So, I’m Judging a Math Curriculum According to the Sound of a Guy’s Voice?

Far be it from me to rely on first impressions – hah!  The Teaching Textbooks math program has arrived on the scene here in our house and SO FAR SO GOOD.  Greg Sabouri, an author of TT, is a fun teacher with a very pleasant voice.  How’s that for using instinct to key in on what works?  Kind of silly, really.   But Max is enjoying the lectures (which are short and sweet), and he’s cruising through the practice problems.

Since Max detests math worksheets, the TT format, for him, is brilliant.  All of your work is done on the computer screen with the click of the mouse and the use of your neural pathways, the ones which conjure up the answers to ‘what’s an addend’?  and ‘what’s the communicative property of addition?’  Not hard because all you do is place yourself in a chair, make yourself comfortable, and hit the play button to get the CD rolling. 

We’ve started with Math 4, even though we just finished up 4th grade.  Back to the beginning, more or less, but I did this for two reasons.  The first several lessons are EASY and he will experience success with these.  Plus, it’s important to go back and fill in those gaps with a little math caulk before moving on to next year.  My sinister plan is to continue with a lesson a day through the month of June and then officially embark upon some summer fun.  We aren’t doing any other school-related activities other than math for the next month.  He should be able to stomach that (I hope). 

So, Mr. Sabouri’s voice is friendly and fun, we’ve got nothing else on the school docket for the month of June, and Max loves to be in front of a computer.  I am optimistic that Teaching Textbooks will save the day – at least it will quell a lot of the anxiety I’ve had about math.  Hmm.  There’s a statement – Max probably felt my anxiety all year long (of course he did) and my anxiety probably made his math anxiety worse than it needed to be (of course it did).  See how much you really learn while homeschooling????  Maybe it should read, ‘see how much you learn while parenting’.  This homeschooling venue is a fascinating place for parents and children alike.  As long as we pay attention to stuff like that, I think we’ll be just fine. 

Thanks, Mr. Sabouri, for putting together what looks to be a stellar math program that fits my kiddo’s learning style.  And thanks for having a very nice voice.  Off to a great start!

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Math Curriculum for Wigged out Moms

Math is a dark subject lurking in our home.  It follows Max around and pokes him just to annoy him and then skitters away, cackling.  Numbers are not his friends.  Try as we have, the multiplication facts remain elusive, shrouded in mystery and murkiness.  I have tried not to push or cajole, but I’m not perfect and have felt some silly anxiety about him not grasping these foundational numbers.  Stupid, really – not him – ME.  I’ve referred to this angst in previous posts and I’m sure it is rather common among newer homeschooling parents.

This past homeschooling year we read a lot ABOUT math, but didn’t DO much math.  We dallied with Key Curriculum Press’s booklets on fractions.  We let Penrose the cat entertain us with math speak and number patterns, we used some flash cards, we jumped on the trampoline and traded math facts, we played math catch.  We played math games.  I quizzed him in the car – hard to be casual about that, really……”say, Max, I was just thinking about those Navy Seals you wanted to learn about.  What’s 5 x 9?”  Like he didn’t see what I was up to.  The Great Number Rumble was a fun read.  Freerice.com was novel in that you could donate grains of rice to feed hungry people all over the world while practicing math facts.   Brown Paper School books held his attention for just a short time – those on math, anyway.  Near the end of the year I turned math over to my husband because I was far too wigged out about it.  He was much more casual about math and basically gave the reigns right back to Max, which I suppose is just fine.  Max will do with math what he needs to do and for crying out loud (note to self, here), he’s in the 4th grade.

SO – about to change tactics again.  If anything, I reserve the right to change my mind :).  Instead of all of this dancing around business, I am choosing to go with a more organized approach, one that can be doled out in small daily doses – like a curriculum – brilliant!  Up until this weekend I was planning to utilize the Math U See program starting next year, but met a wonderful homeschooling mom over the weekend who told me about another program, which of course I had to check into!   I did, I read reviews, I watched the videos, I scanned homeschooling forums, and I ordered the curriculum today.  Thank you, Jeannie, for the heads-up!

