Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Math and the Homeschooler

Today, a fellow cruiser and I discussed math programs for your boat schooled child. I should write a very long post on this subject, really I should. For now, however, I feel honor bound to post at least some of my thoughts -- unedited and unexpurgated. Brace yourself for a bit of profanity and some defensiveness. Selecting curriculum as a homeschooler appears to inevitably involve defensiveness.

Short Form: Two really important bits you must remember when you select workbooks and curriculum for your homeschooled child:

(1) Home schooling is NOT school at home. What works for schools will not necessarily work for homeschoolers. Conversely, a program that sucks in the schools will succeed admirably in the homeschool environment.

(2) Do not invest yourself emotionally in any program before your child gives you the approval. No program, book, worksheet, drill or web site you select will survive it's first encounter with the enemy - your children. Prepare yourself in advance for cycling through a variety of materials until you find something that makes her eyes light up and his face break into a wide grin.

Now, somewhat edited excerpts from my rather windy letter to my fellow cruising educator:

I will go this far with down the Unschooling parade with math: If Math is not fun, it sucks. In fact, if math is not fun it blows monkey chunks out of an ape's ass who is sick with a peculiar disease which renders everything so smelly you can't sit 10 miles down wind of it without a gas mask, a stick of incense, and a necklace of garlic.

Saxon is not fun. If there is a polar opposite to fun anywhere in this world, it is Saxon. In fact, under "fun" in the dictionary of life, "Saxon" is listed as an antonym.

Singapore is boring. Really really REALLY boring. You do the same thing over and over and over and over and over again with mangos and papayas until your eyes bleed and your brain flows out your butt. Do you have even the slightest comprehension what it means to present multiplication to a 3rd grader 1,076 times in a single year? I can not think of a single thing I would present to my 3rd grader 1000 times... not even the concept of elbows off the table merits that kind of focused attention.

* * *

In defense of Everyday Mathematics, many teachers HATE it. I've spoken with Seattle teachers who are using it. I can understand why they hate it; You can not teach a class of 30 using this program. The reason why 3rd graders do not see multiplication 1,076 times is that they are working on geometry, algebra, graphs, charts, factoring, temperature, clocks and dogz only knows what else. Every day you get a wee bit of something and a wee bit of something else. In other words, every day, the child does 10 different types of problems spread all over the mathematical landscape. It is an extremely rare lesson that makes a child do the same type of problem more than 2 or 3 times. No repetition makes Johny a happy student and Ms. Smith absolutely miserable teacher because the kids in the class are all over everywhere. There is no Lesson. There is no Assignment. There is no Quiz. There is no Test.

However, if you need/want a workbook and some structure, I think Everyday Mathematics might have been designed with homeschoolers in mind. It makes some basic assumptions about kids:
* They have the attention span of houseflies and will not want to do the same type of problem over and over and over again
* Math is not hard
* Math should be about something useful and familiar
* Repetition THROUGH TIME... i.e. doing the same type of problem scattered randomly throughout an entire year... in fact over the course of 6 years ... builds knowledge better than doing the same problem many times and then not revisiting the topic until next year
* Teachers have time to remind kids who haven't seen a problem in 2 months how they managed to solve those problems in the past
* 1st graders are just as capable of learning algebra and geometry and graphs as 6th graders
* There is no Right Age to learn certain mathematical strategies
* Calculators are not the enemy

BTW, I've seen the millions of links to folks excoriating Everyday Mathematics. All I can say is the homeschool families I know using it, including my own, are having a great time with happy math learners, excellent test results, and kids who can tell time, calculate prices and discounts, and figure out how much carpet we need to buy to cover the floor in the apartment.

* * *

I will also offer my general rule of thumb for all textbooks and curriculum: The more the program is detested by either: (1) the teachers' unions and/or (2) the religious fundamentalists, the more probable our family will find the material useful, educational, and entertaining. The former because teaching 30 is not teaching 3; they truly need different materials. The later because I'm pretty firm on the whole "world is older than 6000 years" thing which makes for a pretty binary approach re: science and history texts.

* * *

When you select curriculum, picture yourself at anchor off a warm shore with a light breeze, a glass of fruit juice and soft music on the stereo attempting to keep your child from jumping into the water until the lesson is done. Then pick which one is the least likely to require physical restraints.


Frank said...


I was driven to post a 3-part math rant on my mostly-inactive blog after a run-in with a retired high school math teacher at a pumpkin farm last Fall. The crap they teach in school "math" is not math, IMO. My rant begins here and, in an amusing coincidence, it includes a few zings at religion, too. And a political jab or two. And... ahhh, if you're interested, just read the damned thing. Or don't.

protected static said...

Repetition THROUGH TIME... i.e. doing the same type of problem scattered randomly throughout an entire year... in fact over the course of 6 years ... builds knowledge better than doing the same problem many times and then not revisiting the topic until next year

On that note, you might find this interesting.

Toast said...

@protectedstatic You are forever full of good information. Thx!

Jody said...

I am going to check that out.

We are using Saxon, and I want to stick needles in my eyes each and every time we sit down to do math. I honestly would rather be eaten alive by dingos and Quinn feels the same.

Although I am a Christian, I am of the belief, like you, that the world might be a tad bit older than 6000 years...Big Bang baby all the way! We teach evolution at our house right alongside "Let there be light!". As a marine biologist there is just no way I can ignore evolution.