April 29, 2004

Algebra 1: An Incremental Development, 3rd Edition, by John Saxon

My kids think I am the nerdiest mother ever since I began teaching, or I should say, reteaching myself basic algebra this spring. My 16 year-old son mutters things about mumblemumble mom doing mumble algebra for mumble fun and, like, mumble get a life, jeez mumblemumble. My daughter is a little less subtle. She just declares to any and all that she has the weirdest mom in the whole world. Do I care? Not in the least.

There is a story behind this. I didn't just wake up to some odd biological, midlife, menopause-related crisis with a burning desire to solve equations for x or to delve into the mysteries of the quadratic theorem.

First of all, my daughter is LD and needs mucho help with homework. She actually gets mathematical concepts quite well; it's figuring out what the problems are saying and what is the stupid question that is hard for her. Copying from one spot to another, as in copying down a problem and then recopying it as you do the work, is another difficulty. So quite often I am explaining and checking math. That's ok when we're talking long division or fractions. Percentages are a snap. So is factoring and figuring out common denominators. But you start combining letters with numbers in any equation and I start getting just a wee bit befuddled. Faking it doesn’t work either. Tried that—-she got every problem wrong. I got a snotty email from the teacher. And next year she's in high school with real algebra, not just the watered down, wussy 8th grade version. Yikes!

Second, I am unemployed right now. I have a fair amount of free, quiet time. There are only so many times you can clean the house. The dog is not a good conversationalist. Boredom sets in.

Saxon is fairly well known in the homeschool circles. He uses a simple format of 4 lessons and then a test. Each lesson teaches one small increment or concept with 5 or 6 worked examples. Then you are given a couple practice problems specifically on the concept taught. Finally, there are 30 problems that review all the material learned up to and including that lesson. There is a 20 problem test given at the end of the 4 lessons that is actually testing things learned in the prior lesson set. So on the test after lesson 80, you are questioned on the concepts taught up to lesson 76. By reading the explanations and then following along as the examples are worked, you pretty much have all the teaching you need because everything is taught in very small steps. There are no tricksy problems. All is straight forward and above board. It takes me roughly an hour to do a lesson.

The critique I've heard of the program is that there isn't enough repetition. Some kids need the 5 extra worksheets with 50 problems each to get the concepts and in a schoolroom situation, the teacher needs those resources in order to teach. It also is just straight math. No "real life" applications aside from the word problems. No hands-on learning activities demonstrating why a certain concept is important to a particular profession. Actually, I like that about the book. My daughter's book from school is so full of culturally diverse examples and cool scientific applications, it's hard to find the math problems in it. Curriculum committees might not find it so wonderful, tho.

So I ordered the next book in the series, Algebra 2, and I may take this new little passion all the way to calculus. I am finding the lack of ambiguity in math comforting somehow. There is an answer; all you have to do is correctly follow the steps. As an adolescent I found that frustrating beyond belief. As a middle-aged adult, it's kind of nice that at least in some things in life, there are concrete answers to certain questions even if they are questions like "what is the slope-intercept method for finding the equation of a line on a rectangular coordinate grid?"

Posted by Deb English at April 29, 2004 08:20 PM

Craig Clarke said:

...it's kind of nice that at least in some things in life, there are concrete answers to certain questions even if they are questions like "what is the slope-intercept method for finding the equation of a line on a rectangular coordinate grid?"

Yeah, I'm still working on "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll® center of a Tootsie Pop®?"

Deb said:

Craig, I cheat on that one--I just get it down to a thin film of candy and then crunch my way thru to the tootsie. By that time the roof of my mouth is usually so scraped up from sucking on the candy, I want to get it over with.

How long can you make a bag of M&M's last if you only suck them one at a time is another question.... ;o)

We all have our challenges!

steve h said:

That's odd...Saxon Math low on repetition?

There are several logarithm and trig-function identities in the "Advanced Math" text that are memorized through repeated use.

In fact, that's my primary memory of Saxon mathematics. Uses of certain methods and/or equations were repeated in a "theme with variation" style, until I had memorized.

After I finished home-schooling, I went on to college, and math courses were the easiest courses I took. Partly because of John Saxon.

Deb said:

Steve, I like Saxon's direct instruction philosophy of teaching. I was fortunate enough in high school to learn science thru an integrated curriculum with mastery as the core value. And my daughter was taught to read using direct instruction, which the special ed teacher told me was an almost infallible way to teach reading. This year the school tossed out the other "balanced" approach they had used for years and went to a pure DI approach on all grade levels.

Unfortunately, with mandatory state testing and grading curves and all the other pressures on school teachers, that is not the most effective way for them to teach most subjects to a group. Plus they are under a lot of pressure to use certain board approved textbooks which may or may not be the best books to learn from.

Homeschool is the ideal environment in my mind for learning. Mastery based, paced to the student, not the group and one-on-one teaching--it seems like a perfect model for success.