have picked up several Math Mosaics workbooks from MindWare that Bean liked to do for fun, but I had never used them as curriculum.  She solves the problems and each answer represents a point on the grid which leads to drawing a treasure map, writing a hidden word, or drawing a picture - depending on the book.  Several months ago, she discovered the Graphbook app on the iPad, which shows "3D" models of different functions on a coordinated plane.  Bean thought they were cool and when I told her they were representations of equations, her response was "Okay, I want to learn THAT." I made noise about it being a while before we got to that, but said in the meantime we could do the Multiplication Mosaics for math.

And then I ordered a shiny new curriculum that would make my life easier and forgot about her request.

The confession: I do not believe in math facts or, at least in forcing kids to learn them.  At least not my kid.  If Bean were the kind of student who rose to the challenge of memorizing facts and one-upping herself in time trials, I would give it a good go.  She is not that kind of kid and I am not the kind of parent who can endure the torture of force-feeding times tables.  I have seen the future and I know that it is calculators.  I know that having the times tables down and having some addition and subtraction tricks up your sleeves can make things easier as the math gets harder, but I think that kind of mastery can come with repetition and just doing equations.  I had a math professor in an advanced level math class admit - after making blackboard errors more than once - that he was terrible at arithmetic and that it was the excitement of what all those numbers could do together that kept him in math.  So...

Last week, we officially went off the grid in math.  Or rather, on the grid.  I went out and bought every single Math Mosaics workbook we didn't already have - Decimals, Fractions, and Algebra.  I also got a few logic problem workbooks also by MindWare.  Toss in a middle school level geometry workbook Bean asked for during a bookstore trip and there's our new math curriculum.  So far, so good.  The problems are challenging enough to hold her interest, the grids are fun to fill in, she likes the excitement of seeing what pattern her answers will make on the grids, she is learning some pretty advanced concepts and she is getting lots of arithmetic practice (though I am letting her use a calculator as a back up.)

When we did the first exercise in the Algebra book, I explained Order of Operations, parentheses and how to solve a quadratic equation as we went along.  I didn't really expect her to get all the concepts down and just saw it as a good way to practice arithmetic and coordinate systems and figured it would be good introduction to algebra.  I was surprised the next day when we had a quadratic equation and I asked her if she remembered how to solve those and she said "Yes. FOIL." And then correctly told me what that meant and showed how to go about solving it.

Now I'm throwing caution and the math textbooks to the wind and going with it, somehow trusting that it will all work out, even without the rigorous daily practice and neatly typed home educator manual.  I have several books of math projects that I want to fold in eventually, but for now, we're all about the x axis and the y axis.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not much for memorization either. In college calculus they told me I would have to memorize 14 formulas (derivatives of trig functions). They told me it would take too long to derive each formula during the test. I memorized 2 and derived the rest in about 10 minutes, then proceeded to ace the test and be one of the first ones done.

    Then again, I hated memorizing anything and remember the teacher thinking I was a smart aleck for answering "when was the boston tea party?" (meaning a date) with "Who cares, it isn't a national holiday."

    I think that if she can derive ways of solving things, she's ahead already.