Different Paths, Same Endpoint

Way back in first grade, we started with MEP Math, which I adored, but which turned out to be all wrong for both my kids at that point. When both the kids were frustrated by MEP’s tricky problems, I pulled out Math Mammoth and tried that.

BalletBoy took to the Math Mammoth immediately. He liked that it was so straightforward. It made him practice a good bit, but he didn’t mind that, especially when I didn’t make him do all the problems. In fact, BalletBoy kept doing Math Mammoth all the way through fourth grade math. At that point, the Math Mammoth shine seemed to wear off. The order of topics got a little confusing for him. So we jumped ship. We tried a number of different things, including almost a full year’s worth of the Singapore program, Math in Focus, which was great, but also didn’t quite work for him.

In the end, we went back to MEP Math. BalletBoy finished out his elementary math doing MEP. This time, the tricky problems worked for him. Knowing that he was good at math that emphasized following strong examples and just getting in the practice, I got a vintage copy of Dolciani’s Pre-Algebra: An Accelerated Course to use with him. It was perfect and he did the whole book.

On the other hand, Mushroom found Math Mammoth just as stressful and confusing as he had found MEP Math. For several months, I didn’t make him do anything formal for math. He read living math books and played math games. At some point, I let him try Miquon Math and finally we had found something that clicked. Mushroom did so incredibly well with Miquon that I came to adore the program. Unlike BalletBoy’s Math Mammoth, this was a program that inspired me as a teacher. The number relationships and the huge flexibility of the Cuisenaire Rods as a learning tool was perfect.

When Mushroom ran out of Miquon books, he turned to Beast Academy, which unfortunately only had a few volumes out at the time. However, he did them all. He started talking about how much he loved math. While he never became a fast worker, he was sometimes an incredible problem solver with math. He could think creatively about it. I really credited that to Miquon. He thought about math in a much simpler, straightforward way than his twin.

When we ran out of Beast Academy books, he continued his eclectic math path. He did a lot of the Key to Math books, as well as some problem solving books, like the Ed Zaccaro books. I started him on Jousting Armadillos, which is a pre-algebra program. Unfortunately, the amount of writing focus in that program was all wrong for him. He finished it, but barely. We took a math break, then he started in on Jacobs’s Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, which started to re-invigorate his love of math, though he never quite regained it. Mushroom has a lot of anxiety about academics in general, even though he keeps making good progress.

Having liked Jacobs’s other books, I chose Jacobs for Mushroom’s algebra program. Since BalletBoy did so well with Dolciani’s pre-algebra, I assumed he would continue with Dolciani’s algebra program. However, partway through the year, BalletBoy hit a major snag with algebra and I hit a major snag in teaching it. Since I was loving Jacobs, we made the switch.

That means that, for the first time since the very beginning of first grade, my twins are heading into high school finishing the exact same math program, at more or less the same pace.

It’s fascinating to me how different their paths have been. BalletBoy continues to be a “get it done” math student for the most part. He sometimes gets very stuck in his thinking and I have to tell him to stop and try again the next day. He argues with me about math, only to realize he’s completely wrong when he tries to do the problem. Mostly he likes to do his work and he tends to score well, especially if the problem sets are repetitive. If he gets to one he doesn’t understand, he’s liable to skip it and happily go on to the next problem. Overall, he’s in very good shape for finishing algebra.

Mushroom meandered through so many different math concepts. He continues to be a slow worker. While he doesn’t like to admit it, he does better when he can get engrossed in a few very challenging problems instead of a lot of repetitive practice. He second guesses himself and refuses to move on until he understands, which can be good, but can also bring down his scores on tests.

Despite all these differences, Jacobs’s Elementary Algebra has been great for both of my students. It’s not a perfect program, but it has enough challenges and enough practice. It has engaging introductions and enough example problems. It’s really a thorough and great program. I’m also just thrilled to be back teaching the same math again!

I also think there’s something to be said here about letting kids take their own paths through math. It’s okay to take different ways through the material. In the end, you’re going to emerge in more or less the same place.

3 thoughts on “Different Paths, Same Endpoint

  1. Hi, Farrar. I read your algebra post with great interest. I’m struggling with where to bead for seventh grade (pre-algebra?) with my Rebekah. She’s my twelve year old (thirteen in November) who has OCD. She still has significant anxiety spikes daily, and math is one of her anxiety triggers. She thinks she’s “not good at math” and often calls herself “stupid” while doing it. (This is something I know she has never heard from me, and I’ve worked very hard to never even imply that she’s isn’t good at math. In fact, the opposite is true! She’s good at mental math and quite intuitive.). Her path has been RightStart to Singapore (original Singapore) with dips into MM, Life of Fred, Key to, and I’m sure something else. Singapore doesn’t seem to working that great for us anymore because I’ve never found a good way to preteach material with all I have going on with my little guys whom I focus on in the mornings. Also, I know she needs a more gentle, maybe even daily spiral. I’ve solved this somewhat by giving her Math Minutes. Her older sister did AOPS pre algebra (also dabbled in JA), and followed that with AOPS and Foerster Algebra I. I’ve even thought about giving Rebekah AOPS pre algebra to see how it suits her but I am loath to embroil in something that goes in fits and starts again. I love it, but I need to see real progression in my busy household. I’m intrigued by Dolciani but am not sure how I could teach it. Older sister is independent for the most part with her math, using the math Without Borders video lessons (when I insist—she prefers to self-teach). I think Rebekah would need more scaffolding than that. Thoughts? Thank you so much for your help with 90 S Newbery last year. We had a blast!


    Sent from my iPhone


    1. That’s how Mushroom can be sometimes as a perfectionist – math isn’t a particular trigger, but any serious schoolwork can be sometimes. Sigh. Kids without confidence in their own abilities are so hard sometimes! Dolciani wasn’t really spiral at all except in the word problems, and those were hard. I really liked the pre-algebra in many ways – I think it was a tough, but solid course and it wasn’t hard to teach – it uses a series of examples and we just went over it, and then did “buddy math” going back and forth together if he got stuck… but it sounds like it wouldn’t be a good fit because it’s not spiral and the hard problems might be too challenging. I don’t know what would be a good pre-algebra because I never found one that fit Mushroom. Eventually, after we’d wandered enough, we just started in on Jacobs’s Algebra and it’s been super perfect. It’s the right mix of easy and challenging and it has a spiral review at the start of every lesson. Have you thought about doing something that’s notoriously easy like Teaching Textbooks just for confidence? (If I had to go back in time, I might have done something like that for Mushroom for a year.) Or even CLE, which often clicks for kids who find math intimidating. There’s always Saxon, but I think of it as so mind numbing that I have trouble recommending it with any real emphasis. AoPS’s pre-algebra is extra quirky, I think. I’d also be hesitant to start it in that context. I hope that’s helpful musings, Amy! I’m so glad you guys enjoyed your 90 Second Newbery!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s