When we began our journey into homeschooling (doesn't that sound cool...our "Journey into Homeschooling? No? Well, whatever, I thought it sounded pretty cool...) anyway, when we first started homeschooling last year I had two twelve year old students.
And now that we've completed our first year, I still do. Have two twelve year old students, I mean.
Last year I had one boy who had always done quite well in math and another who was as lost as a fart in a hurricane.
Excuse my crude expression, please, I have just spent 180 days mostly in the company of twelve year old boys, as I've already explained.
The point I'm trying to make is that after preliminary testing, we decided to put one twin in 7th grade math and the other in 6th grade math. It was a big decision. One that caused much agonizing and hand-wringing for me. As their mom, I certainly didn't want one of my babies to feel that he was any less competent than his brother.
Except, you know, that he WAS less competent in math. Big deal. His brother was less competent in handwriting and creative writing. And just about anything involving writing.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses, right? Embrace the differences, I say. So we stuck the twins in different math levels.
Which means that we purchased not one but TWO extremely pricey Teaching Textbooks sets of cds and workbooks last year. With the reasoning that the slower math student could move into the higher math later and we could then sell the 6th grade math. (Which we did.)
I LOVED Teaching Textbooks for many, many reasons! First, and most importantly, was that it made math less tedious than sitting at a table or desk looking at a boring old math textbook. This math was on the computer. The teacher taught engaging lessons and he applied the lessons to actual real-world situations. There was plenty of practice because after each lecture there were about 20 problems to solve. My slower math twin...he wasn't worried about failing any more. He gained confidence in himself and his ability to figure things out! Because he could go back and redo the lecture again and again if needed. My boys both finished up math about 6 weeks ago. They never complained about having to sit down and do a math lesson. (OK, so maybe that's not entirely true, but they rarely complained and that's good enough for me!)
So there we were with 6 more weeks of our school year left and no more math to do. I happen to be of the belief that just not "doing" any math for 6 weeks plus all summer = forget most of it by August. At least in my house it does. So I pulled out the old Middle School Maths textbook. I printed worksheets off the 'net. I made up problems and had them work from the board. Anything to keep it fresh in their minds. And that's when I discovered...
A gaping HOLE in their math ability.
Now, maybe this isn't a problem for every kid that uses a computer-based program. Maybe I did something wrong. Maye I should have made them practice more without the workbook (which is HUGE, by the way) or pulled out other books or problems more often through the year. But I didn't. And what I noticed is this:
As long as the problems are on the computer screen, they're fine. But hand them a traditional math book and ask them to do page 357...they're stumped! Put twenty fractions on the board and ask them to add, subtract, multiply and divide? Whaaaaa??
"Did we learn how to do THAT??"
Now this is important. Because although there are computer screens all over town these days (Apple iTouch, Kroger self-checkout, Wal-Mart's price check, cell phones, GPS, etc., etc., etc.) the trouble is that there will be days when the boys need to be able to add without looking at the MacBook.
So. Before investing a whopping $184.99 in Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra program, I had to think long and hard.
And I thought not.
Because first of all, it doesn't grade the math for you like the 6th and 7th grade programs did. For that kind of money I don't want to have to check all the problems every single day for two kids.
I've decided that we will still be using the TT 7th grade program, but that it will be mainly for extra practice. After much research and discussions, we will be using Life of Fred!! (And some workbooks I've ordered with about 400 million pages of problems.)
The Fred books are different. They don't look like traditional textbooks. A good thing since one of my boys still tends to be a bit intimidated by the old-school kind of approach. These books approach math in a completely different way. And I have to say..."So far, so good!" Five weeks into Fred and guess what? They can complete the Fred lessons AND they can sit down and think through a real math problem. Also, they can copy fractions off the board and work them out like pros. We've bought the Fractions book and the Decimals/Percents book to work on this summer (at $19 a pop, no shipping charges straight from publisher) and we have the Pre-Algebra with Biology book that we'll begin as soon as August rolls around.
I still have a place in my heart for Teaching Textbooks. I give big credit to the publisher for making math less dreary and more friendly for my boys. It just wasn't enough for them. If you have children who soak up knowledge like sponges, maybe. I have two of those myself, just NOT the ones I'm teaching. The older two would have been fine with just TT and nothing else. My twins needed a little more. That's why I think we'll use a combo approach next year....with Fred, TT and other stuff. I'm pretty confident we're on the right track with Fred, though. If you've never heard of it, go check it out!