Saturday, August 31, 2013

Let's Talk: Math

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In the past we had a child who broke down over math because of feeling overwhelmed. We ditched the math curriculum for a few years & "flung" it with what seems to be dubbed "living math". We did not avoid math, but rather we learned in a non-conventional way. We immersed ourselves in games, books, & hands on learning never moving forward until one full concept was grasped. He learned to skip count by playing hopscotch or grouping shells on the beach. He learned to count money, make change, & estimate by playing store on a daily basis, setting up a restaurant in which he had to be both hostess & customer at differing times. 

We became really good with subtraction & addition by ridiculous stories I use to make up about our neighbour, a farmer, & the crazy things he often wanted to provide for his sheep but didn't know how many he needed. Dingos, kolas, roos, & other odd things often graced the stories. Our neighbors sheep were believed to need umbrellas, gumboots, & even woollen sweaters at times according to our insane stories, most of which were solved over bowls of porridge or ice cold smoothies.


Multiplication was introduced before borrowing & carrying. I presented it as "groups of" & we stayed there for weeks & weeks which became months & months. The game Ka-Ching which involved buying & selling stocks was the choice game for this skill, & the hours of fun we had with it too! We sucked many cousins into it's fun, not to mention countless adults. 

Borrowing & Carrying were taught with a dice & a game sheet within a week of each other when I realised that I'd forgotten to teach him these very needed skills! Then we jumped face first into multiplication as, well multiplication instead of "groups of". We mastered our 0, 1, & 10 facts in a day. Moved on to other simple ones like the 5 & 11 family before slowing down for the rest. We brought in a little programme called Times Alive! which incorporated song & story to help us master the final facts.


He earned basic fractions by cooking in the kitchen, & no one has quite forgotten the day he nearly graced our choc chip cookies with 1 Tablespoon of salt instead of 1 teaspoon. Thankfully the mistake was caught before it was mixed in! We discussed doubling recipes & halving them. All of which continued to help his skills grow, but more importantly worked on his self confidence. 

There was no fear of failure outside of the math books. There was no terror of getting it right. We were just playing & talking after all right? This was natural to them, to make mistakes & try again. They weren’t afraid of getting it wrong because it was a game and they’d get another turn, a story where the ending they could guess & see if they were right. Detectives attempting to solve problems & sometimes having to try again.


Math games strewn on our white board were a common occurrence, requested often over lunch or dinner. Favourite games weren’t the ones we’d spent good money on from the shop, but ones we played with a well worn deck of cards: Ten’s Concentration, Place Value Snap, & more. These were such common & well loved games they made many camp trips with us & were confused when people commented on how they were great math games.

My kids aren’t geniuses or pros, they were simply given the right environment to excel & grow confident in their new found skills. Here’s the thing though, while they were growing in confidence & loving every minute of it I was freaking out. Did I miss something? Am I messing them up for life? Can they do it in a math book?


And so from time to time I’d pull out a math sheet or a placement test from one company or another & I’d administer it. The results were always exactly where I expected them to be in each area. It kept me calm, it proved what I all ready knew: What we were doing was working, & well.

There comes a time, though, when things change. For us it was when our eldest was entering the 4th Grade. He knew about all the basic math operations, all though he wasn’t solidly grounded in division yet. He knew place value, perimeter, skip counting, multiplication, & more.  Yet, I wanted to be certain we had no gaps. That he could face a math curriculum & not freak out, that he could take a math test & prove to himself that he could ace it. 


I have the habit of looking my kids square in the face & saying, “You are good enough. You are amazing. You are special. I know, God knows it, & know it’s time for you to know it.” That’s where we were when we decided to enter the typical math curriculum world again.

And we did. It was relatively simple, but not without it’s own hiccups. I administered placement tests & my kids passed, so we tried another level & so on until we found where they needed to be. There were no tears over math, all though lots of sighs due to boredom. The curriculum we’d chosen is good in it’s own way, but the level we had for Morgan was far too simple & easy, & he quickly tired of it.


Slipping into a curriculum that first year felt somewhat freeing for me. I didn’t feel the stress of wondering if I was messing my kids up. Instead I was able to watch what I’d taught them be put to use. Occasionally they’d say, “He’s not teaching it like you did!” They are pretty passionate about that, or at least were.

We moved onto another one that is known for being more rigorous & challenging, which fit that bill but had an excessive amount of lessons per year thus leaving no room to drop many for book free math learning, spending time with the games they loved, or simply taking time off to really immerse oneself in a math topic that they aren’t confident & comfortable with.


It left me in quite a dilemma, I wasn’t sure I wanted to try more math curriculum or that I was doing any favors to my kids by swapping them around so much either. However, I also knew that what we’d tried wasn’t going to be a long term fit for us & I could either do something about that now or allow my kids to continue forward & possibly risk boredom or exhaustion from math again.

So we made our final switch. I say final because when we moved to the curriculum we now use I’ve yet to say, “That’s stupid & completely unacceptable to set children up for failure like that!” or “Why on earth would you waste time teaching it like that!” or other such comments that I’ve been known to speak when it comes to math. 


Here’s the thing, I’m not a math expert. In fact, if you had a long, or short, chat with my mother about my math days when I was homeschooled there’d be some tears & a whole lot of laughter over it. Math wasn’t my strongest subject by a long shot.

Maybe it’s because of that I’ve become snobby & picky about math curriculum. Maybe it’s because of that I’m determined not to present or dawdle in curriculums that ask trick questions or set my children up in some way to fail, even on one measly problem. 


What I do know is that math isn’t that big scary thing I use to freak out about, both in learning or teaching. My kids aren’t on equal fields when it comes to math. Meaning, one is stronger at it then the other, but they can both hold their own & are successful with what they need to do in it. They can apply what they’ve learned to real life situations & they aren’t afraid to talk it out or ask for help. 

Is this a direct result of the curriculum we are using now? No, of course not. Nor is it a direct result of the years I spent freaking out that I was messing my kids up. It all plays a part though, & the best way to get there is to remember: “You are good enough. You are amazing. You are special. I know, God knows it, & know it’s time for you to know it.” 

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