01 July 2008

Assorted Thoughts on Teaching Math.

Why is it that a big argument against homeschooling in the high school years is that moms and dads are not "qualified" to teach subjects like calculus and trigonometry? I'm not (for the moment!) going to disagree because personally, I have the math skills of one of those mythical and nonexistent "backward" nomadic tribes. They count "1, 2, 3, a lot, a really lot" and the biggest number you can get is "a really lot." I'm trying to think back, but I could swear we heard some tale about them in our very-useful sociology classes in college. Can you imagine the affirmative action programs to get folks who count like that into college? Hm? Would you want them doing your taxes?

Well, suffice to say my math skills are really, really deplorable. I'm admitting that up front. Right now. In print. Now that I've done that, I have something else to tell you: I was educated in the public school system! AACK! So *that's* where I got these awful math skills that make me "unqualified" to teach my own children!!

Does no one else see the logic jump that had to happen there somewhere on the part of these education experts who want math left to the professionals?

Now, I'm fully admitting they can do the math better! I'm just saying that I wasn't taught any of this stuff in any way that helped me grasp these concepts, let alone remember them 20 years later when it's time to teach my kids advanced math. It would be nice, actually, if the local high schools started a "Math for Moms" program and allowed parents to re-learn (or in my case, LEARN) how to do math that isn't just multiplying, adding, subtracting and dividing. Because that's *all* I know how to do. Once you get into drawing a math picture, graphing things on the pretty square paper or coordinating equations with your summer wardrobe, I'm lost.


Emperor has strange math skills. He's six, and people who are six must just kinda be quirky. I was explaining decimals the other day and how you could convert a decimal to a percentage by using the first two numbers after the dot thing. And to get a percentage on your tests, I take the number you got right and divide it into the total number on the calculator, like this:

24 (divided by) 25 = .96

So that's 96 percent. And then I write a 96 in your book.

Emperor jumps up. "I know what I'm going to do to buy a Bionicle!" he tells me.


"Well, I'm going to count alll my money and then I'm going to divide it by $10.63 because I need $10.63 for the Bionicle with the tax! Then, I will take the first two numbers and I will have a percentage of how much money I have so far!"

Blank look from Mom.

"It would be my percent!"


Does that make sense to you? It took me a while. No way the kid should have gotten that concept so easily. Wow. I was in awe. But later that day, he got stuck on a math problem. 4 plus 7. 4 plus 7. 4 plus 7. And he could not for the life of him get it, and we even tried COUNTING and he wouldn't understand. Finally I just put the math away, discouraged.

I don't get it. I tell you I work SO hard to help these boys, and here Emperor can't add four and seven. In that moment, he genuinely could not understand what "four plus seven" even MEANT. Hm. Then the following day, he did all that math and didn't have any trouble!


I've blogged before about how silly the Everyday Mathematics curriculum is in its teaching method. I use it because D wants the boys to be able to do the exact same thing as the kids in the public school if possible. So I am honouring his request in being sure the children are able to do the same math according to the "scope and sequence" in the teachers' manual. Of course, the teachers' manual reveals a nasty secret that is not even *whispered* to public school parents: All those homework sheets that you thought were way above your kid's level? They are. On purpose.

Here's how they work it: If you expose a child to quantum physics or whatever skill when he's in first grade, then... you can log that down as a "beginning" skill. Star on the chart right there. Yay! Does the kid know two facts about quantum physics? Wow! Now he has a "developing" skill in that area.

The tough part is getting from having a "developing" skill in an area to being "secure" in that area, which would mean having a good working knowledge of all the key concepts needed to do that type of problem. See, Everyday Mathematics doesn't know the alphabet (ya know, A, B, C, D?). They grade by "beginning, developing, and secure" in a given area such as multidigit multiplication. And so far as I can see, not achieving a "secure" in an area that SHOULD be "secure" for that grade level doesn't seem to be a reason to hold the kid back or do anything remedial. At least not according to the teachers' manual. But the special "Assessment Book" includes xeroxable "fill-in" report card sheets the children can make themselves to take home, telling Mom and Dad how they feeeeel about their math this term, with space for the student to draw a picture. LOL!

