Math IS Fun

See, I think I misspoke (miswrote?) when I titled my last homeschooling post Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun.  It was catchy, which is a good quality for a title, but I probably should have said something like Math Books Don’t Need to Be Fun.
Because I happen to believe that Math IS fun, and the people who are desperately trying to make the textbooks colorful and exciting are missing the point:  it’s all about the numbers, folks.
Have you ever seen someone getting really excited about Math?  My high school Algebra II/Advanced Math teacher, a sweet, wonderful, energetic Sister of Mercy named Sister Albertine, was like that.  I remember her explaining things to us on the blackboard, calling numbers “cute little creatures.”  I vividly recall the way she taught us about hyperbolas always approaching but never quite reaching the axis, which she demonstrated by taking tinier and tinier steps toward the classroom door.

Sister Albertine in recent years – photo credit: Tennova website

I mentioned in the last post that I love fractions.  I thought it was so cool that to divide them you turn them upside down and multiply them.  I love algebra too, and still enjoy solving a good complicated equation.   Most kids like number puzzles and patterns if they haven’t already been convinced that Math is hard and boring.
What’s needed to demonstrate that Math is fun, though, is not an illustrated textbook–it’s a good teacher with a love of the subject.  For fourth grade math, I hope I qualify! [edit: apparently not. 🙁]

Math Doesn't Have to Be Fun

Have you looked at your kid’s math book lately?  Besides being outrageously large and heavy, you’ll find that’s it’s colorful and has photographs on almost every page!  Also little boxes with things like “fun math facts” in them.  It makes my head swim to look in these books.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the math.
Contrast this with a really old math book, if you can find one.  I have some vintage ones that I’ve picked up here and there.  They are tiny–small enough to fit in a coat pocket.  But that doesn’t stop them from being full of really hard math.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.  (Well, a little explanation is nice, too.)  When I was a kid, our math books were somewhat larger and more colorful than the vintage kind, but smaller and less distracting than those of today.  I would have been happy to use the series we used most of the way through grade school for homeschooling, as I have reused other books from my own school days, but you don’t get to keep your math book.
When I began homeschooling, I kept reading about something called the Saxon math program that homeschoolers all seemed to love.  So that’s what I got and used for Teddy and Jake, and I will be using the same thing for Lorelei.  Besides being full of math problems and devoid of color photography, the Saxon series also just does a good job at teaching math.  Subtitled “an incremental development,” the series starts each new lesson by reviewing what you’ve learned in the lesson just before.  Concepts build on concepts, and nothing is forgotten from lack of use.  Each set of exercises is preceded by a clear explanation with examples, so you can work through it and teach it to your kid (and perhaps remember how to do it yourself if you’ve happened to forget!).
math 1
math 2
math 3
math 4
You can buy the Saxon series direct from the manufacturer, or you can do what I did and get it on eBay way cheaper.  Now, you won’t get a workbook or a teacher’s manual or manipulatives if you do it that way, but I do homeschooling on the cheap.  It’s a drag not to have an answer key, although not such a big deal for me since I’m pretty sure I can still handle fourth grade math.
So is the approach effective?  Does it work?  I homeschooled my big boys for fourth grade, then sent them back to St. Joseph School.  Well, Jake was close to failing math in third grade.  He had no problem with the Saxon method.  I sat with him and wrote the problems for him because he has dysgraphia and he’d make a mess and get all frustrated before it was even time to start solving the problem.  When he took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills later in the year, he was ahead of his grade level.  Math never became his favorite subject, but he never struggled too much with grade school math again.  Teddy is basically a math genius.  He was already a year ahead when we started, and I think we got part of the way into a second book.  He went on to complete Algebra I AND Geometry before he even started high school.
Math isn’t Lorelei’s favorite subject, but she doesn’t have any particular problem with it.  I’m looking forward to using this book to help her become even more confident in her math skills.  And we get to do fractions!  I love fractions. [edit: Lorelei does NOT love fractions.  Or math of any kind.  I still love the Saxon series, but have had to resort to other means to get her past the mental block she has set up for herself.]

