Wednesday, July 22

Algebra woes and glees

I've been hunting for the perfect algebra curriculum. THE curriculum that will inspire in our young scholar a love of algebra that carries him through to adulthood as he conquers the engineering world and supports his parents comfortably for the rest of their lives.

The wrong curriculum could plant seeds of distaste for the harmony of algebra that grows into bitterness and stays with him through adulthood as he conquers the technique of flipping copies at kinkos while his parents eat ramen noodles for the rest of their lives.

You understand the pressure I've been under then.

Seriously, it has cost me sleep.

Currently, the boys are using Singapore math. I love Singapore. We started with Saxon for our oldest and Rod & Staff for the our younger son. Both were great. Easy to teach. Easy to grasp.

Easy to forget.

Basically, they are excellent at teaching how to do things, but (like many math programs) fall short in conveying WHY we do things and how things are interrelated. This is how I learned math. I loved math and I aced it every time. I was excellent at memorizing the formula on Monday and acing the test on Friday. But give me that same test a week later and I would flunk it. But they never did that. Ever onward, teaching me how to pass a test, but never teaching me why.

Singapore teaches the why. There is no memorization of a method that is quickly forgotten and lost, it teaches concepts and how to use them. It stretches their brains and requires them to THINK. It is full of word problems that keep them constantly putting things in different contexts and applying what they've learned along the way.

Singapore 6 involves a good deal of algebra quite smoothly so the student doesn't even realize he's crossed that line.

As our oldest finishes up Singapore 6b, we are narrowing the list and honing in on THE curriculum for us (we hope.)

Here is what I've ruled out with a brief description of each, though I have NOT actually read these books. The descriptions are based on a conglomeration of reviews. I researched my hiney off.

rates an "eh"
Has LOTS of repetition, sets don't fit together meaningfully. Weak. The nail in the coffin for me was a comment left in a review: "....confidence booster for a slow learner." Nothing wrong with slow learners, mind you, but it doesn't sound like this book is going to challenge him into MIT nor me into a nice 'retired living facility' sans Top Ramen.

Teaches the how, not the why
illogical sequence of skill sets

Excellent supplement, sounds like a must-read, but not intended for a full curriculum. Good for refreshing, introducing, or inspiring a teacher tackling algebra with her students. If I go for a weaker math for ease-of-use reasons, I'll add this into our line-up.

Russian Math
Honestly, I just haven't seen very much on this and scratched it off the list for that reason alone. It might be incredible, but I need to move forward with this hunt.

Weak-ish. Does offer a good, balanced review and offers different scenarios for the same skill set taught in each lesson, which is good. Wordy, simple, fun. Good self-study if student has a good vocabulary. I saw it mentioned a few times as being good for those who are somewhat intimidated by math.

Sounds incredible but way out of my price range. Unlimited resources, yes. I think. It's so much money that even if I had unlimited resources, I think I would feel guilty spending this much on a math program.

Teaching Textbooks
Weak. Expensive. We tried a sample a while back and Ethan thought it was too easy.

Straightforward, which is good, but jumps around. The absolute #1 reason it's scratched is that it teaches the how and not the why. It teaches the how really well, but math isn't about memory work, it's about application.

Keys to Algebra
Excellent for teaching algebra, but not a lot of built-in review requiring them to draw from previous math knowledge in real-world situations. It sounds like more of a tutor for helping a student progress through rough patches.

Life of Fred
This might make me sound evil, but I'm suspicious of anything this fun. Every review I read mentions how FUN! (yes, with the apostrophe) this program is. Some "wordly" elements apparently make their way in, though nothing that will leave them utterly shocked. For examples see Maureen's blog. I wish I could tell you more about the content, but very little is mentioned in reviews other than how FUN! it is. The cheerleader-with-pom-poms atmosphere in the reviews makes me want to run, though it might be an absolutely fantastic program that we're missing out on.

Now we're down to the ones that I'm still mulling over:

Sounds strong in formal 2-column proofs, something lacking in every single curriculum shared above. It is a rigorous program that conveys ideas well. DVD's are available if desired. There is no geometry program in the Foerster's line-up, so another author would need to be found for that year's work.

Dolciani's Algebra Structure & Method
1985 or earlier....that's the downside. I can find the books for less than a dollar, but the teacher's editions are harder to hunt down. These rate rather evenly with Foerster's, though I'm not certain on it's strength in proofs.

