Math Remix

So, I posted a couple of weeks ago about how math was not working well. We had switched to MEP which I really do like conceptually, but which was bogging us down unbearably. There were too many things to do too quickly, there were some areas we had missed or not spent enough time on to do quickly, more writing than Deux was willing to do, and even doing it on the computer didn’t help much.  Duchess was having many, uhh, dramatic moments. Math had become the most miserable time of day, and since we did it first, it set the tone for the rest of the day. And we were getting nowhere near doing work independently.

Well, I considered several options:

  • Moving backward, to Year 3, which would be *really* easy for them, and expecting them to work alone.
  • Moving forward, to Year 5 (I actually haven’t ruled this out entirely), where the work looks (at short glance) a little more focused on interesting concepts and less on long, tedious calculations to ensure mastery of place value. (Which seems to be dominating Year 4).
  • Scratching MEP altogether and finding something else they could do independently.
  • Muddling through and telling them that this was what math was like, so just deal with it.

None of these seemed quite the thing. I realized that the strength of our math time was the time we spent working through complex and interesting problems together. There were some of these in the materials, but they were usually overshadowed by tedious calculations, or rushing on to the next thing. I also realized that they had not had enough experience with book math to know how to do multi-digit calculations efficiently, and that we needed to master those before going too much farther. . . but that they wouldn’t need a year of repetition to be sure they had grasped those, as math books tend to be written for.

What I finally settled on was sticking with where and what we were doing, but doing it our way. We stopped using the worksheets almost entirely, unless there was one that really caught my eye.  Instead of trying to rush through seven or eight activities, which is how the lesson plans were laid out, I selected one or two that had the potential to be thought-provoking. Or I looked at the area to be covered and used an activity I had seen elsewhere. I’m paying attention to the goals for the year and I will feel free to skip areas I know they have down and spend more time on the others.

To work on the basic calculation skills, I assigned them one long-hand problem to do each day. Just one. But they had to do it all themselves and get it right. I have walked them through these until they got the transition from the mental math they were good at to how it was represented on paper with problems too complex to keep straight in the head.

I also decided we needed to spend some extra time getting math facts automatic, but there was no reason this had to be painful. Right now they are loving DigitWhiz. I love that it’s free and that it uses multiple approaches to reinforce understanding in addition to memorization. Deux especially has trouble with timed things, but so far he is doing OK with Digitwhiz’s approach. (Although I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to pass the “mastery” sections–he thinks deeply about math, not quickly.)

The effect after just a couple of weeks? Math is now the *favorite* subject. We are having the fun we used to have with math when they were preschoolers and it was all about divvying out the snacks. On the day that multi-digit multiplication clicked, they were covering the board with difficult problems long after school was over. Deux is now writing out three by three digit multiplications without complaint, where at the beginning of the year he still struggled to remember which way a 2 went. Sometimes we do fun (or just silly) problems during supper with Papa. Duchess came up with a lovely model of multiples by drawing a street with even numbers on one side and odd on the other, then envisioning which houses each number would stop at.

So our new plan works like this:

1) Do one multi-digit basic calculation long hand. (We started with one of each during the week, but addition proved so easy we dropped it and now they are doing one extra of where they think they need work.) When they all are getting too easy, we’ll add fractions and decimals, negative numbers, or order-of-operations challenges to the mix.

2) Explore an interesting math topic. We have drawn factor trees that really looked like trees. (Duchess is so much happier with math that involves art. Or bunnies.) We have played Stake Your Claim. We have calculated the area of the different rooms of the house and figured out how to deal with odd shapes, even triangles. We have worked out complicated word problems from the MEP lessons together, and taken the time to talk it through for full understanding. I look through the MEP plans and choose the activities that are the right challenge level and cover the relevant material without bogging us down on stuff they know.

3) Play on the computer to practice facts.

All told, it’s about half an hour and we are having fun again and they are *getting* it again instead of freezing up. The moral of the story is . . . sometimes you can take curriculum that isn’t working and turn it into something that is. Sometimes less is more. And sometimes the learning is worth the time spent working together instead of rushing to independence.


2 thoughts on “Math Remix

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Homeschooling – Fall is in the Air! | momSCHOOL

  2. Sometimes less is more. And sometimes the learning is worth the time spent working together instead of rushing to independence.
    So true! It’s encouraging to hear how a relatively simple change can turn a bad situation around. You’ve found a nice balance between practice and conceptual challenge.

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