We Have to do Math Too? (Part 2)

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In the last post I began telling you all about our failures...and successes of our math study.  I don't love math myself, which probably accounts for a big part of why this has been a difficult area for us!  But thankfully as we have discovered some different approaches to learning math, I have even begun to appreciate it more myself.  I say "different" approaches as opposed to "new" approaches because many of the ideas we've been "discovering" are actually a return to the way math was viewed classically.  If you haven't read the first post, I highly recommend you go back and read it now, because some of this post won't make a lot of sense without hearing the first part of the story!

Math U See for my Wild Card Kid

So, I've told you all about the issues we had with my oldest son, as well as the ease of "doing math" with our second son.  Meanwhile, our third son was getting ready to begin math study and I knew from the get-go that Saxon was simply not for him.  I like to call him my "wild card."  He learns everything differently than either of my first two kids.  There are many differences, but the main things for him in regard to math is that he can't memorize two numbers together to save his life.  But he can remember patterns and techniques if he has seen them demonstrated, which is why I decided to use Math U See with him.  

I have to admit, I wasn't overly eager to use Math U See.  It had such a "new math" feel to me, which I felt compelled to avoid at all costs.  I couldn't exactly tell you why; I just had heard "really terrible awful bad things", like it was some kind of 4-letter word.  Math U See has been a life-saver for our son though.  By understand the "why" of addition, subtraction, and multiplication, he has been able to get relatively quick at figuring out these problems without having to memorize.  It still takes him longer because he has to "figure out" every single problem, but he truly understands the concepts and is capable of doing it.  

Of course, the Math U See program recommends practicing the math facts until you've got them memorized, but the truth is, our son would simply never get there.  Even if he *did* somehow manage to memorize math facts today, he would have forgotten them by tomorrow.  I have simply had to come to terms with the notion than soon he'll be able to use a calculator and the memorization won't matter so much.  I know some people will totally balk at this idea.  I still second guess myself sometimes.  But the amount of time and effort it would take him to memorize the facts, in my opinion, is better spent by him doing something else.  What's really important to me for him is that he understands the math concepts so that he knows how to solve the problems he needs to solve.  

Currently he is in Math U See Gamma, which is all about multiplication.  I'm not sure if we will continue with Math U See all the way through their high school series with him, but for now it's getting the job done!

How We Challenge Our Math Lover

So...back to son #2 (now 12 years old), who has loved math from the beginning.  He is totally his father's son.  He designs and builds stuff, takes things apart and makes things work, and sometimes even does math problems just for fun.  There were a couple weak areas I noticed for him though: since math comes naturally for him, he can tend to get a little careless with his computation.  He'll fly through a problem, but forget to bring down a decimal, or add two numbers together when he was supposed to multiply, etc.  The other issue is that he's great at computation but didn't have a lot of the "theory" behind the "why" of math.  This isn't so much a weakness on his part, but sort of the nature of Saxon math.  

Once again, we decided to ditch Saxon completely.  Honestly he probably could have gone on with it, but I kinda figured that since nobody else in our family was using it anymore, we may as well drop it for him too.  To solve the first issue with accuracy, he started using Khan Academy math.  I started him in the Pre Algebra sequence and he has been slowly working his way through it.  The nice thing with Khan Academy is that, being a computer, he has to get the answer exactly right or else it won't let him move on.  It has really forced him to slow down and catch the silly little mistakes.  He spends about 30 minutes a day with that.  If you haven't looked into Khan Academy programs before, definitely check it out.  The website is laid out very well and they offer lots of programs besides just math.  I hesitate to use the computer as the core of our curriculum, but I don't have a big issue supplementing with it here and there, especially in our world where online/virtual learning is taking such a prominent place.

Next, to address the second issue of the math "why", we started using this really interesting and unique book called Jousting Armadillos from Arbor Algebra.

 According to their website: 

A new model for teaching and learning algebra, designed from the start for students of all abilities.  Arbor Algebra integrates compelling narrative, inductive reasoning, and deep, imaginative problem solving...

We're not very far into the first book yet, but so far I really love what we're seeing.  Basically this approach guides the student through exercises that help them to discover math concepts on their own.  It incorporates a lot of "brain teaser" type activities that our son really enjoys.  It also includes a social aspect, as many of these problems involve trying the "trick" on other people or getting input from others...which he enjoys because he's a very social guy!  He loves telling his dad about the problems he solved that day.

That should give you a brief overview of our current math situation.  It sounds much more complicated than it really is.  All the kids are doing some combinations of different programs, but they would all be working at their own individual "levels" anyways, so it makes sense to really tailor what we use to their unique needs.  In most areas I try to keep them as unified as possible to maintain continuity and reduce my planning workload.  But math, I have found, is the one area where it seems the unique needs of each child present themselves most clearly.  

So, what math curriculum do you use in your family?  Did you start with one and stick with it?  Have you switched?  Why or why not?  Also if you have any questions about any of the programs we have used or currently use, I would love to hear them.  I'm not a math curricula "expert" but I might be able to help you wade through the sea of curricula out there!  Please leave your questions and comments below, or you can always email me at jill@fullandgenerouslife.com.  Facebook comments are welcome too!