I've seen it mentioned as having even more depth than Singapore, which intrigues me because it seems impossible. My fear is that it will be drier than dirt. It is a free program though, so I can get a good feel for it without costing more than printer ink.

Allen's Modern Algebra
The Creme de la Creme of algebra. I sigh with puppy love over Allen's. Strong in proofs, strong in explanation, application, and understanding. Unfortunately, it was published in 1967 and is nigh impossible to find. And if I did find it, it would take a miracle to find a solutions manual. I have confidence in my son's math abilities, but not so much my own. The amazing Myrtle has shared some samples.

Why not just go with what we've used and know to work? It is rigorous and that is good, but a small part of me fears it could get overwhelming. I've read that it ups it a notch. This is probably a good thing, but I am already having a hard time keeping up with his 6th grade math. I need to get over this fear. The other reason is that while it teaches the concepts very well, it does not teach the concept names in a traditional way. The students learn all they need to know, but as natural concepts, not as mathematical terms. When he hits college, the professor's instructions will sound completely foreign to him and he will have to relearn what he already knows under a different name. He will need to know the terms somehow. Perhaps using Gelfand's book for a semester would do the trick. Or this one, though the description alone scares me.

Singapore offers 3 curriculum choices:
Very rigorous, has proofs, has solutions manual with entire solutions worked out for you - not just answers. Big plus.
no solutions manual, not quite as rigorous, but very comparable. I'd go with this if there were a solutions manual, but no.
Discovering Mathematics
Least rigorous of the three, but still rigorous. Fully worked solutions manual.

I still have about a month before I have to narrow this list down to one. I need to take a deep breath and slow down before I resort to playing eenie-meenie-miney-moe with my son's mathematical future.

I would LOVE to hear any thoughts, especially differing opinions if I've misrepresented anything here!


Patamomma said...

Jen, I can see this is a big decision. It is the kind of decision that would keep me up at night also. When it comes down to it though, keep in mind that you have been extremely lucky to have stayed home and taught your children. It must be very gratifying and aggravating all at the same time. If I was to come at it from a Christian prospective, I would say give it to God and keep searching you will choose the right one.

Nezzy said...

You poor girl, you have lost sleep over this, haven't you? I say this while "MY DEAR AUNT MARY" trickles through my brain. Good luck, sounds like your on the right trail.

Jenni said...

Yeah! I can read your blog again! This is the first time more than the background has shown up in a long while. And it's a post about algebra. Yippee. My fave.

I am interested in what you find, though, even if I'm no longer homeschooling and math is so not my favorite. I would have killed for a curriculum that taught the why when I was homeschooling--and also when I was in high school and struggling with algebra. We did use Saxon Algebra 1/2 and Algebra 1, and I liked that because I could at least understand how to do things and help the kids using those texts. I kind of figured the why was impossible to understand, and I was just happy to get enough to get us through.

I'd still love to know why. I'm like a four-year-old that way. I bought two books this year to try and figure out why and help inspire my youngest son to try harder in algebra. The first, The Philosophy and Fun of Algebra, was a total waste of time and money. I don't care who the woman who wrote it was, she was bonkers. The second, Mathematics: Is God Silent? has bored me to tears so far, with no hope in sight of finding the answers, and I haven't had the discipline to finish it.

What would be really great, too, is a curriculum for those of us for whom math is not the native language. The person who helped me the most with math in high school was a substitute teacher who had once taught English. It makes such a difference when the teacher speaks the same language as the student. As brilliant and nice as my math teacher was, he never understood that writing and rewriting formulas and problems on the board just didn't communicate to me what he was trying to teach. He may as well have been writing in Cyrillic script, and even then I think I might have been able to decipher it sooner.

Jenni said...

P.S. Guest post!

Lawanda said...

I was looking into Jacobs, but honestly cannot afford any of it. I loved LOVED the Key To Algebra.

But I feel that it was not enough for them to proceed to Geometry yet. So we pretended it was pre-algebra and are now going to use my old algebra book from 7th grade.

Aren't we special? :-p I think it is Houghton Mifflin?

Not the greatest, but it will work in a pinch ;)

fangmommy said...