It’s called Teaching Textbooks (TT). Already I’m letting out a sigh of relief.  Is it windy where you are located?  That’s probably me releasing all of this math angst over here, affecting the global wind patterns.

I did my research with Max in mind.  He detests worksheets.  He does not enjoy the pressure from me when it comes to math, poor guy.  He likes humor.  He LOVES the computer.  He likes comics and clever.  I think he’ll like TT.

If you aren’t familiar with TT, take a look at their website (of course!)  You get a series of CD’s that contain daily lessons, each carefully and gently taught by a gentleman with a very nice voice.  You also get a student workbook wherein your child can practice problems.  If your child doesn’t understand something, he/she can refer back to the CD’s for an explanation of each problem, or can look at a written summary in the workbook about a lesson.  The lessons aren’t dry – the author uses humor and colorful drawings/word problems sprinkled throughout to hold interest.  It’s very much like having a kind tutor sitting at the table with you as you do your work and that tutor takes you through everything step-by-step.

Another great feature that is a boon to homeschooling parents everywhere is that as the child completes each lesson, the program does the grading and keeps track of progress.  I am attracted to this because I think Max is ready for more independent learning next year and I am ready for him to be a more independent learner, too.

I selected Math 4.  Max took the placement test that is offered on the website and this is the level he needs to start at since we didn’t follow a set order of math concepts this year.   He’s picked up a surprising amount of information, though, which I found when he took the placement test.  All of that worrying for nothing!

The other curriculum I took a look at is called Life of Fred (LOF) and it sounds genius!  This one is going on the back burner because the author made it clear that kids should have a solid hold on math facts prior to starting this program as it moves quickly right into pre-algebra.  It takes one all the way through calculus and linear algebra.   Maybe we’ll consider starting this one during middle school.  It was written by Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D. who is, of course, a retired math teacher.  When he taught he began messing around with a cartoon character he named Fred; Fred became a part of his lectures and subsequently Fred’s life story grew.  Dr. Schmidt eventually wrote Fred’s silly and quirky story down and in the process discovered a marvelous way to teach math.  Fred, as it turns out,  is a six-year-old math genius who is a math teacher at KITTENS University, and he has a pet llama he’s named Lambda.  Please refer to Cathy Duffy’s review of LOF – her review is thorough and more than sells the curriculum.  I’m drawn to Life of Fred for its humor and the fact that it strives to make math applicable to life.

The ending of the story, then, is that I am much less wigged out.  Thank goodness for all who know me!  That kind of thing has a ripple effect, you know.  Now watch – he’ll hate Teaching Textbooks!  I doubt it, though.  I’m genuinely excited about next year and the continuation of our homeschool adventure.  I am looking forward to encouraging him to be a bit more independent in his work.

Now it’s time to begin to apply the brakes in anticipation of that marvelous thing they call summer.  Yipee!

Learning Calendar

Sometimes I’m not sure if books that contain lots of trivia are all that effective – I think there has to be some sort of personal association for information like that to stick, but I could be wrong. Some people just seem to have ‘trivia-prepped’ brains and can feed on this stuff.

We had this calendar last year. When I remembered to glance at it, look at the correct day and read aloud what was written, we often learned something cool and interesting. However, there were several blocks of time when I completely ignored the calendar and promptly forgot about it. So, not sure if it’s a good investment, at least for me.

You might like it, though, and find it useful. The 2011 edition is available now:

It makes for a great gift, too.  It is useful to use as jumping-off points or to provide you with unit study ideas, too.  Available for around $20.  FatBrain Toys has it, but right now it looks like it’s sold out.  I didn’t check Amazon or other places, but it’s got to be out there somewhere!

Managing Money Like a Grown Up

Since the beginning of the school year, Max has had a credit card…..of sorts.  You can’t put your finger on it exactly, because it’s an idea and the source is none other than The Mom and Dad Bank of the Southwest.  It’s a great place to get all of your banking needs met.  I consider this part of his education at home – if we don’t teach him how to manage money, who will, and what better time to start than at age 10?  Any age, really.  That also goes for learning how to sort darks and lights, emptying the dishwasher, how to operate a broom, and how to bathe a dog without hurting yourself while managing to get all of the soap rinsed out.  All important stuff!

