Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I'm going to ramble on a bit about math here. I hope it isn't too boring.

Last year I started using MEP Math with my Year 7 son. He had expressed that he had become quite burned out on the math resources I had around the house and so during the first part of the year I was going through the math section of What your 6th Grader Needs to Know with him, patching up any gaps in his knowledge and practicing things he didn't yet know by finding online drills or printable worksheets. This was working but was taking too much time in the day.

I wanted something that was:

  1. Free and readily accessible (I've been moving more and more towards finding quality resources online -- this solves two, no three, problems in one blow -- the problem of spending money and the problem of finding the stupid resource around the house when I need it, and tripping over it constantly when I don't).
  2. High Quality -- see above.
  3. Workable with my style of teaching and his style of learning.
  4. Conceptually oriented -- he had used Saxon and MCP Math but the mechanical presentation did not wake up his mathematical imagination. Another related goal was that it be oriented towards problem solving, not just memorizing and plugging in algorithms. One weakness in my teaching of my older kids through Saxon and MCP was that they struggled to find the "right" method to solve a problem rather than just using their math sense.
  5. Not overly heavy on writing. He lags in writing and I didn't want to mix up the goals for him -- I wanted to focus on mental understanding and save writing for a separate component.
I had been poring through Carol Hepburn's Little Red Schoolhouse site and that was where I found the link to the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics site. If you go to Carol's site you can also see a sidebar link to a yahoo group for MEP Math users who are homeschoolers. The group is low-volume but very helpful.

Last year Kieron used Year 7 (which is the equivalent of Grade 6 in the US but fairly advanced, covering some pre-highschool algebra and geometry concepts). This year he will go on to Year 8 and the corresponding interactive material. There are only 20 units, and each unit takes about a week, so there is time for extra practice, tests, and reviews. If we finish very early I will either go to Year 9 or start him on Jacob's Algebra depending upon where I think he is at that point.

Last year, Paddy and Aidan did math through games and Montessori activities. Once a week or so I'd bring out one of the various math workbooks we have around the house. Paddy's habit was to do something like 10 pages in a sitting covering various topics of his choice. Aidan's habit was to contemplate the numbers. He loves numbers and in fact loves to browse through the Saxon Algebra 1/2 book and try to read the equations. But Aidan got most of his academic mileage through concrete things like calendars, number cards and manipulatives. Paddy got most of his mileage through conceptual thinking. Like many children he poses math questions to himself or sometimes to me or tries to count as high as he can while he's falling asleep. He can add up to double digits and do some simple multiplication.

This year I'm going to continue games, manipulatives and mental math puzzles for about 70% of their math learning. But I'm going to use MEP YEar 1 for a sort of "spine" (possibly Year 2 for Paddy). There is a transparency collection which I can possibly use as cut-outs for the boys.

We use internet4classrooms as a springboard to find interactive web activities that are correlated with standards. Here's 1st grade math, for example. Another well-used online resource is ThatQuiz. It's easy to use as a supplement, reinforcement or extra practice on various math concepts. And it's not very flashy (flashy can be distracting).

Not to get too complicated, but I usually think of math in different "strands"

  • Concepts and Language
  • Mental problem-solving and estimating
  • Written and logistical work
  • Drill and reinforcement "overlearning"
Drill doesn't have to be drudgery-- in fact, it doesn't stick as well if it is, at least in my house. Whenever Aidan pulls out a manipulative for the hundredth millionth time, he's reinforcing knowledge already gained. Games reinforce math facts, too.

Drills can be previews as well as reviews. I find that if I target a math skill that will come up in future, in a simple format, it builds confidence. For example, I started Kieron on simple algebra concepts over a year ago through short drills. That way he won't be intimidated when we start talking about variables more intensely later on (I am hoping -- this worked for me in my gifted math class in 6th grade, at least, whereas a couple of my kids WERE intimidated when they got to that point in math because I hadn't had time or foresight to do this)

I usually break up lessons so that the longest time is devoted to mental problem-solving and concepts, and shorter times are allotted for written logistics and drill -- those get burdensome very fast if they are the bulk of the lesson, as they often are in conventional math programs designed for the classroom or for independent homeschool study.

My Year 7 student usually ended up working for 45 minutes to 1 hour, approximately 4 days a week. The 5th day (usually Monday) he would do a 10-15 minute drill or review on some concept -- usually either a preview of a coming lesson, or a consolidation of a concept he had previously learned. My Year 1 children usually worked 2 times a week for longer stretches (30-40 minutes) in a "discovery" or "fill in lots of worksheets" mode, and then did short drills or games or fun exploratory things on other days. The time might increase slightly this year for both levels but will probably stay somewhat similar.

Things I have to do in future that occurred to me while writing this:

  • Do an evaluation/goal setting session with my kids, particularly Kieron. Last year I did this (can't find it but here's a related post -- oh, here it is Prequel to Year 7).
  • Make some new math manipulatives out of paper for Aidan and Paddy, plus command cards so I remember how to use the manipulatives.
  • Organize the old manipulatives.
  • Look through the old Math Their Way newsletters and templates for ideas for learning centers etc.
  • If I got really ambitious I could try to correlate the MEP lessons with the interactive computer drills -- ha. Probably I'll try to stay 2 steps ahead as I usually do. Planning too far is a waste of time in my chaotic world.


  1. Willa, you might find British online maths resources helpful as they would correlate better with the MEP topics. Look for Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2), and maybe some early Key Stage 2 stuff for Paddy.

  2. Thanks for the peak into your math world! (And the encouraging remark you left at my blog)


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!