Monday, March 23, 2009

TOS Review: Mathematical Reasoning

You have no idea how often I wish that my my children were little cookie-cutter versions of one another. How much easier would life be if they were all the same? You'd never need to learn new discipline techniques. Never second-guess the whole "Love Language" thing from one kid to the next. Always know exactly what to expect in specific situations. Never own a pair of size 8 khakis in both "slim" and "regular" fit. And homeschooling? A snap! Just replace any consumables and reuse the rest as each new child comes up through the ranks.

Of course, family life would be very boring if each and every member was a carbon of the other. Plus, half the fun of curriculum shopping would be lost. (I still wouldn't mind sacrificing the slight variations in body types that result in needing different cuts for different kids, though!)

One area where I've felt this "every child is a unique creation" stress the most is in math. I have--so far--three distinctly different mathematical learners. Jo was lost without a manipulatives approach, but memorized the multiplication tables in a week flat. Atticus tires of blocks and other "helps" after he's got a process down, but works much harder on the simple rote learning part of math. And Logan simply doesn't need either. Math is like breathing to him.

Wouldn't you know it? Finding a program that fits a kid like that is somehow just as difficult as locating the right approach for a reluctant learner. I should know; I've run the gamut on both ends of that particular spectrum.

The solution for us, when it comes to math, has been to scattershot the whole affair. My most recent quandary in this department has been Logan's mathematical education. Here's what I finally settled on: a little Math-U-See for sheer structure. A little Math Mammoth for variety of skills. And now, Critical Thinking Co.'s Mathematical Reasoning Level B for both fun and application practice.

Prior to beginning Mathematical Reasoning, I was seriously considering Singapore for Logan. I gave him the online assessment test and was set to order the recommended book. I liked the various twists and turns that Singapore seems to apply to its overall instruction, and knew that Logan would feel challenged (which he likes) and still be covering the "grade appropriate skills," whatever those are. I know people who use the program and are happy with it. It seemed like a not-quite-perfect but still acceptable fit.

So why the Critical Thinking book instead? First, Mathematical Reasoning is an entire year's instruction in one massive book. There are 264 pages in Level B, and when you've got a kid who sincerely enjoys math, the more worksheets he can occupy himself with, the better. Second, Mathematical Reasoning includes all of the instruction necessary right there on the student pages. There is no teacher's guide or other information to be presented. New lessons are taught in a straight-forward, here's how you do it way that appeals to Logan's innate ability to get a little direction and plunge in.

Another plus is that the pages in this Critical Thinking Co. book are bright, colorful and cheery. Logan, as a visual learner, is attracted to aesthetically pleasing pages that engage without overwhelming--something that Mathematical Reasoning pulls off quite nicely. Each page also includes just enough practice to feel official, without becoming drudgery. If a child needs more practice, no worry. A few pages later, you'll likely find the same skills exercised in a fresh way.

The variety of ways in which mathematical thinking is encouraged is truly unprecedented in the books I've looked at over the years. Reasoning puzzles run alongside simple facts drills. Problems that require division (a skill generally introduced in third grade) sit a page before pattern practice. In one recent day's work, Logan drew lines of symmetry, divided, used logic to ascertain which child owned a dog and drew a graph to help determine the ending sales of a lemonade stand. This is the kind of practice that truly stretches the brain's ability to apply skills in a variety of settings.

For his part, Logan is a huge fan of everything Critical Thinking Co., and Mathematical Reasoning is no exception. This is his favorite math book, he asserts, and one he actually looks forward to working in. Believe it or not, he willingly plugs through 8 or 9 pages a day. He'd happily do more if I let him, but I do feel it's important to balance out mathematical instruction styles. Math time, therefore, is split between thinking fun stuff and classic how-to instruction. Opinions on this approach differ, but I'm one of those boring killjoys who thinks there's something to be gained in enduring facts drills. For this reason, I don't recommend Mathematical Reasoning as a stand-alone math curriculum. I also wouldn't recommend Singapore as such, either; if your philosophy differs, you'd probably enjoy Mathematical Reasoning by itself as well.

So math is finally under control ... for Logan at least. Now if I could just figure out how to get him into his big brother's 10 slims without purchasing a whole new supply of pants this spring, I'd be a happy momma.


Heidi said...

THIS is a WONDERFUL review! I know how you feel about cookie-cutter kids (or lack thereof). We have, over the years, come to the conclusion that it is totally stupid to even try to save any of Ashley's clothes for Gracie. Even if we think there's a possibility that they may still be in style, there is NO WAY they will ever fit. Sad, but true; so I can relate!

Anonymous said...

Love the CT Co. stuff, but have never seen this one. I'll check it out at my group's conference this year.