I set up a folder and tucked three sheets of paper inside titled:

1.  Max’s “Change-His-Mind-At-the-Last-Second-About-What-He-Is-Wanting-Which-Always-Happens-and-Should-be-Predictable-by-Now” spending account

2.  Max’s Savings Account (once money’s in, it stays in.  No exceptions no matter how much he tries to out-think me.)

3.  Max’s Giving Account

Each week I hang a chore chart in the kitchen and he checks off things when he feels like doing them.  No pressure from me, well at least that’s supposed to be the theory.  Some days I’m not so good about that part.  He gets paid per chore.  Some weeks he is very motivated, others not so much.  Just like his mom, I guess.  On Mondays he adds up what he earned and then he divides it accordingly amongst his accounts.  He has to put a minimum amount into savings and into his giving account first.

Now to the credit card.  I set it up with a $20 limit and 5% straight interest on purchases.  He can’t go over the limit and has thirty days to pay his bill and get it back to a zero balance.  If he didn’t do enough chores to cover his balance, he gets one of those nasty late fees!  We haven’t had to issue the late fee…..yet.  He gets a little cavalier with the idea of credit sometimes and I try not to say anything.  I let the balance do the talking.  Maybe I should raise his interest rate so it would have more oomph?

It’s kind of a fun experiment, for me, anyway.  Max doesn’t particularly like when his balances are low at the very moment he’s convinced he can’t take another sustaining breath without that new Lego set.

With respect to his giving account, when it reaches a balance of $10 or so, he decides where it will go.  Last month he donated to a world food project through the United Nations.

All of this is virtual money because I don’t actually hand him dollar bills.  He just keeps track of his accounts on his sheets of paper (math!) on Mondays.

Just an idea for helping kids manage money.  There are lots of variations on this theme – try some out and see what happens!  It takes a little discipline on your part to stay on top of it, but setting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of your child isn’t such a bad thing.  You can be available as the money guru, to offer advice and encouragement as needed.  Good luck and may your house be cleaner because of it, too!

Personal Trainer

Sometimes I wonder how personal trainers feel – do they feel loved by their clients?  Feared by their clients?  Loathed by their clients?  I certainly hope not on that last one.  Personal trainers have their work cut out for them, that’s for sure.  How do you motivate someone to stay on task, enjoy the task and receive as much benefit as possible out of said task?  A tall order!

I face this challenge every day with Max and math.  It’s just not his thing.  We’ve been following the course of a living math approach and have thus tried to have fun with it.  Games, reading about math, learning about mathematicians, playing with logic puzzles, looking at groovy patterns in math – in essence, I’m trying to lay a foundation for math and show him that it’s not all that bad.  Many people my age probably grew up with lackluster and droll math experiences.  I still remember a lecture a math teacher was giving about vectors at the chalkboard when I was in 9th grade.  I walked out of that room wondering, “what the heck’s a vector?”  He didn’t put any pizzazz in vectors and I quickly lost interest.  What I needed was someone who was excited about math, someone who could convey that excitement, someone who could help me to see how creative math is.  I needed a personal math trainer.

Okay, switching gears here a bit, but bear with me.  Around here,  Max has to refrain from the use of any electronic devices for entertainment purposes until after dinner, or thereabouts.  Somedays I’m just not paying attention to the clock and he can pull a fast one on me.  I see some use (stress some) in the games he plays.  His coordination is admirable, he picks ideas and instructions up lightening fast, he has an urge to learn and studies the game manuals for information, and problem-solving prowess is definitely called upon when playing.  At least I can reason with the side of myself that doesn’t like the gaming trend.  There are some strong negatives, but I won’t get into that here.

A little light of possibility occurred to me the other day – how about putting the two together as an experiment?  Math, which he hates and his DSi, which he loves?  A quick search and I was hot on the trail for a good match.  It couldn’t be a game that placed time pressure on him – he freezes when this happens.  It had to be positive, gentle,  incremental and most of all, FUN.  I found it!  This is an experiment of sorts as I am still committed to the living math way of doing things; I did purchase this game to see how he reacted.

