Friday, October 24, 2014

What To Do When Your Math Curriculum Is Not Working? - A Math Curriculum Review

The easy answer is: you try something new!

Today I want to share with you a Math Curriculum that is working for us at the moment. We have used it on and off for the last year and a half with success. So in June, we decided to fully commit to it and adopted Mathematical Reasoning as our Core Curriculum for my 4th and 6th graders.

Before I tell you the pros and cons, it's important to realize that we are an unique family. What might work for our family, might not be a perfect fit for your family. Then again, what I share here today may be just what you needed to hear to have the courage to implement some changes and see your children finally enjoying math.

If you are new here you might want to read some of my Learning Log posts to see how eclectic our home education is. 

My Learning Log posts are shared once a month and contains a list of sort of the resources we use in our home education. I list the books that all my children are reading or listening to. I list the curricula we are using, if we are using one at all and for what subject. I list the websites we use as math, science or history. I list the books I am reading. The resources I found that are new to me and the kids. The unexpected websites the children are using to learn music or computer coding. The activities we are participating in.

My Learning Logs could be a great resource for your family. 

Consider subscribing to my blog to be notified when I post my Learning Logs. (I really got the idea for it, a few years back, from Christina Pilkington. Check her blog out!)

As you can see we, as a family, peruse the internet a lot. We have 4 computers, 3 tablets and 2 Kindles. My DH (dear husband) is a self taught computer geek – our own personal IT. :) We are not very traditional in our school at all. 

I would say that the most consistent and traditional part of our homeschooling is our math curriculum.

I love FREE resources (one reason we use the internet a lot) and have a hard time actually buying curricula. Don't get me wrong. I love curricula. I just don't have enough money to spend on all the curricula I would like to try. I have a hard time committing fully to only one curriculum when there's so much good stuff out there. (I love to change things around. A lot.) So I usually research a lot, and sit on my decision for months, sometimes years before making the jump.

I received my first Mathematical Reasoning book, level D, grade 3, for free from a friend. She had bought it for her son as a supplemental resource and really never used because he was doing well on Singapore Math Curriculum and really didn't need any extra work.

Mathematical Reasoning book, level E, grade 4, was given to me by CriticalThinking Co. as a complimentary copy in exchange for this review.

Mathematical Reasoning book, level F, grade 5, I purchased on Amazon for a discounted price. I think I saved $5.00. Yes, I like to save as much as I can. :)

Below you will find a list of reasons why I actually spend money on this math curriculum and it's making all the difference in our home education.

Here is my list of pros:

1) The books are full of illustrations and color. 

They might even remind you of one of those supplemental books used by public school students that are sold at Walmart. (I have nothing against these either. They are a great resource and have used them with my kids before. I believe you can use anything to teach your kids).  However, Mathematical Reasoning books are more elaborate and for the visual learner they are paradise!

We tried Saxon Math at one time and the gray pages were a complete put off. I know that the newest editions might have a bit more color. But usually it's one extra color besides the black and white. This is ideal for the logical learner who is no nonsense and wants to stick to the point of the subject of math. 

But for the visual learner, colors all over your page is a boost to his energy and thinking processes. For this, Mathematical Reasoning was a win win for my creative visual learner children.

2) The problems presented in the book are very close to real life situations.

Diners, yard sales, football games, cookie and pizza sharing are all situations that will cause you to use math. Because many of the word problems are presented in this format, my children can see quickly how math can be useful in their daily life. An extra bonus is that those word problems are illustrated with colorful charts and pictures.

3) Puzzles and games throughout the book.

My DD11 had a collection of Mathmania books that she would work on in her free time. As an unschooler wanna be and an eclectic MOm, I know there's no such thing as free time. 

Every experience is a learning opportunity.

The time she spent playing games, calculating prices, figuring out puzzles and challenges she was practicing her addition, subtraction, multiplication, division skills and so much more.

Mathematical Reasoning books are filled with challenges, puzzles, games, crosswords (using numbers) that entice and challenge my children to do one more page. Some of those games are Balance Benders style pages (like the one pictured above) which are basically algebra concepts being taught in a fun way.

4) Mathematical Reasoning teaches critical thinking.

Another huge bonus of this curriculum, is that it teaches critical thinking instead of just exercising the kids in math drills. For me, more important than memorizing mathematical definitions or facts is knowing how to use them. Many times we know how to do something but we have no idea there's a name for it. (think cooking skills, gardening etc) That is much more valuable than knowing definitions and theories but having no practical skills.

"These highly effective activities take students far beyond drill-and-practice by using step-by-step, discussion-based problem-solving to develop a conceptual bridge between computation and the reasoning required for upper-level math." from the Publisher's website.

I want my kids engaged using the skills they learned not busy wearing themselves out doing math drills. My Dad said it rightly, "If he knows how to solve this problem, after 4 or 5 he's done. There's no need for him to do 30 of them."

