Monday, February 22, 2010

TOS Review: Math Mammoth

A few months ago, if you had asked Atticus what his strengths were in terms of academics, he would not have listed math. Number one would have been science. Actually, numbers one through four would have been science, just broken down into subsets. ("I'm good at robotics. And physics. And botany. Oh, and anything to do with the solar system.") But he wouldn't have listed math, despite the fact that he had a very, very strong start in the subject area way back in preschool and all the way up until the end of first grade.

So what happened?

Well, first and foremost, I found a math curriculum that worked very well for Jo and for me. This was exceptionally good news, because up until that point, I had been treading water in the math department. Finding something that worked for both of us was such a godsend that I immediately switched everyone over to the same program. This made sense; It was a solid, proven curriculum, easy for me to teach, and economical to boot, as all I had to replace were the consumable portions each year.

The good news was that Jo started to gain understanding of basic math concepts and, today, is on grade level with her skills.

The bad news is that Atticus slowly lost his passion for math.

I was at a loss as I saw his passion wane. Sure, he was still very capable of calculating things in his head, of figuring out on-the-fly problems that were advanced for his age, and of doing the work I set before him. But his zest for it faded until, at last, it was all but gone.

He could answer any math problem you threw his way. But he certainly didn't have an ounce of fun doing it.

I don't know about you, but I want more for my children. I don't want to settle for things that just work when I can find something that works and ignites a love of learning at the same time. Looking back, I'm sad that I had gotten to that point, as a teacher, where I felt that the safe route was worth the trade-off. I know how it happened--I was intimidated by what I perceived as my failure to teach Jo the basics, so I didn't feel comfortable branching out with Atticus and Logan. I thought I needed the tried and true. So I stuck with it, even knowing the outcome.

But then Logan joined the academic fray, and he would have none of the tried and true. Whereas Atticus, my box-checker, had stoically endured hours of instruction in a curriculum that drove him batty, Logan balked. He simply refused to do the problems as presented. He came up with creative ways to change things, to make it more challenging, and to generally rock the boat. Or he would stump me with number scenarios I couldn't get my head around, asking me to perform functions well beyond the facts drills I was leading him through.

Something had to change. So I went on the hunt for a new math curriculum for Logan. And I found it.

But I missed the boat. I left Atticus right where he was in a program where each book concentrated on the same theme and each day brought him a little closer to misery. Why? Because it worked. And he didn't complain. And, well ... it got the job done.

I had no idea what he was missing out on, and neither did he. And this is where I got to see God's hand in our lives, the way He cares for even the small stuff. Recently, I got an email asking me to choose what to review from Math Mammoth, a company that I've reviewed before and loved. I looked over the extensive offerings and pondered. The catch is: Jo is using a program that I don't want to distract her from. It's working great, and I want to keep her with it throughout high school. Logan is actually doing two math curricula at this time, and doesn't have the need for the excellent focused workbooks that Math Mammoth offers.

Which left Atticus.

So I asked for the grade 4 full curriculum, the light blue series. I downloaded the ebooks (Love this format for math! Print as needed!) and got started.

It was, Atticus says, the very best thing I've ever done for him in terms of math education. Because now, Atticus looks forward to math.

The format of this curriculum is like nothing most of us who learned in a classroom have ever seen. I said in my previous review that it's like Singapore for the rest of us ... and now that one of my kids (Logan) is actually using Singapore, I agree with that statement even more. The difference is that Math Mammoth's worktexts are completely self-contained. The directions are all right there, and while there's an answer key for parents, there's no separate teacher's guide. Using the explanations at the top of each lesson, even this mathphobe mom can present concepts and lead her student through examples.

Math Mammoth contains practice through a variety of problems that require real thinking. Often, the deductions build on top of one another, forcing the student to expand his or her understanding of how numbers and operations work. This is the first curriculum I've ever seen that includes things like Pascal's Triangles, very real algebra puzzles, and incremental multiplication that build cool patterns alongside facts recall.

Atticus likes the amount of practice as well as the different ways that topics are presented. We've been printing out one unit at a time, binding it with staples, and allowing him to work through it at his own pace during math time. He's literally doing about double the amount of actual math seatwork than he was before Math Mammoth, and says that he has learned more in in the short time we've been using it than he did the whole previous part of the school year. As an added bonus: his passion is back. Last week, I found him working with Logan, creating Pascal's Triangles for each other to complete.

This is the old Atticus, the one who found numbers yet another mystery to be solved, another code to be cracked. I'm so glad to have him back!

The Math Mammoth light blue series are all complete, grade-level worktexts available in either print format or via download. I highly recommend the download ($29.70 for the full set, plus $14 for answer key and other support materials) as it is by far the easiest way to manage such a diverse and active curriculum. Being able to access sheets and copy them at will for use now or review later makes this the ultimate format, in my opinion.

While Math Mammoth covers grade-appropriate topics (4th, for example, hits addition, subtraction, place value, multiplication, measuring, division, geometry, fractions, decimals, graphs, and data analysis), the depth into which the series digs makes it slightly advanced when compared to many other curricula I've seen on the market. The mode of thinking required--especially if switching from a traditional approach--will also require a bit of a learning curve. I highly recommend the placement tests for this reason. I, for example, assumed that Atticus would be right in the middle of the 4th grade curriculum; I'm very happy that I took author Maria Miller's advice and started him at the beginning, however, because while he had the facts and skills at his disposal, the new approach has challenged him in fantastic ways.

I was very impressed with the topic-specific books available through Math Mammoth. And now I'm equally impressed with the full curriculum packages. This is simply a wonderful publisher of fine-quality, economical math products that are neither dumbed down nor so academic as to be confusing. Add them to to your list of math curricula to check out. You won't be sorry that you did!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

1 comment:

anya* said...

You convinced me. I ordered 2-B for my 9 year old. She has been trodding through Saxon 2, but she isn't excited and it is SOOOO redundant and more so I go crazy and/or lazy with the teachers manual that comes with it. I also got the 1-A for my 5 1/2 yo. We have been doing Saxon K this year and it is so lame, for lack of a better word. He has been unenthusiastic and ready for real math. So we will see how it goes! My hope is to get Isabela up to grade level (3) sooner then later. What I really need a review on, though, is some BREAKTHROUGH reading advice. Isabela has been at a stand still for a year and a half. She can get (tryingly)through level 3 books, but when I test her according to the state ealr's (so many words per minute) she always places at below first grade. Uggh. I want her to succeed in this area!