Homeschooling Math: How a Weakness Became a Strength
The Textbook: Harold Jacobs Elementary Algebra: This text is well thought out and thorough. It is the best high school algebra text I looked at, especially if you have a child who might be taking advanced math classes, such as calculus, in the future. Math is a strong suit of mine though, so I am not sure it is the right course for homeschooling math for a parent who is not strong in this subject.
My son always felt that he was bad at math until this year. Math has been the source of so much frustration for the two of us! I could see that he was good at the high level thinking side of math. Where my son struggles is the simple arithmetic side. He also struggles with spelling, but not the rest of language arts. I bet there is a connection between these two, spelling and arithmetic. Maybe they use a similar cognitive path?
We have worked long and hard again and again on simple math facts. They just do not stick with him. This summer (2014) we used the on-line program CTC Math, and that helped with this more than anything else we tried, but it did not entirely solve the problem. (If math is not your strong suit, give CTC a look. We liked it. My son loved the Australian accent.) We moved to Elementary Algebra in September, 2014 because Sean needs help from me in math. I find it much easier to give help if there is a text we can both refer to. I have yet to see an on-line course that makes it easy for the parent/teacher to refer to or use when the student needs additional help. FYI, overall I am not a fan of on-line only programs. Don’t let my bias affect you though if you like them.
All went very well, except for the occasional calculational issue. They were better, but still a source of frustration. I was at a park day and started up a conversation with a person who runs homeschool math co-ops and tutors math. I told this story to her and she said she sees this with homeschooled kids sometimes. She gave me the advice that turned math around for us. She suggested I buy Sean a good calculator, one he could still use in college, and have him use it for calculations! The SAT allows calculators, so why not! Overnight, using a calculator, Sean began acing math tests and homework sets!
I am a bit conflicted about math (even though it was and still is my absolute favorite subject). I think math is taught to the detriment of other subjects because it is the most easily testable subject, and that bothers me. There are only so many hours in the day, and I truly believe there should be less time spent on math and more time spent on learning the craft of writing, learning how the natural and physical world works (AKA science), and computer science. I have voiced this to several friends who work in the public school system and they agree with this assessment. But if you think your child might go to college, especially if they are interested in computer coding or science, including medicine, make sure they get the math they need. When I was attending and then teaching college there were two disciplines I observed that weeded students out, keeping some people from realizing their dreams of an intended career. They were math and chemistry! I actually had a friend who was a theater major at San Diego State who ended up dropping out without her degree because she could not pass her math classes. A year of college algebra was the only thing that kept her from obtaining her bachelor’s degree.