Choosing a Math Curriculum
|"Country Schoolhouse" by Morgan Weistling |
|1857 edition of Ray's Primary Arithmetic|
When we began homeschooling in the late 1980's, homeschoolers had far fewer choices than they do today, but new possibilities appeared rapidly. While I tried to find the "perfect" program, we switched math programs so frequently when my oldest children were in elementary school, I sometimes wondered if I was ruining them for life. Here's a peek into our travels on the road to finding quality math products for our children, in the hope that it might be helpful as you seek out the best fit for your students. At the end I list some questions that can help you think through the important qualities in a math program.
Miquon Math, a program which developed in Montessori classrooms back in the '60s. I loved Miquon then, and I love it still, though we've used it more as a supplemental resource than our primary one for the youngest children. Miquon excels in encouraging creative, logical math thinking skills, and rewards children for coming up with different ways to solve problems. Cuisinaire rods, those most versatile of all manipulatives, play an essential part in this program. We also used other supplementary Cuisinaire rod books such as the Alphabet Book; Hidden Rods, Hidden Numbers; and Picture Puzzles. (Miquon - is designed for K/1st -3rd grade.)
The question of what to do next arose after Andrew finished the Miquon books in second grade. Being a novice homeschooler, I turned to that standby, Saxon. Andrew, whose native language seemed to be math, had no difficulty with the problem sets in Saxon 54, but the repetition of concepts threatened to erase all the love he naturally had for mathematics. Ugh! He was bored, and so was I! Something had to change! So the next years were a flurry of trying various products: Moving with Math, Math-U-See, Making Math Meaningful, Scott Foresman, the Keys to Series, and maybe a few more that I can't remember. Sometimes I required the children to complete two programs simultaneously. (Yes, I was a curriculum junky in those days, something I've repented of since.) The frequent changes didn't seem to phase Andrew, though I wondered what they were doing for child #2, not a natural math head. She generally seemed to take it in stride, though probably more consistency might have been helpful for her. (On the flip side, working in multiple programs requires kids to learn how to approach problems in different ways, and can actually strengthen their math muscles, if they are game.)
After that, our curricula of choice is the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project series. Because I'm hooked on the Jacob's books, we don't begin UCSMP until Advanced Algebra, but the series has upper level courses for grades 6-12. This excellent program, though, is not a designed for self-teaching, and I don't have the time it requires, so at this point I prefer to get some help by using either a tutor or online class. For two of my seven so far to hit upper level math, we've not followed this approach, but actually taken the Saxon route for reasons specific to those students and/or our life at the time. My current Saxon student also uses the DIVE CDs to give a bit of personal instruction before he hits the problem sets. Saxon is not my favorite, and I would not recommend it for any child who might be heading toward a math or science field, but it has its utility as times.
So, that's our particular patchwork of curricula. In addition, there are several supplements that we routinely use at each stage. I'll save that for a later post.
But more to the point - how does one go about choosing a math program? What are the important factors to consider? Of course no program is entirely one way or the other (conceptual instead of computational in orientation, for example), but these generalities still give some framework for you to think about.
1. Is it primarily computational or conceptual?
Some programs focus more on teaching the basic facts (A Beka, for example), while others emphasis teaching mathematical ideas and concepts (Singapore or Math-U-See).
2. Does is primarily take a mastery or spiral approach?
Spiral programs (Saxon, Horizons, A Beka) teach little bits of new information, but give lots of review of old problem types. Mastery programs Singapore, Math-U-See, UCSMP, etc.) are organized by chapters on a particular topic, and review is done separately.
3. Does is have a rule orientation or is it more manipulative or hands-on?
Saxon54 and up and A Beka tend to stress memorization of rules and facts. Math-U-See and Moving With Math use manipulatives heavily to introduce topics. Singapore takes a three step approach from concrete (real objects) to pictorial to abstract.
4. Does it teach or encourage mathematical thought or focus more on memorizing step-by-step algorithms to solve problems? Singapore and Miquon excel at the first, while Saxon stresses the second. For some students one approach is best, while for others the opposite can be more effective.
5. Is the content comprehensive? Are there missing elements? Check out scope and sequences or reviews that you trust. If you otherwise love a particular curriculum, but it is thin in a particular topic, you might be able to supplement.
6. Is it designed for independent learning or is it teacher-based? If the latter, will you have the time needed to implement it? If the former, is it "easy" to use because it is a "math lite" program or because it uses an excellent self-teaching method?
7. Is it pricey? Consumable or reusable? Budget issues always play a role in curriculum choice as well.
There's no one-size fits all math curriculum. We need to consider the individual needs of each of our children plus the peculiar dynamics going on in our home and school. Here's a good article on choosing a homeschool math curriculum. Make sure to check out trusted reviews. Cathy Duffy's are absolutely terrific, and then it often helps to read opinions from folks who have been working with a particular curriculum for some time.
Topics I hope to cover in future math installments: Super supplements; Making and using triangle flash cards; Drill websites; Khan Academy; Time tested manipulatives.
Let me know if something else interests you, though.