Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Math programs

Recently I was asked about math programs.  Because I think this is the area where so many programs exist and is so confusing to navigate, I thought I would share our whole math path here.

So here goes on my map of our stumbling through the years.

1)  Mortensen Math.  We started here based on my sister's family's success with this program.  She gave me the "basic" manipulative set and I bought the workbooks, teacher's manual, and fractions manipulatives.  Unfortunately I really had no idea how fast to expect the boys to "get" it.  The training they offered would have been invaluable but that was financially out of the question at the time.  I bought every video and other tools they had, and the kids LOVED them!  They really helped.  Their order taker on the phone was very helpful and knowledgeable too.  I really wished they had produced more videos to step me through their program.  Also in later years, I had an incredibly difficult time ordering products.  Steve Demme later developed and marketed Math-U-See based on Mortensen Math.  (He doesn't ever say that and MM is very careful not to say he stole their program.  However, they verified that he began his career as a Mortensen Math instructor.  His manipulatives use the same colors as MM's rather than Saxon Math's which is odd considering how many people using Saxon often want to switch without buying new manipulatives. At the time, MM had workbooks through Algebra. (I just looked at their website and it has TOTALLY changed so they may have changed a lot of things in the past 8 years!)

2) Singapore Math.  Based on reviews, I next tried Singapore Math.  They especially excel at story problems. This program was more successful for us especially at the beginning although I grew frustrated with it because of my prior exposure to Mortensen Math.  I also became frustrated with the lack of sufficient practice for the boys to fully grasp the concepts.  They offer additional workbooks, but purchasing those quickly adds to the cost, thus diminishing the attractiveness of the program.  If I felt like I had the $$ to spend, I would have bought a more expensive program in the first place.  I do think the beginning levels are excellent though, and I have since heard quite a lot of other homeschooling moms say the same thing. I know of no one that stuck with the program all the way through however.

3) Various and sundry workbooks.  Most of these were geared toward helping the kids learn their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division which don't really require a full-fledged program if you understand math.  Not a long-term solution however.

4) Teaching Textbooks.  We used the Grade 5.  The only problem is that this program is not intuitive enough. If the student misses a question, he misses it.  There is no going back, no additional problems, etc.  Kahn Academy was the ONLY computer program that fully addressed this lack.  Because it didn't repeat at all, once they started missing very many problems in one section, their later scores underscored the lack. I didn't use it again.  The BEST part of the program was the immediate accolades it gives the student when they answer the question correctly.  That feature totally rocked, but I understand that gets dropped from Algebra on.  Otherwise I would rate this product the lowest of everything I tried, especially when you look at the price of it and how badly it flopped for us. In fairness, I have met others who loved it, but it failed us.

5) From there, we fished and just continued to work on basics on our own.  After being unsuccessful with so many purchases, I basically gave up canned programs and concentrated on other areas.

6) Jones Geniuses Accelerated.  I stumbled into Dr. Jones' math program at a homeschool convention and almost bought it.  I sometimes wish I had but #7 entered the picture again.  For those who deal with any form of dyslexia, they also offer an incredible reading program. Even without dyslexia, that would be an excellent choice.  However, dollars and time constraints ruled when I found an affordable way to purchase Math-U-See.

Because my daughter was going to enter public school 5th grade the next fall, I was incredibly anxious to make sure she was at grade level in math.  Her spelling was atrocious, but I figured that would come with time and reading but the math could seriously set her back.  Since I was not assured we could cover the required amount of material in 3 months that we needed, I forged ahead into Math-U-See because I could fully control the speed of learning.  My daughter arrived a little past her grade level 2 weeks after school started that fall.  I consider that to be my greatest achievement in homeschooling!  (By the way, her spelling did indeed improve with time just as Steven's did.  Both of them were greatly helped as they read more. James always had good spelling because that's how he learned to read.)

7) Math-U-See.  What a boon.  I have always associated with parents who used this program, but when I first heard about it, you had to put out a LOT of $$ to purchase the first module.  They have made it seemingly more affordable with the DVD program but it's actually more expensive in the long run.  Each book used to cover about 2-3 years while each DVD covers 1. This program basically rounds out Mortensen Math with videos and better workbooks.  Elementary through pre-algebra was covered in 3 books in the VHS version. I purchased the Foundations, Intermediate, and Advanced modules complete with teacher's and student's manuals and VHS instruction for about $50 on eBay.  Correction:  I couldn't buy the Intermediate Student Manual for sale but found it at the local homeschool lending library. This program looks, smells, and feels like Mortensen Math but is accompanied by video for each lesson.  Since I had older learners, they watched it with me and then we would work some problems together and I would explain concepts covered in the teacher's manual but not video before they began their assignments.