Summer Is No Time for Homework

I’ve got some pretty strong opinions about education, after 17 years of having kids in school–and they’ve attended several, so I’ve got comparative data–plus my own years “in the system.”  I am very fond of proclaiming what would and would not happen in the hypothetical school that I would run.  (I need to write that post some time!) [edit: I did!]
And I’ve got a new item to add to that list:  there would be NO SUMMER HOMEWORK.
When I was little I remember a year when we were supposed to keep track of all the books we read over the summer, and draw a picture representing our favorite one.  I was a voracious reader and I also loved to draw; I ended up drawing a picture to go with every book I read (probably 30 or more) and had a great time doing it!  But this wasn’t a requirement; there wasn’t a list.   Forcing grade school kids to read certain books or kinds of books for a grade over the summer is a recent phenomenon in my experience.  I don’t remember my big kids having to do it, but Lorelei was issued a reading list even before kindergarten!
Still, reading is one thing.  Everyone should be reading anyway, right? But what no one should be doing in the summer time is MATH WORKSHEETS.
Yes, at the end of first grade Lorelei’s school announced that summer math workbooks would be available for purchase.  This was suggested, not required, and I ignored it, even when they went ahead and sent the book home anyway.  But this summer the books were issued and we were told that every child must complete them for a grade.
Lorelei is rule-driven and slightly compulsive when it comes to school, so she opened up her book on the first day of summer and did a few pages.  Quickly she became frustrated by questions she could not answer and by the thought of having to do work every day in the summer time.  So I told her she didn’t have to do it.  Yes, I did.
I hate homework, and y’all know that already.  And I’ve seen plenty of educational fads come and go (that’s another post I need to write).  I know why they want kids to do math in the summer.  It’s the same reason some push for year round school:  to keep kids from forgetting what they’ve learned.  But we all managed pretty well, didn’t we, even with the slightly longer summer breaks of yesteryear?  And if they think they are going to encourage a love of math by doing this, no.
School started, and I still wasn’t sure how we were going to handle the problem of the math book.  It ended up being due only days into the first week.  I originally had some idea that maybe I would just tell Lorelei all the answers and have her write them in, or that I would do them all myself in little girl handwriting.  Why rock the boat and make the teacher decide I’m crazy with the year just beginning?  Lorelei is the only child we’ve had at this school, and I’ve kept a low profile so far.  But I decided that would set a bad example for Lorelei and that I needed to stand up for my principles.
So I wrote her teacher an email.
I told him that the math book was stressful for Lorelei and for me.  I told him that I do not believe in summer homework.  That summer in my opinion is a time for decompressing and relaxing and playing and being a kid, and the stress of a looming assignment has no place in that.  I told him how I thought about doing the math myself and why I was being honest instead, and that I felt my decision was the right one for Lorelei and for our family.  I acknowledged that I knew Lorelei’s math grade would be affected, but that grades interest me only insofar as they provide evidence of learning anyway. And I asked him to make sure Lorelei did not feel he was upset with her.

I didn’t get a response for a whole day, and I was nervous every time I checked my email!  When he did respond, it was fine.  He thanked me for being honest and explained the reasons for summer math.  He said there would be plenty of time for Lorelei to improve her grade, and that of course his interaction with her and with me would not be affected.

I feel really good that I resisted the further intrusion of school into family life, that I was brave about standing up for my decision, and that it all turned out okay as I had assured Lorelei it would.

first day of third grade

 Update:  Lorelei received a C that first quarter in Math because she failed to turn in the summer homework.  She would have received an A otherwise.  In other words, she was penalized for failing to do homework meant to keep her from falling behind over the summer, EVEN THOUGH THE VERY FACT THAT SHE DID NOT NEED TO DO IT WAS PROVEN BY THE GRADE SHE EARNED.  And now we homeschool. 🙂
I’m sharing this oldie-but-goodie post at the #worthrevisit linkup today!  This weekly look back at old posts is hosted by Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb.

 

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