Thoughtful Thursday Week 5 – Speed vs. Depth

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Did you grow up hating math or loving it? I grew up liking math. I made good grades in it, but I never thought I was a “math person” per se.

It turns out, there is no such thing as a “math person.” Everybody is capable of learning math. And everyone should have the chance of being introduced to math in a creative, fun way. Math should not be a series of mindless drills and repetition exercises. Math facts – especially the ones in arithmetic, or the early grades – should be understood.

Thoughtful Thursday

Which is why we chose to switch to Right Start Mathematics, a Montessori-inspired math program put together by Dr. Joan Cotter. I was getting a bit bored of this curriculum, not to mention confused – because it is so different, when… I discovered an MOOC by Stanford University called How to Learn Math – For Students. It totally reassured me Right Start Math is the right way to introduce my children to math concepts.

Oh, what a treasure trove of brain research and busted myths about mathematics I found in this Stanford course. It took me about two hours over two days (three sessions total) to finish all the lessons. My children came and hovered over my shoulder for a bit, as I watched the videos and answered the quizzes. Not sure they got much out of it, but some things sounded more interesting than others, I suppose. They stayed longer for some sessions.  Continue reading »

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3 Reasons to Switch Curriculum Mid-Semester

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I never wanted to switch curriculum mid-year, let alone mid-semester, partly because I am frugal and partly because I think that being flexible in homeschooling does not mean being indulgent. But then, I found myself teaching preschool math from a kindergarten textbook to a kindergartner who in reality operated on a first grade level.

One of the many reasons I homeschool my children is that it allows for a customized educational experience. By doing so, I go against the flow even in the USA. More Americans customize their cup of coffee than their children’s education, which is sad to me.

If you find yourself in any of the following situations, you will want to switch curriculum mid-semester, too.

1. Your child’s mind operates on a different level than the textbook. Every time I said “Time for math,” my son groaned. I added more manipulatives before our very minimal pen and paper practice. After all, he is a boy. The manipulatives helped a bit, which bought me more time to decide if I was dealing with an attitude or a real situation.

One day, he told me that he liked math better than reading. This confused me even further, because he reads on a third grade level and he loves books. A few days later, out of the blue, he wrote addition facts – and we have not even covered addition – on several pieces of paper and stapled the pages into a booklet. My son was asking to be challenged.

2. The textbook level is different than the content it promises. After teaching Singapore Math Earlybird Kindergarten for seven weeks, I realized it contained preschool material.

I received confirmation of that fact one day when my daughter’s preschool Rod and Staff workbook coincided with my son’s Singapore Math Kindergarten lesson – matching quantities by drawing lines.

3. The curriculum has the wrong approach either in general or for your child’s learning style. In our case, Singapore Math had the wrong approach in general. As I wondered how to advance my son without skipping math concepts he might not have already grasped, a homeschooling friend sent me an email extolling the benefits of Right Start Mathematics (RSM). Providential? I think so.

Here’s what I found out. Of course one can add more manipulatives and make Singapore Math more hands on. But, ultimately, it is still a traditional approach to math – numbers are points along a line, each being “one more” than the previous.

RSM, on the other hand, de-emphasizes counting and provides strategies (visualization of quantities) for learning math facts. For instance, RSM groups quantities in fives and tens. This enables your child to recognize quantities without counting. RSM students visualize seven as five and two, eight as five and three etc.

Based on Montessori principles and abacus work, RSM practices math concepts through games and very few worksheets. In my situation, the best part is that, as an entry level, RSM Level B (which corresponds to First Grade) covers all the basic math facts from the beginning, but faster than Level A.

My son loves building with LEGO bricks and finds the abacus fascinating. He has already found ways to build designs with it, beyond his math assignments.

If you need support, check out the RSM How To Videos. I found the RSM Yahoo Group members and archived files extremely helpful while researching whether I should switch.

Homeschooling happens at the intersection of our expectations and our children’s behavior and performance in class. By switching to RSM Level B, I placed my son in first grade and – bonus – I found a better way to do math. Have you ever had to switch curriculum mid-semester? Please leave me a comment below.

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