Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How We Do... Math

Here is the second in a series of posts on how we do each of our academic subjects. (The first was on Bible study.)

For several years, we used Math-U-See, which we all liked very much. However, my work hours this year required that I pare my schedule down to the bare bones. I found that grading four math papers every day was one thing that I would like to be able to delegate somehow.

So, I went looking for a curriculum that would grade the children's work for me and keep track of their scores. After doing a little research, I settled on Switched-on Schoolhouse for several reasons. First, it is affordable, especially when found used. Second, it keeps grades and allows me a lot of leeway in how I assign the lessons and set the parameters of the program. Third, it is a computer-based program and the kids enjoy that.

For the most part, the program has worked as expected. Because we moved from Math-U-See, which covers topics in a less traditional order, the three younger kids had never done certain topics, such as fractions. Because one of those three children struggles a lot with math, that child is not working at grade level. (I think this child could be diagnosed with dyscalculia, if I ever thought that was necessary.)

My oldest has always found math quite intuitive and he is doing Geometry (Math 1000) this year. I gave him a lot of input on deciding which curriculum to use and he told me it didn't matter to him. He has found the adjustment to SOS quite easy and basically teaches it to himself. If he is stumped, he usually looks for a video on youtube to learn the concept.

The other three need a lot more help. A lesson does include a written explanation but none of the 3 read it carefully as a matter of course. I often have to go through the lesson with the student, or re-explain the concept after many problems are wrong. Because Math-U-See has a video that explains each concept, I think the children are used to that visual approach. It's not really fair to expect the children to teach themselves their math, I suppose, no matter how much I would love that. So, I've reconciled myself to the necessity of explaining math concepts. But don't expect that most children will teach themselves math with SOS because I don't think that's going to happen. For me, the tradeoff in having the grading done for me is worth it.

My youngest is not reading fluently, so the transition to SOS has been the hardest for her. She is in 3rd grade and is doing SOS Math 3, but the reading is beyond her especially when she is trying hard to figure out math. This difficulty requires that someone be near her to help her with the reading, or else she'll just get the problems wrong. She doesn't find the math difficult, just the reading. She has recently asked to go back to her math book (which I assume means MUS) but this is not going to happen for her.

Oh, and the spelling! That's a problem for everyone. If the user doesn't enter a word like SOS expects, it's wrong. The teacher can (and I did) set the spelling penalty to be more lenient, but it's still more strict than I would be on a workbook page. That's good though. They're learning to do things to the standards of others, which they will have to do at some point.

Now that the kids and I understand the intricacies of the program, they are doing better with it. I have been too lax about requiring the amount of time needed though, so they are not as far as I would like. Add to that the fact that I require at least an 80% score (70% for the student with math difficulties); anything lower requires a do-over. So, they have had quite a few quizzes and tests to retake.

Lately, I've been requiring 2 lessons per day (with at least an 80% score, though I allow some exceptions for the student with the mathematics disorder). Since we have a 4 day week, this works out well for us in making up for past laxness and redoing lessons that are not acceptable.

Is this a perfect way to teach math? No. I freely admit that. However, this is the least stressful for me - a working mom who homeschools. I doubt that whatever method was used in a public school would be perfect either. So, if they are progressing, and they are, I am pleased. I actually wish I'd switched several years ago, when it became clear that being a homeschool mom with a job was my reality.

And what about Math-U-See? I still like it very much. If I were the mom who didn't have to spend half her day in other commitments, I would not have switched.


Anonymous said...

Once again, I am impressed with your methods! With admiration, Mom

Denise said...

I think all the different curriculums out there are amazing and it's pretty cool to be able to pick the one that best suits your family. I admire you for being able to multi-task like that!