So, I skip bothering to try to teach it the public school way and use only the worksheets, which are actually pretty good!! I teach math as I understand it, and we use Horizons presently to get another perspective/balance. I keep looking at Singapore math, but it's just so overwhelming to look at. I am not sure I'm up to teaching it properly. I kinda want to order their stuff (shhh) for fourth grade, but I'm afraid to. We are presently almost halfway done with Everyday Mathematics, third grade, and about 1/3 done in the Horizons. We do EVERY worksheet in Horizons and almost every one in EM. Some of their methods are hokey, like making lattices for multiplication, so we skip those sheets. No point confusing stuff.



  1. So iused saxon when I was homeschooled and so I used it with my kids. Then I realized that Lioness just wasn't getting it.
    I switched to math-u-see for her and it is so wonderful. It teaches one concept a year for the first 4 years. Like addition and then subtraction, etc. but without them knowing they also learn perimeter, area and other things as they go along. so after the first 4 year they are ready for the big guns.

    it also comes with a dvd that they watch and I haven't really had to help her at all.

    I know other people who use singapore math and i get varied responses from them.

  2. Dear Mrs. C.,

    I was discussing math on one of my own posts, and got this comment from someone in India, named Scader, that I thought was very interesting, and thought you would find interesting, too:

    "It is absolutely true that Math is exactly like Art when it comes to learning. As a non European person I have NEVER heard about anyone struggling with math in India. Some kids love it and all the Mothers keep tab of the Family Economy and income as they OWN the properties given to them from great great grand moms as DOWRY. So, Math is for MOTHERS who own the
    'motherland.' Fathers are good at communicating. It is OPPOSITE in the EuroUs.

    I learnt an interesting fact about Calculus classes in the US schools from my nephew. he is in tenth grade going to go to 11th. He said, "We do not really study it". We use the SCIENTIFIC CALCULATOR and just learn how to "operate" it. Just like all US jobs. Have anyone noticed how even Doctors are so weired there? They do not get a SOLID education, but like driving a CAR- "everything" is TECHNICAL.

    Another fact my nephew said was that the "Text Book Company" is selling the Calculus book (Hard cover) for $178.00/book !! It is BUSINESS as usual for TEXT BOOK company owners who are not our relatives.

    The teachers MUST fight back these "Hoodwinkers" and I know of one Native Indian teacher who uses a small math book printed long time ago to teach BASIC algebra, Geometry and trigonometry. It is very easy to learn. In India we learnt in 3rd grade Geometry and it was fun. My actual ability is language, NOT math."

    Posted by Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

  3. I deplore math, too. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I have a phobia of math. I literally get nauseous when we have to do math here. I've decided to farm it out. My mom teaches my daughter, and another hs mom is going to start tutoring my son next week. My poor kids are so far "behind" in math, that it's embarassing.

  4. I'm so relieved to know I'm not the only Homeschooling Mom that never quite got math! My 10 year old and I are currnty learning at about the same pace. I try to figure it out myself (thank goodness the internet is there, how would I manage without it??) before handing him his worksheret, then attempt to explain it. Every once in awhile he'll come up with something that totally explains it in a way that I understand it even better! LOL

    I find it a bit odd that he is learning things at 10 that I couldn't "get" in my highschool elective class, but have also found since they are learning it at an earlier age, it's explained in a way even I can understand!

    BTW, I found a math program we really enjoy. The way the work progresses just seems to make more sense, and my kids are actually getting it (as am I!). I don't have the URL handy but if you Google Mathmammoth it should come up for you. I blogged a bit about it awhile back, including the link. She does offer a free "sample pack" which is actually quite a large pack.

    I enjoy your blog, and will be back to visit when I have a wee bit more time.

  5. Dear Kim's Mom,

    I think a LOT (if not MOST) parents feel as you do. I try very hard to encourage my third-grade kids in the classroom to promise them that even if they can't get the story problems NOW (some just can't), for sure, by the time they need to help their OWN kids with THEIR homework, they'll be able to do it! We all have a laugh about that.

    Best regards,
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  6. Claire,

    I think it's a good idea because it would both be frustrating for you, and also, you don't want to pass along that attitude to the kids, if you can help it. Try to watch and listen to what your Mom does with the kids, and that might give you confidence to help.

    I felt this way about Math the first year I taught Grade 3, but I had a chance for someone who was actually a math major to teach my math class for a few months. I watched what he did, and tried to use his method the next year. I got through it. After three years I found I had gained confidence and began to like it. Now it's actually one one my favorite subjects to teach!

    Best regards,
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)


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