# Math Lately

We have bounced around with math so much more than I anticipated this year.  I thought I’d post about all the various things we’ve ended up using and where we landed.  Math continues to be one of my favorite subjects to teach.  I was never a “math person” as a kid.  It was always boring because it was too easy in elementary school and then boring because it was too hard later on.  But since then I’ve learned to appreciate math, especially when I unexpectedly ended up teaching it when I was still a school teacher.  I really want my kids to be challenged by it and to know it’s more about solving puzzles and asking questions than about doing sums, though you can’t solve the problems and answer the questions without first learning how to do all those sums and procedures.

BalletBoy’s Math

The boys have done separate maths since first grade, when BalletBoy happily plugged on and Mushroom became completely disenchanted with the whole idea of math.  For BalletBoy, Math Mammoth has been his spine for what seems like eons and he began the year by wrapping up the last bits of 4a.  Math Mammoth is not exactly exciting math.  The pages can be crowded and the pace can go slow, but for a child who just wanted to plug away at math and get it done, it was a perfect program.  However at the end of 4a, when I went to print packets from 4b, he had a sudden desire to do something completely different.  Meanwhile, the Singapore Challenging Word Problems, which had been his supplement for almost two years, also became…  not too hard exactly, but too confusing.  I often found the wording on the problems confounding such that I didn’t even know what they wanted.  What had always been slightly annoying became too much to interpret when coupled with harder math.

So it was time to change things up.  We tried to switch back to MEP, which we have used for brief periods since first grade, but it wasn’t right for him either.  I knew the Key to Math books would be a breeze for him, so I had him do the first and second books of several series, including Fractions, Measurement, and Decimals.  If you don’t know this program, it has short, gentle workbooks about specific topics.  The look of the texts is nicely pared down and I like how they have an incremental approach that isn’t as overwhelming as Math Mammoth’s.  However, the biggest topic in fourth grade math, long division, was still missing from his education.  We had to find something else.

After a lot of consideration, we landed on Math in Focus.  He had already covered most of the topics in the second half of their fourth grade syllabus, so he’s working on completing most of 4a right now, including .  He says he likes it so much that he’d like to do the fifth grade program next.  In case you’re not familiar with it, Math in Focus is “the other” Singapore math.  When I looked at it ages ago, I liked it a lot less than Singapore Primary Math, but I think I didn’t give it a fair enough shake.  It has the look of a more American style program, but the math is much more similar to Primary Math.  I really appreciate, coming from using Math Mammoth, how pared down the amount of problems is to the ones that really matter.  We also found Fan Math’s Process Skills in Problem Solving, which we like so much better than the Singapore Challenging Word Problems.  The problems are much more clear and there is much better modeling of solutions and information on how the solutions are arrived at in the back.

Mushroom’s Math

Mushroom is my real math lover.  At the start of the year, I had him working on Beast Academy and the Key to Math books on Fractions and Decimals.  He’s now in Beast Academy 4a and I’ve been dragging things out in the hope that 4b will be out (it was supposed be by late February or early March, but I’m still waiting!!!).  I cannot sing Beast Academy’s praises enough.  The program didn’t work for BalletBoy when he tried it when it was newer, but it has been a boon for Mushroom.  The story in the comic book style text is always funny and very well done.  We especially like the recurring elements such as the little beasts rivalry with the bots, the way Grogg finds bizarre solutions to problems, and the multiple personalities (and alliteration) of Professor Grok.  The tricky, thought-provoking problems in the text are also great for encouraging kids to really delve in and think.  They’ve been good for teaching Mushroom patience with his math.

After he finished some of the Key to books, I felt that with Beast’s slow release pace, he needed to do some really basic fourth grade math review, so I bought him a Spectrum math practice book.  It’s not a real curriculum, but he just needed to practice traditional algorithms.  It’s been a mixed bag.  I think it’s good for him to do this and it has been mostly very easy, but there have been a few things, including the long division algorithm, that he really needed to learn and other things, such as stacked multi-digit multiplication, unit conversion, and names of shapes (memorization of lists is just not his strong suit so “hexagon” is like new information every single time), that he really needed to review.  Some days it’s good for when he needs to escape the frustration of an especially tricky Beast problem, but other days, he has been known to scream, “This is not math!  This is just adding numbers and stuff!”  Well, at least I know he gets that math is more than this.  If I could go back, I might buy the fifth grade book instead of the fourth, since it presumably would have a slightly trickier range of numbers for him to practice.

