Friday, May 13, 2011

The Math Hurdle

  As a homeschool mom one of my biggest challenges is teaching math, especially to older kids.  I understand it, but I cannot explain it very well.  It just makes sense in my head, but I can't always tell the kids why it makes sense.

    Most of the time this causes no dilemmas as I can explain it using the examples from the teacher's guide.  When this doesn't work I have found videos on youtube where people explain math.  This was a great help to my daughter when she was stuck on 3-digit-multiplication.  She could not seem to understand the concept of the placeholder that you put after the 10's (and the 100's) so that you can add them up.  In regular addition you line the answers up and then add them, so she couldn't understand why you wouldn't do that here.  I went to Youtube and searched for videos of 3-digit-multiplication.  I am sure that I explained it exactly the same as the man in the video, but when he explained it she understood it.  She claims that when I explain it my answers are too "mathy" and therefore that is why she doesn't understand them.  In response to that all I can do is scratch my head.

     The dilemma last year was with my 3 older sons.  My oldest, who is 14, loves math, but he was hating Saxon math.  He didn't like all the repetition, nor the way they explained it.  In addition my twin sons who were in 7th grade were giving me headaches trying to teach math.  One of my sons in particular has struggled with a learning disorder, and he is right brained, so I can't always figure out how to explain math to him.  He gets frustrated when he doesn't understand, and then he yells or cries.  This is turn makes me frustrated and I yell or cry.   So, at the end of last year I decided that I was going to find something else.  I was going to find something at the conference that I didn't have to teach, thus ending the battles between my son and I.

   After some research I came across a math program called Life of Fred.  It is meant for the student to read and do on their own.   Each chapter contains a short story where Fred (the main character) uses math in a particular situation and explains how he did that.  At the end of each chapter there are 4 or 5 problems to do.  The boys do the problems and then check their answers.  They are not required to get a certain amount right at that point, as the way the author got the answers is explained for them.  At the end of several chapters is something called The Bridge.  In this case they are required to get a certain amount right to make sure that they understand the material.  In addition as the parent I can make them do all five Bridges if I would like, regardless of how many they get right.

    This has been a great solution for my oldest who loves math, and is enjoying it even more.  Even though the Life of Fred books don't have as many problems he enjoys trying to figure them out as some can be a challenge.  The books are for higher levels of Math.  There are Decimals and Percents as well as a book on Fractions and then two Pre-Algebra books and from there the books go all the way up through Calculus.  Since the chapters are short you can go through the books fairly quickly. The problems are challenging so I don't make my boys do extra, but they also sell companion guides if you feel like your child needs more help.  Another thing I love about the books is that the man who wrote them has his email address on his website so that you can contact him if you have questions.

    This has also worked well for one of my sons in 7th grade, who hasn't had much trouble with math at all this year.  However, his twin brother, Neil is still struggling with math.  Our school year started off well and this approach seemed to work well for both of us, eliminating the fighting.  However, Neil still struggled with the material, occasionally needing help.  As we moved into the book on Decimals and Percents he struggled even more, and we ended up having to go back to me helping him with his math.   At first this went fairly well, but once again we are in the cycle of Neil getting frustrated and mom getting frustrated right back.

    Overall, I have loved the Life of Fred books.  I think the stories are very engaging and I love that my boys are getting to do math independently without having to sit in front of a computer.  However, as the school year draws to an end and I can see that Neil is still not understanding these concepts I have come to the realization that it's time to do something else for him.  Since he is the one who has struggled with learning this has happened to me numerous times, and even wonderful curriculum has not always worked for Neil.    My homeschool journey with him has led me into lots of interesting curriculum I might not otherwise have chosen.  While not all have worked for him they have benefited my other children.

    So, now this summer I will be doing more research to find another math program.  I am open to suggestions from those who have children who are struggling.

Kendra

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