I started teaching my kids last year when I took a year off from teaching science at the local high school. When I started teaching, I learned a lot about how to teach the English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. The most surprising thing I learned is the following: Curriculum developers apparently focus on the many different areas of ELA but leave math curriculums to a very linear, straightforward model.
ELA has 4 main parts: spelling, grammar, reading and writing. When you start purchasing curriculum, most likely you will buy a spelling book, a grammar program, a learn to read program and a writing program. You can buy a phonics program, a reading comprehension program and a slew of other workbooks to help you cover these four main areas.
Then you come to Math and most people buy one curriculum. Should I buy Math-U-See? Singapore, Math Mammoth, Beast Academy, Miquon, MEP (the British Math Enhancement Programme)? So much time is spent on picking a single curriculum with very little thought given to the different branches of mathematics.
Math should be treated like ELA. Just like a learn-to-read program, an elementary student needs a basic math workbook to help her learn the math facts. Math-U-See is great for this. Taking you one step at a time through the different facts and gently leading the child toward memorizing. Combine this curriculum with the free XtraMath online program, give her a few months, and she will have learned her addition facts and moved on to subtraction.
But that’s just to learn the reading portion of Math. What about the grammar part of math? The student should learn math sentence structure, reading problems and begin to think abstractly. You will need a different curriculum for this. Singapore Math does an amazing job with abstract thinking and hitting content that Math-U-See seems to not hit in its Alpha level. So a well-rounded math program should include this curriculum as well.
What about the writing component of math – creative writing? The best program I have found, that helps with out-of-the-box type thinking we strive to evoke from our kids, is the British Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP) – it’s free too! With creative problems, this is by far our most enjoyable part of learning math. My kids and I are always very excited to tackle these problems.
In ELA, you will choose books that are at the child’s reading level, but then choose some books above the reading level, to help him grow. Same with math, we want to include something that challenges the child – even if he can’t do it right away. Just like we read aloud to our children stories that are above their reading level, we can work out challenging problems with our kids to help them see that math is not a straightforward, redundant and boring subject, but rather an incredibly powerful and creative process. Singapore Challenging Problems works for us.
So what does my daily math lesson look like? It has taken some tweaking (and I will probably tweak it in the future) but this is where we are now. This is for my 6.5 year old first grader.
- Math-U-See – Alpha Level – 1 page (back and front)
- Singapore 1A – 1 teacher-led activity (from the Home Instructor’s Guide), textbook lesson, or workbook page
- MEP – 2 pages
- Singapore Challenging programs – 1 to 3 problems daily
- XtraMath on her own.
Now it has taken her a year of gently adding new components and gradually increasing her time with math. But after a year, she can do MuS, and XtraMath on her own. Singapore and MEP with me and challenging problems whenever we have a spare minute. So although we spend probably an hour daily on math, the lesson is broken up. She does some on her own, takes a break, works with me for 20-30 minutes, takes another break, then finishes up. As with many things in life, shorter lengths of time but more frequently throughout the day seems to engage the mind the best.