Extra Stuff

As is the case every year, we use a lot of extras for math.  This year, probably the two most used extras have been the Murderous Maths books and Hands on Equations.  Murderous Maths is a great resource that presents math that’s both easy and difficult (or, as the books would probably say…  diabolical!) with a sense of humor.  The explanations are often really clear and clever and they touch on ways to see numbers and math that most elementary math texts don’t bother with.

We did the first level of Hands on Equations last year, but I put it away for awhile and pulled it out again to finish the second and third levels.  It’s not a difficult program by any means, but I didn’t want to run through it all in a couple of weeks, so we’ve been doing a lesson once a week or less to draw it out.  The system they present is really very ingenious and some of the tricks they employ have really grown on me over time.  At first I felt like it might be too simplistic, but I now see how they are slowly introducing the basics of algebra one skill at a time.  There’s not much too the program other than a laminated scale and some dice and game pieces, but I think it’s probably worth the cost of the homeschool kit to see how they’ve laid out these lessons.  Between Hands on Equations and Dragonbox, I feel like the kids are going to go into algebra in a couple of years with a really firm grasp of basic concepts to give them a head start.

# Three Math Programs at Once

This is Mushroom using Cuisenaire rods and Hands-on-Equations pieces to work variables puzzles in Beast Academy.  He was supremely happy as he did it.  It made the puzzles easier, but once he had done them this way, doing them without the manipulatives was a breeze.

If anyone out there is interested in the Hands on Equations program, I highly recommend it.  Both the boys enjoyed it and, as you can see, it occasionally comes out as a visual reminder of the principles they learned.  As well, I highly recommend sticking Cuisenaire rods and base ten blocks in there to use, which allows for bigger numbers and more complexity as well as a more clear visual representation of the numbers.

# Math Forks in the Road

Mushroom is rapidly nearing the end of Miquon.  I predict he’ll be finished with Purple within the month and that’s if we draw it out.  BalletBoy has recently finished Math Mammoth 3.  In the meantime, we’ve been trying out Beast Academy.  BalletBoy likes the graphic novel textbook, but the workbook isn’t right for him.  Everything in it is either too easy or too hard.  I haven’t felt like he’s gotten a lot out of it, so I don’t think he’ll be continuing other than to read the textbook for fun.  If you’re not familiar with Beast Academy, Tinderbox has an excellent review of it here.  Essentially, through a graphic novel about monsters, it introduces math in a very conceptual way and the more difficult practice problems often practically invite frustration.  They want you to try and fail and try again and have an epiphany.  Shockingly, it has been working for Mushroom, which is re-emphasizing the realization I’ve been having lately that he is actually pretty good at conceptual math thinking, even if his calculation skills lag behind.

The other day, we were covering the triangle inequality in Beast Academy and Mushroom wasn’t getting it, so I pulled out our constant friends the Cuisenaire rods.  See how the triangle on the left works because the sum of the two shorter sides are longer than the long side?  But the triangle on the right can never work.

For a split second, when I didn’t see this activity on Education Unboxed to link it, I thought I had made up a new use for the rods, but nah, I found it somewhere else.  Sometimes I think the rods are pure magic.  They really can be used to teach nearly any math.

What’s next for math at the Rowhouse?  I don’t totally know.  Mushroom will continue Beast Academy, but he needs the ability to switch away when he gets frustrated.  The spiral, jumpy, non-threatening nature of Miquon worked so well for him that we have to find a way to recreate some part of it.  We have several books like this one which should help us use the rods, but we need something else.  I know that Singapore, Math Mammoth and MEP aren’t right for him and it seems silly to begin Right Start only to have it run out on us soon thereafter.  What we do is still a bit up in the air.  For BalletBoy, after a lot of discussion between him and myself, we’ve decided he needs more practice with third grade concepts so he’s going to do MEP 3b, which will be a lot of review and a few new things, alongside the Singapore Challenging Word Problems 3, which we’ve done a little in, but not much.

I feel very unsure about math right now and am worried we’re playing hopscotch with programs a little too much.  I’m trying to be mindful of the need to stick with a sequence to help us keep gaps at bay.  On the other hand, I feel like when we do stick too closely with a single program, both boys have trouble honing their math thinking, not to mention that they get bored and frustrated.  It’s definitely a time of some self-doubt here.