Monday, September 13, 2010

Rosie is starting to write

although I'm not sure that I'm pleased with her subject matter. She says that this reads "PIWP," but I'm not so sure. It is supposed to be Obi Wan from Episode I.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

More on Math Mammoth

I have just switched to Math Mammoth, after having been sold on Math U See and using that for three years, then dabbling in Miquon. I am now a big fan of Math Mammoth and wanted to share more about it. The first part of this was from a comment I submitted to the Math Mammoth website.

 After watching the demo DVD, I had been completely sold on Math U See. Both of my children did very well with their Primer (kindergarten) level, and I still really like much of that presentation, such as how they teach place value along with teaching counting, and very clearly identify that you never count higher than nine in each "type" of number (units, tens, hundreds, etc). I also liked how they presented addition and subtraction in such a clear way. The problem I discovered (and I've only used through Beta) is that while they present things in a very clear understandable way, they only seem to present things in one way, using the blocks, then drill it. My children were bored and frustrated with the curriculum starting with Alpha, because it was nearly all drilling of the addition facts. Now, some drill is necessary, but my children were totally bored, and the couple of easy and obvious word problems in each lesson didn't alleviate the unrelenting sameness of each day. Moreover, they didn't want to use the blocks on a regular basis and seemed to find them distracting rather than helpful. The curriculum seemed to help to help kids understand, but it didn't seem to encourage creative mathematical thinking. We switched to Miquon and a more investigational and discovery oriented approach. Our problem was that this was not structured enough for us, moreover the student sheets don't really have directions and so I had to look up and explain each page in the book. We again ran into the problem that the boys didn't want to use the manipulatives all the time, and also found they prefer to have more guidance than Miquon was designed to give. They don't like things to be so open ended.

I really think that Math Mammoth is a nice, balanced curriculum. I love that the instructions and teaching are contained within the student workbook, so that I don't have to do anything to prepare other than read over the instructions with the child and explain them as necessary. It tends to use clear visual examples, when we need hands on examples I pull out the base 10 blocks or cuisenaire rods (which are far less expensive than the MUS blocks). While it contains plenty of practice for each concept, each lesson isn't filled with the exact same kind of problem, and the same concept is approached in several different ways, instead of only one way, like Math U See seemed to do. Each book also contains website and game suggestions, if your child needs extra help or just more fun.

Math Mammoth is also flexible. You can purchase grade level complete curricula for first grade through sixth, the Light Blue series, or you can purchase workbooks arranged around individual topics, the Blue series. There are also collections of worksheets available that aren't designed to teach concepts, but simply practice these. All of these are available as affordable eBooks that can be downloaded and printed as many times as you like, or you can purchase printed copies from There is a large sample package available for download for free if you'd like to get a look at the curriculum.

So what are the negatives? First, it is only available in color as an ebook. The printed versions available from are in black and white. While I've heard that this is typically fine, I do feel that the color adds to the instruction. Moreover, in purchasing a bound rather than an electronic copy, you lose the benefit of being able to use it over multiple years for multiple children. I printed off all the pages for the first workbook for each grade (there are two workbooks to cover one year) and three hole punched them and put them in a portfolio with prongs. This isn't the best format, but it would have been quite expensive to have the books printed and bound at Office Max, for instance. If you're fine just printing a few pages at a time you could do that, but I wanted the books ready to go. I'm drooling over a home binding system, but this would negate much of the cost savings. I'm undecided about whether I'll purchase the bound black and white copies or the ebooks in the future.