I have used repetition before, as punishment, with a child that was making mistakes due to inattentiveness. The goal was for him to practice focusing and paying attention at what he is doing. But once he proved to me he was focused, we moved on. We don't fill out pages just to say we finished the book.

5. The material is presented in a Spiral concept.

I have used another Math Curriculum that I loved but unfortunately it did not have the spiral concept. 

What is the spiral concept? Nothing more than presenting the same topic over and over again so that the student will not forget it.

Now because Mathematical Reasoning is full of games and challenging puzzles, this way of doing math is not boring. My children are not doing another fraction drill, they are solving a pizza sharing situation or comparing who has eaten the most pizza slices if the pizzas were cut into a different number of slices.

Because the topics are spread throughout the book instead of divided into units or chapters, my kids are even allowed to skip that topic completely (Gasp!) if I know they have mastered it.

6) Affordable price and compact material.

Each book is about $40.00

That is not bad for a curriculum you will use for a whole year!

Everything you need to do math is in one huge book (about 300-400 pages). No extra workbooks, quizzes, textbook, manuals or answer keys.The answers are at the end of the book.

Of course, no math curriculum is perfect! (Although Mathematical Reasoning is close!) 

Here are the cons I found with this curriculum:

1) The Binding is not strong enough!

What? Am I complaining about the binding? Yes!

Mathematical Reasoning books are THICK. The level D book, grade 3, has almost 400 pages. My then 8 year old son was not gentle with this book. He dragged it around the house. He worked on it on the floor, the desk, on his bed... and the covers fell off.

I like the thickness of the book. I had rather have a big thick math book, than a book split into many unit books. But the binding design needs to be revisited. Maybe a spiral binding would work. I don't know. I know that the one they have now, it's not working.

My DD11 has been using her book for the last 3 months, has completed 1/2 of the book and it's already showing signs of wear.

2) There's no Teacher's Guide or lengthy explanations.

Before I explain this con, I need to say that this was really NOT a con for ME, but I see how it could be for another parent.

I hate Teacher's Guides or any manuals that give a parent a script to read when teaching her child, or a manual of how to or what to do next. I never buy them. I never use them. I know I may sound weird but I had rather have the freedom to choose what's the best way to learn than to use a script. A manual robs me of the joy of teaching and learning.

All that to say that the explanations in the books are minimal. More like examples to follow than an elaborated explanation of the concept being introduced.

Most of the time, they were enough for my children. When they couldn't grasp the concept I used other resources. But I have done that with other curricula so I don't think it's a flaw of Mathematical Reasoning. I think it's a flaw with the parent or child.

Some parents may find Mathematical Reasoning a challenge if they don't like math, don't understand it or are afraid of it. This curriculum is very parents' hands-on. You might have to help your child work out some of the puzzles or challenges. You may find yourself explaining how to factor a number or reduce a fraction.

If you skipped why our family is unique at the beginning of the post, you might want to read it now to understand why Mathematical Reasoning worked and is working for us.

3) There's no HOW TO to solve puzzles and challenges.

Sometimes I found myself cornered by not being able to solve a problem. The book does provide answers but not HOW TO solutions.

Because I enjoyed the challenge, we kept working on a a puzzle for a couple of days until we found the solution. That just helped fixate the knowledge or concept being taught.

Again if the parent has low mathematical thinking skills or interest, this book might be a challenge for her.

4) There's no Mental Practice allotted in the book.

Unlike Singapore Math and Saxon, Mathematical Reasoning does not include mental math in their books. BUT that doesn't mean you, as parent, can't turn some of their exercises into a mental math practice.

Just like we did with Singapore Math, sometimes I turned word problems or exercises into oral drills or quizzes.

And here I come to the end of this review. I hope this post was useful to you.

Overall, I really like Mathematical Reasoning curriculum because it is very flexible, colorful and engaging.

My DD11 and I have finally stopped fighting over math. She's finally realized she can do math. This is a great and important step for a child to engage into doing a skill. If the child keeps failing, it's difficult to find the motivation to continue.

My DS9 can do his math as quickly as he likes. I actually let him pick 4 pages to do a day. Some days he picks more, some days I sit with him and choose the pages for him.

At the time of this post, both children are half way through their books. DD11 is working on level F (5th grade) and DS9 is working on level E (4th grade). We will probably be heading to 6th grade level math together in 4 months.

I hope you try it out if you are looking for a curriculum for your visual and creative child. Or for your math aficionado that loves to play games and puzzles in his free time.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comment section. I will be glad to answer any questions.


I received one complementary Mathematical Reasoning book in exchange for my review. This blog is my own personal opinion.

1 comment:

Mary Prather said...

Never heard of this curriculum before -- I'll have to take a look! :-)