Thursday, December 11, 2008
Adding Fun to Math
Although Son and I are doing quite nicely with our math program, MCP Math Level K (Modern Curriculum Press Mathematics, Kindergarten Level), I felt we needed to shake things up a bit. We needed to add something fun. Games, activities, anything. I don't want math to be drudgery in Kindergarten. In fact, from all my reading and research, I gleaned that concrete examples and real-life experiences provide the best learning environment for a child his age (5). So began the quest for fun and games.
Now mind you, I'm great at researching, planning, obtaining, and scheduling our materials for the year. I even made flash cards and number cards. However, after almost three months, they were safely out of reach of daughter's clutches, but unfortunately ours as well. As a child who did not enjoy math in elementary school, it wasn't too easy to equate math with fun. Well, I am determined not to let that fact deter me from creating an enjoyable, practical experience for my kids. The matter of "how" still eluded me.
At first I thought I may need a change of curriculum. However, Son is doing so well and I feel confident in my ability to teach MCP and I like how the program is laid out. I had spent hours upon hours researching all the math programs out there before deciding on this one. Trust in yourself is one of the most important lessons any homeschooler learns, especially a newbie like me. No, we like MCP. MCP stays, likely all the way until 6th year (which is when the program ends). Then I thought about supplementation. Well, I knew I was going to be supplementing MCP Math Level A with Miquon's Orange Book next year. I don't have any experience with Miquon, but I have researched and concluded that it's a discovery approach to math, which would complement MCP's solid mastery approach perfectly.
On the boards I've been frequenting, a tantalizing math program was being touted as the next "It" curriculum -- Math on the Level (henceforth referred to as MOTL). I usually don't fall for slick words (pictures yes, I admit it), but I had to admit, this program was very intriguing. MOTL seemed to be just what I needed: real-life math applications, thorough scope and sequence, freedom to tailor it to your child's needs and level (hence, the name, Math on the Level), fun and games, a mastery approach with built-in review, which in turn incorporates some spiral into this too. What was really of high interest to me was that this program seemed to do for Math what Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) does for Science. And I love BFSU. I love the freedom to choose threads that are relevant to us, the scientific thinking it encourages, how it makes me understand science better and see its beauty and interconnectedness, reading living books. This book certainly warrants a post of its own.
However, with MOTL, I thought, can I really do this in Math? Is this a confidence issue or the fact that it's so expensive up-front is holding me back? It turned out to be a combination of both. BFSU is so inexpensive I didn't think twice about trying it out. I could always sell it if I don't like it, I reasoned. MOTL is not expensive in the long run, as everything is non-consumable (can be used with multiple children) and the scope and sequence goes from K-8. In the end it's actually a bargain, but.. BUT. The cost is up-front. You pay for the whole program, hundreds of dollars, without knowing if it will work for you. I know you could sell it, and I recommend people do this if they are sure they like the program, but I wasn't sure. The deciding factor for me wasn't actually the cost, but teacher prep and involvement. Although I love my children and enjoy being involved in their education, too much teacher prep is not something I would like to do on a daily/weekly basis (especially since I already have a little bit of this for BFSU, which I do gladly), and I have as a goal a more self-teaching model in mind for my children as they mature and get older. In addition, I already have one spine text and workbook (MCP), a supplement (Miquon) and a third lined up online (Living Math.net -- wonderful resource for living math books), what did I need another Math for? Besides, I was getting away from my true quest: more fun and games in math, vs. a new program.
Hmm.. After much deliberation for a few weeks, in which I read as much as I could on the MOTL curriculum, read reviews on blogs, other websites, checked out the online samples no less than five times, and joining the MOTL Yahoo! group, I decided to stick with what I had and instead focus on getting math games. Which ones? How do I start? My brain doesn't naturally think mathematically. In pictures, yes. In words, a big yes. Numbers? Nuh-uh.
I decided to ask for help at my favorite homeschooling forum, The Well Trained Mind (WTM). What math games and activities are your favorites? I asked. I received an amazing amount of responses. Thank you, ladies! Many, many people recommended RightStart Math Games. RightStart is a math curriculum which extensively uses manipulatives and games, but it also includes a kit you can purchase separately with games. I looked into it, and it looks nice, but I wasn't ready to plunk more money down if I couldn't do it in the most frugal way possible. I still had it in the back of my mind if nothing else panned out, but I had other choices.
Family Math, for instance. Aaaaaaahh.. how could I have forgotten? I had read of this book probably a few years back now, and I put in my huge, overflowing, crowded mental filing system, where it got misfiled apparently. I remember it sounded really good to me. Check. I requested it through my library's Interlibrary Loan (ILL). I still haven't received it.
In the meantime another WTM forum member kindly gave me a free link with a list of great math games to play with your Kindergartner. See, this is what I mean by frugal -- free :) I gladly pay for certain things, but in this case I only need some fun, please. Thanks, Tonia!
During all this, I received the copy of Miquon's First Grade Diary through my library's ILL, a diary of the author of the Miquon program who recorded one year, in the 1960s, of her first graders' experience with the progressive methods of her program. I found myself getting hooked with this book. Fascinating. I never thought, in a thousand years, that I would find a book about math so interesting. I'm still reading it, lingering and lo and behold, an unexpected source of inspiration and games! Turns out the program I'm going to be supplementing with next year, Miquon, has many fun and games built in and explained, but apparently only in this First Grade Diary and Notes to Teachers, not as much in the official teacher's manual, Lab Annotations. Needless to say, I will be purchasing both the First Grade Diary as well as the Notes to Teachers. Each is about five dollars new (I know!), but I can also get them used, as I did my copy of Lab Annotations (pristine condition -- free!), from the WTM board. I will just keep checking. If not, I'll splurge and spend the whole $10.
Back to First Grade Diary: I wanted to try out one of the games right away. There are pictures, which I'm much better with than following wordy instructions. The picture above shows Son and his pleased expression playing our first fun math game: matching up the number of Purely Os (the organic equivalent to Cheerios) with the dots on the dice. So simple. Why didn't I think of that? It was fun, and I upped the ante by asking him to match not only the number of dots, but also the positioning of the dice when they fell. He looks so proud matching up, eh? By the way, the long greenish thing behind him is his trusted companion, Pet the Snake, a stuffed animal Rhinoceros Snake. Adding has never been so much fun at our house. I'm looking forward to playing more games and using more manipulatives.