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Overview of Math Curriculum by Dale R. Reed

Suggestions to help your children enjoy math and be better thinkers.


I started homeschooling my daughter in 1st grade and continued on with Modern Curriculum Press workbooks for math because that is what she was used to and Saxon for the lower grades was far beyond my budget! They were ultra simple and easy to use for both of us. She is in 3rd grade now and enjoys math. She seems to be able to move more quickly that the MCP books so we gave an ACSI workbook a try. So far so good.

My kids and I have been using Open Court for 3 years now, and I am impressed with it. We used Saxon prior to that (early grades), and I did value the attention given to repetition with math facts and use of manipulatives. My oldest wanted more "real world" problems, so we decided to use Open Court, which, according to the owner of Math "N" Stuff in Seattle is not out of print, just being printed in limited amounts, since SRA/McGraw Hill bought it. The SRA/McGraw Hill program is almost the same as Open Court, just a bit more glossy and high grade paper, hence more expensive. We really like the "Thinking Stories" that are part of the program. I was fortunate enough to get 4th and 8th grade when I needed them - and we loved them! My youngest is doing the 8th grade level now (at age 11) and enjoying it. I liked using the 8th grade one with my son... made it so he didn't have to do Saxon Algebra 1/2... went straight to Algebra I. THAT is one of the main reasons he can do most of the problems in his head. Open Court is KING when it comes to encouraging mental math. They even teach shortcuts for things like 43x47... by the time you are done, you KNOW how to complete a square in factoring polynomials, and it makes sense.

Open Court math books are not workbooks/worksheets. They are textbooks that you don't write in. You just write the answers down on a piece of paper, and some daily lessons are ALL discussion or experimentation. These books involve the kids in discussion like you'd expect from a literature course or something... they're something else!

The fourth grade book, for example, starts out by having kids estimate how many apples are in a bin. You get to make successive guesses as they give you more and more information, and you learn a lot in the process. There are pages where part of the problem is blotted out by "accidental" ink spills, and the kids figure out what they can still determine, given the information left. It really IS "real math"... from real life... with just enough silliness thrown in to make you smile while you're doing it.

McGraw Hill has several different math series. So far, our favorite is the Explorations and Applications.

Shane's been working in Harold R. Jacobs, "Mathematics: A Human Endeavor" for a year and loves it. It doesn't dumb him down and he's loving Math. It's challenging, but he keeps at it. Jacobs also published Algebra and Geometry books that are worth considering.

A math book I have used with both kids and loved is Family Math by Jean Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, and Ruth Cossey. Lots of easy to make and play games for all levels. My kids at 7 had a hard time translating math to the written page, so we just didn't do it. If you think about it, it is a hard concept, taking a concrete concept such as 7 apples minus 2 pears and reducing it to symbols on a written page.

So, for younger kids, the more concrete and hands on, the easier math is to grasp. We played dominoes and added totals (good for adding into the 100s), counted and graphed stuffed animals and toys, used large size number lines and hopped from number to number by 2s, 3s, 5s, etc.

For fractions, I bought a set of "fraction bar games", which are plastic bars divided into halves, thirds, etc. There are suggestions for games to play to familiarize players with the concepts of equivalencies, adding fractions, naming fractions, etc.

We also did a lot of oral word problems early on, even with multiplication and division (although they didn't know they were doing that). To pass time in car rides, or other boring situations they often beg me to give them word problems. Only they called them "Betsey problems" because they often featured a character named Betsey.

I started coming up with a mental list of situations where Saxon works, and where Saxon doesn't work:

First, Saxon uses a repetitive review approach. You keep doing a few of the same kinds of problems nearly all the way through the book. As such, it is designed to help kids prevent mathematical facts from falling out of their heads. Some kids need this; some kids don't. Some kids, in fact, have minds that NEVER forget a math fact. I was one of those kids, and Saxon would have driven me batty if I had to use it to learn from. (Now that I already know algebra, I do the problems alongside my son for recreational purposes, but I'd have hated to learn from it.) Face it, some kids like to tackle a new concept, nail it down, and move on... using it as necessary, but never having to LEARN it again. Saxon isn't good for those kids.

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