We raced through the Foundations book in about 2 months because it was almost all review until the last fourth but even then remained simple to comprehend.  Then we began the Intermediate book.  James began that about 2 weeks before his brother and sister and pretty much understood it on his own.  We only needed to get about a third of the way through to get my daughter up to where she needed to be in school and we almost made it.  We got far enough though.  She excelled in math at school the next year partly, I believe, because of the base she achieved in this program. Fractions was the only part we didn't reach in time, and that was the only part she struggled with at school.  For the record, none of my kids like fractions. Neither does their dad and he's very competent in math.  I'm the lone wolf in our family that never had any problems with fractions.  Their pattern still seems amazingly obvious to me.  Perhaps I didn't teach it as well because I thought it was so simple.  Math-U-See also contains many word problems.

James and Steven continued with Math-U-See through the next year, completing Intermediate and beginning Advanced.   Advanced takes them all the way through Pre-Algebra.  Then they would have been ready for the Algebra DVD program.  However, other maturation changes began to manifest that finally rendered Math-U-See not as useful, namely their desire to work independently of me.  They also were fatigued with Math-U-See because we had been working it so intensively.  About that time, I explored another option I had heard about from many sources:  Khan Academy.

8) Kahn Academy.  Beautiful stuff especially for kids who want to be independent from Mom or for Moms who feel inadequate to teach the upper maths.  Or Moms who need a break from teaching everything else and want to hand off something to another.  Each module has a video explaining the concept by the instructor and then they complete the exercises.  They can skip the videos (not recommended!) but must begin at the beginning.  Once begun, they can skip sections. (Unfortunately because I've found my kids follow one thread too far and skip other threads, thus hindering their undertanding. Thus it's important you follow their progress online.) It's worth the review though.  James took to this like a duck to water and Steven eventually began voluntarily using it.  My daughter has never used it.  Students have to begin at the beginning--it doesn't let you skip--but it's good review and can be covered in a week or less depending on your student's motivation. There is a You-Tube video followed by completely interactive exercises.  You have to get 10 problems right in a row before it will allow you to advance.  You can always go back and do more as desired. This is the only program in my experience that does this.  I found that I had to enforce them watching the videos--they're very good--and often I would sit down to review the video with them a second time.  Usually the second time through was enough for them to get even the hardest concepts for them, and I would only have to give minimal emphasis to various steps. Khan goes through Calculus and it covers Developmental Math, Econ (I think), and Banking as well.  It also has branched into other disciplines now.  The best part is that if you don't like it, you aren't out any money because it is free.  It runs off donations from various unnamed benefactors.

My conclusions:  That has been our math path.  Convoluted, I know.  If I could do it all again, I would have spent the $400-450 to buy Math-U-See in the first place.  (It is now between $75-100 per year on DVD.)  It would have been worth it.  Math-U-See goes up to Trigonometry (I think--the Catalog isn't coming up right now) and Khan goes through Calculus, including Developmental Math.  It's strongest point is that it won't allow the student to complete each module until they master it, i.e., pass 10 in a row correctly.  Khan covers other subjects as well such as a little American History, Biology, Banking, etc., etc., etc. It is also free.  Both Math-U-See and Singapore Math offer placement exams geared to their programs.  Use them before you guess at what level to place your student! Neither program follows public school programming so you need to use their diagnostic tools.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Good to know I'm not alone

Sometimes I think I'm the only one so unsure about what we're doing on this homeschooling journey.  I look 4 years into the future and I tremble.  I look at what my goals are for my sons, and I feel almost sick.  I wonder if we did the right thing, if we'll be ready for missions and college at the right time.  Somehow four years seems like forever when children are 6, but they disappear in a flash at 14.

Yesterday, though, had a lengthy conversation with my sister over the phone.  She is a veteran homeschooler, meaning that her oldest three sons survived and are in college.  Two of them finished high school at the local public school though and her third hasn't started yet.  He is serving a full-time mission for our church for the next two years.  He was her first to be solely homeschooled.  Her younger children are all enrolled in K-12 in Utah which has some gorgeous opportunities.  Even so, she is equally nervous.  I took comfort in knowing I wasn't alone.

Previously I have also had similar conversations with other homeschooling moms in my co-op and realized they are as jittery as I am too.  High school options are out there, but there are fewer options than in the elementary grades.  Many of the students I know are taking at least some of their classes at the local college here.  It caters to high school and college students although the homeschoolers roll their eyes at how the class physically divides according to which high school the students originate from.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More lapbooks

I just finished making an American Civil War lap book to wrap up my sons' studies. The template came from In the Hands of a Child. We used the American Government one last fall, and I really enjoyed how it helped keep us on track.