Day 1:  we were actually able to say the word ‘math’ today without triggering any banshee screaming.  I handed Max the game and he tore open the box to examine the contents, somewhat skeptically, I sensed.  Nonetheless he popped it into his DSi and in a matter of 30 seconds was taking the Daily Test.  Then…………..I couldn’t get him to PUT IT DOWN.  I’m not joking.  His little brain was clicking and clacking over multiplication, division, subtraction and division in fun little challenges.  The little professor guy on the screen jumped in often enough with words of encouragement to keep him going.  I heard Max murmuring to himself as he ran figures in his head.  The music in the background was happy sounding, upbeat and only slightly annoying.  He played it in the car while I got groceries.  He played it all the way home.  He tested his dad when he got home.  He tested me.  He went to bed with it and played it until I threw a flag and made him stop.  He said, “I can’t wait to take the daily test tomorrow, Mom.”  I said, “Who are you and what have you done with my son?  Surely you are an imposter.  Tell me something only Max would know.”

Day one of my personal trainer experiment was a resounding success.  By that I mean he enjoyed himself while practicing math facts.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Here are a few other similar games I found, specifically for the DS or DSi.  Wii doesn’t have anything like this yet (I asked the guy at the game store, so according to him – he’s the reliable source I’m counting on for accurate information to pass on to you.  Maybe he hates math, too.)  I did not investigate any other gaming systems.

Brain Quest is also available for grades 5/6

There are others, of course.  This is just a smattering.  Something I found to be intriguing – I had to go to four different stores to track down the Personal Math Trainer game.  There was one new copy available in the city we live in…….the next closest availability was in DENVER!!!  It just isn’t stocked!  Which says something, I think.  Most kids don’t walk into gaming stores with math on their minds :).

I Didn’t Do It, Did You Do It? If You Didn’t Do It, Then Whodunit?

Mysteries are good fodder for figuring, for being observant, for paying attention to the tiny details.  Some kids have the eagle eye, wherein they don’t miss anything.  Others bounce blissfully unaware through events, leaving not a trace that they saw anything.  Which one is your child?  Somewhere in the middle?  Max has an eagle eye.  In fact, that’s his nickname.  He misses NOTHING.  I miss most everything because I live in my head.  Ask me what color the car was that just went by and I’ll stare at you blankly.  What car?  I didn’t see a car.  Who cares about the color of the car that just went by?  Guess it’s a matter of principle, that question.  What engages your brain and what can you let slide?  Maybe noticing a car is a bad example here – we should pay attention to cars as much as possible when we are on or near the road!

Well, how about a good mystery to encourage engagement in your surroundings?  If you look at mysteries that way, they can make for a worthwhile component of schooling!  Not to mention that it’s probably really gratifying to solve a mystery – learning to think critically and examine problems from many perspectives will serve our children well.  This sort of process is buried deep within a good mystery!

Here are some items that fit the bill well.  Click on the pictures to link to more information:

Mindware carries these.  Some 245 short mysteries and puzzles to get you thinking and solving.

Similar idea – this is a deck of 52 mysteries and below you can see deck #2.

Historical mysteries – what a great combination!  There are many books in this series and they look good.  Product review states:  “designed to both entertain and teach valuable lessons from United States history, this book follows two young detectives as they solve mysteries from the nation’s past. Ninth in a popular series, this book features more maps, photos, and puzzles to be examined as Meg and Peter race across the country—from Plymouth, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California—to figure out the historical mysteries. Children are encouraged to participate in solving the mystery by answering questions, figuring out codes, and searching pictures for clues while learning important lessons about history, geography, and diversity.”

This series of books I blogged about awhile ago in a post about art history games.  Here’s what I wrote:

This isn’t a ‘game’ per say, but you’ll need a notebook and pen to ferret out the clues to help solve an art mystery.  You as the reader must help the curator determine which paintings are fake and which are real by working through various clues so that a show can be saved.  There are two other books in this series.  Highly recommended by readers as engrossing.

