Friday, August 23, 2013

Math Matters

'Can you do Addition?' the White Queen asked. 'What's one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?'
'I don't know,' said Alice. 'I lost count.'
'She can't do Addition,' the Red Queen interrupted, 'Can you do Subtraction? Take nine from eight.'
'Nine from eight I can't, you know,' Alice replied very readily: 'but—'
'She can't do Subtraction,' said the White Queen. 'Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife—what's the answer to that?'
'I suppose—' Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen answered for her. 'Bread-and-butter, of course. Try another Subtraction sum. Take a bone from a dog: what remains?'
Alice considered. 'The bone wouldn't remain, of course, if I took it—and the dog wouldn't remain: it would come to bite me—and I'm sure I shouldn't remain!'
'Then you think nothing would remain?' said the Red Queen.
'I think that's the answer.'
'Wrong, as usual,' said the Red Queen: 'the dog's temper would remain.'
'But I don't see how—'
'Why, look here!' the Red Queen cried. 'The dog would lose its temper, wouldn't it?'
'Perhaps it would,' Alice replied cautiously.
'Then if the dog went away, its temper would remain!' the Queen exclaimed triumphantly.
Alice said, as gravely as she could, 'They might go different ways.' But she couldn't help thinking to herself 'What dreadful nonsense we are talking!'
~Excerpt from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Ah, poor Alice trying to apply logic in a world without logic! My daughter, I think, believes that only logical course to take with math is try to get the dog to eat her homework, and it is all homework when you homeschool, but I keep hoping to spark a bit more interest.

Although we homeschool year around, there are certain times of the year that I feel the urge to reassess, revise, and re-equip. One trigger for me is the "after" back-to-school sale markdowns. To be brutally honest, I am a school supplies/office store junkie year around, but I restrain myself well until this time of year. I just have a thing for clean ruled paper, pencils begging to be sharpened, pencil sharpeners begging to sharpen pencils, construction paper, fancy pens, paper clips, blank drawing paper, staplers, highlighters, poster board, and, of course, index cards both the regular size and the larger. Oh, my! I do not really even need any supplies as I already have so much, yet markdowns on school supplies call to me; I want to go shopping right now and buy more. However, I am also determine to keep all the office supplies in one file cabinet to counter the clutter issue caused when I get these things that I really don't need into my home!

Okay, now I am consciously taking that little step away from my strange attraction to supplies and getting some focus on the topic of this post.

Last week and this one also, we took a break from formal lessons, as I promised we would do after her testing, which ended Tuesday last week. Except for having to focus on preparing items for a consignment sale for this week, I spent much of my time mentally planning the next year--well, maybe just the next few months to get us to Christmas. The Princess will be starting the science class at Living Science in the first week of September and I would say, tongue in cheek, that I will be in parent-teacher homeschool conferences probably until that week. It is tough talking to oneself and planning out this child's education as mother, teacher, and principal, but a homeschooling mother has to do it.

Math was the weakest area for the Princess in testing. Not because it was so difficult for her, but because she is just not challenging herself to use short-cut techniques, even though I have taught them to her. This is why she finished too few of the problems to get the score I know she can get. She has been using Teaching Textbooks 7 for nearly a year—I originally planned for just a few months and then moving her into pre-algebra around the January or February, but...well, I think I just relaxed my grip on math enjoying the peace that came with her using a computer program independently. Math has always been where we had the most difficulty working together, so it was souring our attitudes for the rest of the day and even our entire relationship.

I will say that I am glad that we used it to give us both a break and I was very glad that I started her with the grade 7 level, one grade above her age level—actually she was always a bit ahead in math. I like the format of TT, but not the scope. It is a wonderful program for those who struggle with math and have parents that struggle with teaching math, but it is slow and at this level at least a year behind other texts. I had spent most of the week trying to find a good condition, previously used Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra in version 2 with the autograde feature, but somehow just did not feel settled about continuing with TT.

So, I began to look at Math Mammoth, which I already had, and check out the worksheets that are in beginning algebra. Although the program covers only to grade 8, it is certainly has more depth and practice. I also went the the website to see what the creator recommends for an algebra program after Math Mammoth. There is where I found out about Jacob's Elementary Algebra, which eventually led me to Ask Dr. Callahan's bundle with supplemental DVDs and a solutions manual. I looked up the reviews and previews, and I would say that this is the book that may answer my daughter's ever repeated inquiry about when is she ever going to use this stuff.

The introduction disarms the difficult math child right off by beginning with a number trick: Think of a number from one to ten. Add seven to it. Multiply the result by two. Subtract four. Divide by two. Subtract the number you first thought of. (Not thrilled with that preposition at the end of the sentence.) Is your answer five? My daughter will be memorizing this to use on every child she knows! You can see a preview of the book here.

The book begins gently, reviewing math terminology and basic operations, which they should already know, and introducing abstract algebra concepts, relaxing any fears and confusion to the switch into symbolic letters in an equation. Many of the lessons begin with quotes or cartoons or stories or even funny quips all that engage the child and help her see some practical use what is being taught. Even better is that it has an exploratory approach that worked so well with the Princess when she was using Miquon Math. I think—I am hoping—that this curriculum will work better for her. And, I like the depth and scope of it. It is not the most rigorous of the algebra programs out there, but I believe I can start her on it without doing pre-algebra and supplementing with Math Mammoth to work on speeding up her techniques, which means we are going to be working closely together on math again.

Also, I decided to go back to a scheduling format with math that we used when she was younger. She will do no more than one hour of math a day in total, but it will be split up into two timed periods, most likely following her morning and afternoon piano practices. I still have our lesson schedule to work out and starting next week her piano lessons will be on Wednesday with the science class starting a week later.

Math with the Princess...oh, yes! Prayers will be much appreciated.

~ My Lord, thank you for Your continued guidance in educating the child You have given to me. ~


  1. Good luck. I can't say math games ever caught the imagination of the non~math types in this house. If it has numbers it immediately & promptly falls through the holes in my brain. I've decided the main problem with math is it's detail focused & that does not equate to good news for big picture thinkers.

    Cait did really well with math [still does] so long as no~one tries to bog her down with process [ie detail]. That only gets you so far ~ but still further than me.

    1. That's the thing with the Princess. She does math well and is intrigued by some of it, especially if it is something with geometry, but she has convinced herself she does not like math (all math) so she makes it a painful experience for herself. I am thinking in part that she is bored with the basics. Probably part of why she is bored with it is it takes her so long to do and it takes her so long to do because she takes the longest way to do it. It is a math Catch 22 scenario. If she would just start using the short-cuts I teach her, she would probably have a bit of a different view on math in general, just because she could get it done faster.


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