Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Slow Trickle of Math Change

From the beginning, we've use the Abeka Arithmetic series.  And honestly, the truth is that I really like it.  Full disclosure: I've only ever purchased and used the student (consumable) books and the answer key, so I really can't speak to the teachers' guides or how they recommend you teach a concept, what learning activities they suggest, etc. - I'm sure they are great.  For us, the ticket was that Abeka approaches each new concept in tiny baby steps.  That made it simple to give each kid a little five-minute briefing on what was new in the daily lesson and send them off to do it.

If you read reviews of Abeka's math program online the one thing you'll hear again and again on the "con" side is that there are too many problems.  Too much review.  The benefit is that there is plenty of opportunity for more practice if needed.  But it also means the potential need to fight against your complete-all-the-problems-on-the-page obsession, should you happen to have one.  (In my case this wasn't a "perfectionist" or OCD thing.  It was a fear thing.  What if we don't?  What will happen?  Will they have what they need?  Will they be ready?)

One thing I've learned as a homeschool mom is that I may not (no, rather, I AM not) an expert in any subject area.  But I am an expert on my children.  Nobody knows my kids like I do.  And it's my job to use my expertise to their advantage.  This gave me the confidence to start tailoring their assignments a bit.  I started by not requiring them to do every problem in every section - do a few; do more only if you need more practice.  Then I got bold enough not to require them to do every section in the lesson  - why practice addition, subtraction and multiplication when you use all those skills when doing long division?

Then, last spring, as the homeschool machine got up and running again after a new baby arrived in February, I got a really radical idea.   I decided we didn't need to do all the lesson in the math book.  About a third of their lessons were "review" lessons - no new concept is taught.  This is good if you need to keep students up on their math skills for 170 days of instruction and don't have that many new concepts to teach.  But we were facing down summer and wanting to get math wrapped up!  As I said, Abeka is review-heavy within each lesson, so entire lessons devoted to review was kind of superfluous for us at that point.

In other subjects (like science and history) my theory has been to teach to the older kids and wrap in the little kids, counting whatever they pick up as a bonus.  Henry, my four year old, can tell you that some things Britain exported to the colonies were "tea, fancy dresses and fancy dishes".  Nevermind that he doesn't know what "Britain" or "exported" or "colonies" are - there's time for that later.

So why not follow the same strategy with math?  Sure, the other kids couldn't handle everything Luke was doing with fractions.  But could it hurt for them to sit in on a discussion or exploration of the concepts, glean what they could, and then practice at their own level?  Since Abeka is a consumable math program and the pages are perforated, I had debated tearing out all the pages from everyone's book and sorting them into topics so that I could teach everyone together on overlapping topics.  And then a friend said "You need to check out Math on the Level."

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