Written by Sandy Polen, Veteran Homeschooling Dad
Part 2 in Learning Styles Series
No matter the grade, there is always time to adjust to your students’ learning methods.
In my first Blog article, I discussed the need to determine what learning style both you and your students use to process course information. Now I’m going to move into a series of articles about how you might apply the knowledge of how your students learn to best teach them a variety of subjects.
As you can see by the title of this Blog article, I’m going to cover Mathematics first. “Why?” you might ask, cringing in fear. “Simple,” I answer, “because most people, including adults, tremble at the mere mention of the subject.” And why is this? Because most of us were taught by the method most adaptable to the classroom, which may not have been the way in which you learn.
Take me for example. I went through public school in the late ’50s and ’60s where I learned the standard repetitious addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables through the standard memorization methodology of the time, and I just didn’t get it. Yes, I progressed through the system getting mediocre grades until 9th grade when something suddenly clicked. So what happened? I had a teacher who taught mathematics using both auditory and detailed visual methods. As a visual learner, I sucked that stuff up. My college degree – Mathematics. So no matter the grade, there is always time to adjust to your students’ learning methods.
The key to learning Mathematics is repetition.
The key to learning Mathematics is repetition. Regardless as to whether your student is an auditory, visual or tactile learner, they will benefit from a math program that reviews previously-learned activities in subsequent lessons.
So, how do you choose? From our experience, we found the best way to choose a textbook is to get the physical book in your hand and review it. If at all possible, go to the largest homeschool book fair in your state and look at as many math textbooks as possible. Most importantly, take your students. They are the ones who need to have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the way the book explains things. Let them read it. Once both of you have read all the math books, discuss them as to pros and cons and then make the decision.
The May before kindergarten, we all went to Harrisburg, PA, to the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania’s (CHAP) book fair. We chose an 18-month kindergarten/first grade course from a new company called Math-U-See. It had a pre-test to determine what you needed to cover in the course based on your child’s knowledge. Basically whatever your child already knew you could review or skip entirely.
Math-U-See also sold several forms of manipulatives and Stephen took to the course right away. This was evident the next day when we were purchasing the book and he was off explaining how the manipulatives worked to a potential customer of the company. (Where was the robot going “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!”?) At that time Math-U-See was in its infancy and only had the one book. So 90 days later when he completed the book, we had to move to a new curriculum. Today they cover everything from the basics to Calculus.
After Stephen blew through 3-years of Miquon Math by the end of 1st grade, we knew we needed a more challenging math course, yet one that taught by repetition and used examples and manipulatives when necessary. In comes Saxon Math.
Regardless of how hard or easy math was for you back in secondary school, you now have a new foundation from which to build and teach your student.
Now that you have finished the “easy stuff” in elementary school it’s time to move on to the “hard stuff” in middle and high schools. Wait a second. Why is this the “hard stuff”? You’ve already laid the required foundations for learning math in elementary school. You’ve already determined what curriculum works best for your student. So why does this have to be the “hard stuff”?
“But it was hard for me when I took it in school!” That very well may be true, but the question is, “Is it hard for you now?” Remember in the last paragraph when I said “You’ve already laid the required foundations for learning math in elementary school.”? Well, guess what, not only did you lay those foundations for your student, but you laid those foundations for yourself as well.
You see, if you have been teaching the math courses correctly, you have been participating in the readings and working the problems and checking the work and learning the material just like your student. Regardless of how hard or easy math was for you back in secondary school, you now have a new foundation from which to build and teach your student.
You’ve Already Been Doing Algebra in the Early Grades
“But Algebra is scary!” No it isn’t, in fact you have already been doing algebra in the early grades, you just don’t realize it. Let’s take the example:
Mary has three apples. She buys two more apples. How many apples does Mary have?
Visually this looks like:
In its elementary form it looks like: 3 Apples + 2 Apples = 5 Apples
In very basic algebra you might write the formula as: 3A + 2A = 5A
In the last example you’ve substituted numbers and letters for pictures or numbers and words. Just like you are adding apples, you can add A’s, X’s and Y’s:
It really isn’t that hard. Solving equations for X and Y also use the basic math skills you learned in elementary school. You are just applying them differently.
Let’s try: 3X + 2X = 10. Find X.
Well as we saw we can add X’s and get: 5X = 10
Funny thing about math is that as long as you do to one side of the equation what you do to the other side of the equation, you don’t hurt anything, so:
Gives us: X = 2. Now that wasn’t so hard was it?
What to Look For When Selecting Your Math Curriculum
So why was the previous example easy? Well, okay, it was a very basic problem, but it was explained as I worked through it. It built on previously learned math. It showed you the step-by-step method to solve the equation. That is what you need to look for in textbooks for higher-end math courses such as Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Advanced Math and Calculus. That is why we chose Saxon Math. It teaches the fundamentals; it reviews what it taught; it gives examples which are worked and explained; and the exercises review what was previously learned. Even the first chapters of the next year’s books review from the previous year’s work so your student doesn’t have to go back and read what he forgot over the summer (and yes, they do forget).
In conclusion, when picking a Math curriculum you should look for one that is easy to read, provides well-explained examples and provides review of previously-learned materials as you progress through the lessons. You should also make sure the curriculum has an accompanying solutions manual. Most importantly, you and your student should pick it up and look at it before you buy it.
Math-Related Manipulatives and Saxon Math Books in Our Catalog
Below are items that we currently have in our catalog that are related to the subjects discussed in this article. If you have math manipulatives and Saxon Math (or any other math materials) that you’d like to sell, please consider consigning with us.
Math-Related Products: Manipulatives and Saxon Math
"Algebra is not difficult. Algebra is just different." — John Saxon
"Introduce children ages 5-14 to Cuisenaire® Rods and create a life-long love of math and learning" — Back of Box
"If you take five squares of the same size and join them in every possible way, you get 12 different shapes. These shapes are called 'Pentominoes' and they form the basis of an enormous range of interesting puzzles and investigations." — Inside Front Cover
"Using the classic tangram puzzle, students explore geometric concepts and relationships in Tangramables™!" — Back Cover