Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014-2015 School Year, Part 2

This is the second of three posts in a series about what we're doing for school this year, 2014-2015.  Last time I introduced our school-aged kids and talked about what we're doing for language arts.  Today I'm dedicating the entire post to our math revamp.

This may be the area in which we have made the biggest change.  Last year we were working through the first grade books from Singapore Primary Math and really liked a lot about the program.  I love how they look at a concept from several different vantage points so as to have a full understanding.  I like that there is a strong emphasis on word problems and putting math skills into every day life situations.  I even found, although many reviews I read did not, that the kids had plenty of practice on each concept and the math facts since we used the Math Sprints, Extra Practice, Intensive Practice, and Challenging Word Problems books.  In fact, I like the program so much that I may use it in a couple of years to get Abigail started on math. 

Here the problem had nothing to do with the curriculum and everything to do with our family situation.  We (literally) have a handful of kids all born within 6 years of each other.  I like to be efficient and frugal with our time.  Since the older two work at the same grade level in math I thought we could do lessons together.  This turned out to be a huge mess.  Frustration levels were high as they picked on one another and goofed off.  I felt like I spent the time doing crowd control instead of teaching a lesson. 

This combined with the fact that while Singapore curriculum is great, the format of the teacher's manual wasn't very natural for me to use the first time around.  We left math lessons angry, frustrated, and sometimes in tears.  Not good. 

In desperation I turned to my good friend, Google, for some ideas on how to solve this predicament.  What I "stumbled" across has helped our homeschool situation immensely.  I use the term "stumbled" very loosely here because as I prayed for wisdom in the situation God used even something as unholy as Google to give me an answer.  I don't think it was just stumbling. 

Anyway...I read a comment in some homeschool forum from over a decade ago.  A mom was in a very similar situation with kids quite capable of understanding and doing the math (that was not the problem) but being in the midst of a wrestling match with the kids by the middle of each lesson.  The comment that stuck out to me went something like this, "Just give your kid some flash cards, make him do them every day to memorize all his math facts.  Don't teach him.  He needs to figure it out on his own." 

I know, I know...there are people reading this who think that is crazy, stupid, dumb, etc.  What well-meaning parent would, in their right mind, turn a 6-year-old loose to learn math...on their own? 

This desperate parent would. 

Here's how I saw it.  First of all, the situation could not get any worse.  You have to believe me, since you weren't there in our school room morning after morning.  We had hit rock bottom in our math experience.  It was that bad.  And then some. 

Secondly, I had two kids who already had a solid understanding of the basic concepts of arithmetic. They each had a couple of different ways to look at problems and to solve them.  They didn't need me to explain these things to them any longer.  Their understanding and ability was not the problem. 

And last of all, our kids are super independent.  And that is an understatement.  I have a 10-month-old who reportedly pushed away the nursery worker who was trying to help her stand and walk.  She could do it on her own.  And if she couldn't...well, there's no such thing.  The oldest two are particularly independent.  Learning on their own might just work for them. 

So, we ditched the workbooks, the textbooks, the manipulatives, and I made a huge stack of flash cards covering addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts through the 12's.  And do you know what?  It actually works for us! 

The goal is for the kids to know - and I mean really know - the facts (including division) through the 12's before they move onto a boring, no cartoons included, textbook that they will work through on their own. 

You see, a big part of our philosophy of education is that our kids need to learn how to learn.  We don't want to spoon feed them information, answers, or ultimately success.  In the real world they will need to be their own teacher.  In fact, I can remember my violin teacher from high school saying this all of the time.  "You are your own teacher".  And I think it's true. 

They can be their own math teacher, too.  Of course we're not cutting them loose just yet.  They're only first and second graders!  With plenty of materials (appropriate textbooks, extra practice worksheets, manipulatives) and support (help understanding something that doesn't make sense after a few tries on their own, finding an online lesson or tutorial to explain a particularly challenging concept) I'm pretty certain they will have success.

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