So, you can learn about famous works of art along with working out the solution to ‘whodunit?’

The Mysterious Benedict Society. 210 ratings and comes in at 4 1/2 stars.  Well, let’s say 4 3/4 stars, it’s probably that good!  Touted as a totally captivating read.  The author, Trenton Lee Stewart sprinkles his story with all kinds of knotty situations and problems to puzzle out – the reader might find himself stopping often to take a minute and just think.  That’s good practice!  This is the first book in a series of three books, the latest which was published in October of 2009.  Without a doubt, these are now on my ‘to read aloud yet this year’ list.

This is a board game.  From a reviewer on Amazon:  “My 8-year-old and I love this game. We play cooperatively which makes for a very pleasant, quick game, filled with natural learning for both of us! It is often silly, for example it will give a “sounds like” clue, rather than real mystery solving, but we rate it very highly and play a lot.”

I like interesting tangents that can be reframed and utilized in homeschooling.  This is one of those tangents that certainly could be fun to play with together.  I’m placing this post in the math category because it probably fits best there regarding the type of problem-solving that is required to solve a good mystery!

Girls Rock! And So Can Everybody.

While looking at some more books by Trudy Romanek, I noticed a fantastic theme that can be celebrated in a homeschool environment for both girls AND boys.  We will definitely choose some of these to read.  As a mother to a son, I can help carve his perceptions of women in umpteen ways.  Positive perceptions trickle to the next generation, so I look at it as helping to make my great-great-great granddaughters stronger and more adventurous!

If you are a mom to girls, consider investigating some of these.  They look intriguing and encouraging and fun and ripe with ideas.  If you are a mom of boys, consider investigating some of these.  The foundation we lay now will help all of our children change the world for the better.

It started with this book by Trudy Romanek.  Click on the books for more information!

“Focusing specifically on the fun aspects, this book succeeds at showing how relevant science and technology are in the world in which we live, and tries to entice girls to explore the many possibilities in the field. Beginning at home with the television remote, automatic doors and automatic hand dryers, the author explains the intricate details of how these items actually work and the science involved…..”

Personally, I would like to know how the remote and smoke detectors work, so I would enjoy this book.  I think Max would, too.  The book also profiles several women who have careers in technology.

Girls Who Rocked the World:  Heroines from Sacagawea to Sheryl Swoops by Amelie Welden.  Short biographies of thirty-three women who accomplished something tremendous before the age of twenty.

Girls Who Rocked the World 2:  From Harriet Tubman to Mia Hamm by Michelle Roehm McCann

“This sequel volume features black-and-white photos and drawings to complement the inspiring stories of Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister, ambassador, and U.N. delegate; Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemalan activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Italian physicist Laura Bassi, one of the first women scientists in western history; Lauryn Hill, American singer and winner of multiple Grammy awards who produced her first album at age 17; Alexandra Nechita, internationally acclaimed Romanian artist; and others. The book also contains photos and writings of over 30 contemporary young women from across America who respond to the question, ‘How do you plan to rock the world?’ In conjunction with the book’s publication, these girls will tour their hometowns, inspiring their peers to go for their dreams.”

Girls Think of Everything:  Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

Another by Catherine Thimmesh.  The Sky’s the Limit:  Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls

Women discovered X and Y chromosomes, dark matter in the universe, 15,000 year old cave paintings – highlights some discoveries by 11 and 12-year-old girls, too!

“The six women portrayed in this book–Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908) and Jane Goodall (b.1934–all grew up to become award-winning scientists, writers and artists, as comfortable with a pen as with a magnifying glass. Often they were discouraged from getting dirty, much less pursuing careers in science. But they all became renowned scientists, frequently the only women in their fields. They overcame opposition and found ways to pass on their vision of how all lives in nature are beautifully connected. Their stories remind us to look and to look harder and then to look again. Under rotten logs or in puddles, there are amazing things to see.”

This theme could easily be expanded into a unit study, and a fun one at that.  The message behind all of these books is:  encourage, encourage, encourage!  When you’re done with that, encourage some more!