Hi Jenn, I am new to reading your blog and really love it.
I use Math Mammoth as our Math curriculum for 1st grade. I noticed on their website they have a series called "Make It Real Learning". We are not using these yet, but they look pretty good for real life examples. They are very reasonably priced and even offer a sample download. Here is part of the description: "The workbooks contain activities or problem situations taken from real-life, with real data. Some examples of the situations are: cell phone plans, autism, population growth, cooking, borrowing money, credit cards, life spans, music downloads, etc. etc. As students work through the problems, they can use the math skills and concepts they have learned in their math curriculum (such as the concept of average or graphing), and apply those to a situation from real-life."
Hope you find something good.

Jenn said...

Patamomma, thank you! Most sincerely, THANK YOU. I have prayed for our homeschool journey this year in many different areas, but it never occurred to me to ask God which math curriculum I should buy. Duh! Who would know better?

Mom, I have no idea who Aunt Mary is, but I have a feeling there's a song in there somewhere.

Jenni, I totally agree. The Gelfand really may be what you're looking for...but I've never actually seen the book, just read about it. I'm wanting something strong in proofs for the very reasons you mentioned. I want them to be able to break it down and say what and why using vocabulary, not just symbols and formulas....something I was never very good at.

Jenn said...

Ooh! Lawanda, look closer - that Houghton Mifflin is quite possibly a Dolciani! Oh, if it is, you've got to tell me what you think of it. How did you get hold of your book?

fangmommy, I forgot to mention math mammoth! Thank you! It is another great company, very similar to Singapore. VERY. Plus, it has the added benefit of being able to reprint for each child. The answer key frequently had errors, but was worth it. Malia Russell does an excellent job. Last I looked, they didn't go into higher level maths, but I'll check again. Perhaps she's written more.

Shanna said...


Can I just say...I'm SO glad you're going before me!..I know, that's not helpful at all.

BTW, in your last comment about Math Mammoth you mentioned Malia Russell...did you mean Maria Miller (creator of Math Mammoth)? I only ask because I was curious how you knew the name of Malia Russell...she's a homeschool mom running a web-based business in my neck of the woods. (Her business if Homemaking 911.) Anyway she used to be very active in our homeschool group before her business took off and thought it was interesting that you knew of her.

Jenn said...

Oops! Yes, I meant Maria Miller - not sure where that came from. I probably read a homemaking911 email before posting a comment here and had Malia's name in my head. That's weird. Thanks for catching that, Shanna!

No, I don't know Malia personally, but I've listened to some podcasts and bought vitamins and ebooks from her before. Awesome that you know her!

Kristenph said...

Now you're really opening up all my confusion again :)

First question, you're going straight to Algebra I from Singapore 6B? I got the impression from WTM boards that popular opinion was you could but probably shouldn't do that. (At least not in 6th grade which is my son's age.)

A lot of your thoughts on the various programs are similar to mine. Except I didn't know that Jacobs wasn't rigorous enough. I was seriously considering that one. Big sigh.

Jenn said...

Kristen, you very may well be right. This is why I was hoping for corrections. If any were to turn out to be better than I originally thought, Jacobs would be the one I was rooting for the loudest.

From what I've gathered, NEM 7 is the equivalent of most beginner Algebra courses. 7th grade is definitely the age students in our local public school begin pre-algebra and 8th grade is their Algebra year. Singapore 6 surpasses what our local public school covers in pre-al, so it sounds right to me.

I need to spend some more time on the High School board. I've been afraid to look at it because I wasn't ready to admit my baby is close to being in that age bracket.

Kristenph said...

Well, I did a little more digging. Maria Miller actually recommends Foerster. She doesn't exactly say that Jacob's is easy but points out that he recommends Foerster after his books.

I may go that direction. My son is just a rising 6th grader and I am waiting until 7th to do Algebra 1. He still needs to finish 6B. I also got Lials BCM but it really looks easy. (I only paid about $5 for a used copy so no big deal) My problem with my son is that he understands everything just fine but HATES to write anything down. He tries to do everything in his head. If he were a genius and could do it, it would be one thing...But it is almost comical how much EXTRA time he spends doing things in his head because he thinks it's too hard to write down.

p.s. I don't want to visit the high school board either:)

Jenn said...

Yes! I have two that are allergic to showing their work. And when Ethan does show his work, he tries to conserve as much space as possible, cramming everything in and then drawing lines around his answers so I can distinguish them from the rest of the mess.

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