Also, some of the pages seem a bit crowded or cluttered. I think that it would be more developmentally appropriate to have fewer problems on each page with more white space, particularly in the first grade book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three Weeks Into the New School Year

I think that we're finally getting into a groove. I had decided that I needed to be more structured, and that I needed more help planning, so we decided to go with the Mother of Divine Grace plans for this year. I will say that I haven't followed them nearly as closely as I had originally thought I would. I substituted a few subjects, and I'm wondering for future grades how much of the plans I'd need to follow for it to be worth it to purchase the syllabi. I am following much of their methodology, though. Here's what  I think so far about what we're using:

Math Mammoth -- this is new for us this year, it is what we are using for both boys, and I'm very happy to have found it. It is a lot more varied than Math-U-See, and is very good at presenting from different angles. It seems to hold the boys' attention better and I think it requires a lot more creative mathematical thinking than MUS. We are using Cuisenaire rods and base 10 blocks as manipulatives, as needed. It is also inexpensive compared to many other math curricula.

Religion -- we are using the Faith and Life series from Ignatius Press instead of the Baltimore Catechism. I went back and forth on having the kids memorize the questions and answers, and finally decided not to do so. I agree with MODG that memorization is good, but I disagree that memorization needs to take place in every subject area at this level.

Phonics, Spelling, Reading & Handwriting -- we are using the book The Writing Road to Reading. This book has given me fits. It is a very intensive phonics approach that begins with having the kids memorize phonograms, or letters and combinations of letters which work together to make specific sounds. Then it uses these phonograms to teach spelling and reading, and the spelling includes marking the words in specific ways to indicate the sounds being used. I'm not totally sold on such a rigid approach -- I feel like there may be too many exceptions in English to make such a rules based system worthwhile, and I also feel that teaching onsets and rimes (also known as word families) might be a better approach. Moreover, this book isn't straight forward, I disagree with some of the sounds taught (it seems to be based on how things were pronounced in New England 50 years ago), and I found the guide book suggested by MODG to be more annoying than helpful. I ditched the guide and simply reread the book itself a few times, looked at a couple other programs for ideas, changed some of the phonograms, decided to use a different marking system, and we're going to try to make it work. I still feel a bit like chucking it and ordering some spelling workbooks. I will say that no matter how the phonics and spelling book works this year, using this for the past three weeks has been totally worth it because of the improvement in the boys' handwriting. We have used Handwriting Without Tears for three or four years, since Pauly was in K or just before, but it never actually translated into good handwriting outside of the workbook. WRTR teaches handwriting, with very specific verbal directions to form each lower case letter, while the phonograms are introduced. We followed those instructions fairly closely and I am very pleased to see how much improvement there has been in their handwriting. I think part of the success of the WRTR is that the child is not taught to copy the letter and often doesn't even have an example in front of him at all, but is expected to memorize the movements.

Language Arts -- First Language Lessons, the Hillside Education edition. I like this just fine, although some of the language seems old fashioned. It is a reprint and update of a book from the early 1900s. We are using this for Pauly, both the boys are also doing poetry memorization.

Latin & Greek roots -- we're using English From the Roots Up and just memorizing roots. Pauly was looking forward to "learning Latin" and I was afraid he'd be disappointed, but he seems to enjoy learning the roots and talking about the words derived from them. He wants to move ahead faster than the syllabus, which is fine with me. I'd like to come up with some ways to make this more interesting.

History -- one of the reason I wanted to go with MODG long term was their history plans, which are have scheduled literature around the reading of a history text for a spine. Pauly like the books alright, and actually read many of them this summer, since he couldn't resist a shelf full of new books. I would love to be able to sit down and read the books with him, but that hasn't really happened. He has been reading them and then we discuss them, if I can. I have been thinking of reading the literature books aloud to everyone when they're schedule, but still have Pauly read them himself, as well. Pauly also has a map skills book.

Science -- we aren't following the lesson plans for Pauly's science, but are using Catholic Heritage Curricula's Behold and See 3. So far, so good. I think he already knows all of it from reading on his own.

Roger's favorite activity is listening to then retelling Aesop's Fables. I write his retelling down, he illustrates it, then we put it in a folder to make a book. He has been asking to do one every day. I figure when he finishes the fables I'll find something else to use for the same purpose.