February 4, 2010

Spiral vs Mastery Math

This week has been a great homeschool week, which is a relief since last week was a really, really bad one.

As a matter of fact, I almost gave up on homeschooling twins. Last Wednesday, for the 400 bazillionth time, I had to refocus them to finish their math worksheet. We are using a very simple math for them this year, Saxon 3. We spent 1st and 2nd grade working through Horizons Math, but this year I wanted something simpler to help limit distractions.

It didn't work. And 2/3 the way through their 3rd grade year, they still have not learned anything new (thanks to a very thorough Horizons program).

And learning nothing new just bores them. And boredom breeds distractions. And distractions demand a simple black and white program. And simple means they learn nothing. And the cycle continues...

until the lightbulb burst in my brain.:

I have set my darling twins up for failure, requiring from them what they aren't wired to do.

Horizons and Saxon math programs, though well-recommended, are spiral approaches to math mastery. This means that every lesson presents some new information and then reviews all previous material until the kids know how to do math. So over the course of many years, they will practice a little bit of age-appropriate addition, all while practicing a little bit of subtraction, measurement, fractions, etc. until they finally know everything there is to know about these skills.

For some kids (such as my oldest) this approach is perfect. Cayli prefers variety in her math and likes to do a little of this and little of that all while mastering each stage.

The other method of learning math is simply the mastery method. Students focus on one skill for an extended period in order to know it inside and out before moving unto another skill. Some review is given so that all previously acquired skills stay fresh, but for the most part the student only focuses on addition (from single digits to 4-5 digit numbers) before moving on to subtraction or multiplication or division, etc. Sure a little measurement (linear and liquid), telling time and geometry is thrown in the mix, but the focus is on a single concept.

That is precisely how Kenna and Mabry think. Their brains just don't transition between addition and line graphs and fractions and centimeters over the course of a single page of problems. But give them a sheet of 4 digit subtraction problems with regrouping/borrowing and they are set. Allow them a day of review each week of previously mastered concepts and they prove to be some of the smartest kids around.

It's all in the approach.

Mastery math would be curricula by MathUSee or Singapore (and a few others; the names have left me, though). We tried MathUSee early in our homeschool, when Cayli was in 1st grade. She hated working with a single concept. She didn't want to have to prove what she already knew and she didn't want to have to work on a single skill that she thought was difficult over and over. She thrives on variety, not repetition. So spiral math (Saxon) really does work for her.

Mabry and Kenna need the repetition, not variety, to function properly. Transitions are tough for them. Even day-to-day activites require great prep time from me. Once they start on something they don't want to stop even if it's going from a playdate to dance--both are their favorite things to do--but going from one to the other is torture for this weary mom. They need to simply focus on one thing at a time, whether it's time for free play or fraction practice.

There are pros and cons to each way of teaching, but for our family, I'm all for teaching the way they need to succeed.

And math time is more focused for everyone.

Which then frees up some time for me to work with Micah, reading Truckery Rhymes, the best book ever for every toddler/preschool boy:

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Mrs. Darling said...

Children with learning short term memory problems or processind disorders like Tink has really need to have the spiral approach of they forget everything while they are learning a new concept.

I use Bob Jones and it is working well

Amanda said...

Great explanation!! Another mastery approach is Bob Jones.

Melinda said...

Now that two of you have mentioned it, I think I'll just look at Bob Jones again! lol

I thought we were set with curriculum, so it's been harder this time to re-look at some material that I had totally discounted in the past. I'm so glad for your suggestions, because I do think the twins will do great with a workbook. Thanks, y'all!