Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Math programs

Life of FredAt various ages and stages my kids have gravitated to formal math programs. Capriciously, for the most part. Erin and Noah didn't touch anything of the sort until after age six. Noah only dabbled until about age 10. Erin worked in bursts up until the age of 10 and then turned other directions. Fiona and Sophie, in bids to do everything their older siblings were doing, started programs around age 4 1/2. Sophie's been on and off, though on a fairly short cycle. Fiona's mostly been 'on', but has it's all still pretty new to her.

For the early years we've found Miquon (to begin) and Singapore Primary Math (added or substituted later) to be a great progression. But as the kids neared the completion of Singapore Primary Math by age 9 or 10, we haven't really found a logical next step.

Singapore's secondary programs were awfully college-like in presentation for such young pre-teens. Erin eventually got through a book and a bit of New Math Counts, after a long break, but it really didn't seem 'friendly' enough.

Eventually we decided to try Teaching Textbooks. The presentation looked really good. It's a 'friendly' program with fun word problems and an engaging style. My main reservation was that, being an American program, it stops teaching many areas of mathematics for a year or two, focusing on algebra at the expense of geometry, probability/statistics and trigonometry. But we dived into Algebra I anyway, with both Erin and Noah. Erin progressed quickly, Noah, having moved directly into it from Singapore 6B at age 10, less quickly.

But oh my, the pace was deadly. So much explanation, so much practice, so little in the way of new concepts. Noah especially tended to get bogged down by the over-explanations, worried that he didn't understand, only to discover after periods of intellectual panic that the exhaustive explanation of an entire lesson was in order to help him understand something that had long been patently obvious to him. We began alternating "book sessions" with more free-form sessions, the latter being much more enjoyable to us, following tangents and exploring things together. But our free-form nights were taking us well beyond the scope of Algebra I, which was in the long run going to make working through the book even more painful. We stopped using the book entirely two or three months ago. He just didn't seem to be getting anything out of it; everything he was learning he was learning from the other stuff we were doing, but I didn't feel I could continue to lead him forward into more advanced algebra and other realms of mathematics without any sort of framework. Erin too had ground to a halt in a slough of boredom in Teaching Textbooks.

On the recommendation of our LC at the Wondertree SelfDesign program, a woman who knows Noah's penchant for story-telling and imagination, we purchased Life of Fred. It's still an American program, so it's algebra-only for the first book, but it's refreshing anyway. Noah dived in and is thrilled. Life of Fred has him grinning, laughing, screwing up his face and rolling his eyes. It is totally his style ... narrative in style, quirky, philosophical, with random bits of weirdness, unaffected and filled with humour. So far everything is review, and it will be for a while, but he's so engaged by the humour and personality of the book, as well as by the mind-bending questions and discussions in the "Home Companion" book, that he is loving working through everything.

Erin, who has decided she would like to take Grade 10 math next fall, wants to fill in her gaps with respect to the Grade 9 curriculum this summer. So she borrowed the Grade 9 standard academic math text (MathPower) from the school and asked me to help her skim through and find the gaps to fill. In the past week we've got through about a third of the course, which is about the pace I expected. She'll easily be on track to start Math 10.

But about the text. It's pretty darn good. The mathematics is robust, way beyond the level of Teaching Textbooks or even Life of Fred, more in line with Singapore's secondary programs. There are a lot of silly tangential 'brain-buster' stuff and hokey full-colour illustrations which we both find visually distracting. But all that stuff aside, it's darn good math, far better than any of the American programs I've seen. Who'd have thought? Right here, in our own BC backyard.


  1. Always good to hear some feedback on LOF, since that is one program I have under major consideration for future years.

    I dislike extremely most of the local math texts here - sounds like you got lucky with yours!

  2. Kailyn, I'm not sure if I'm missing something. The link you provided is mostly focusing on students struggling, to a greater or lesser extent, with K-3 level math. My concern three years ago when I wrote this post was with finding high school level math for generally advanced kids.


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