Maths has never been my strong point. When I was at school, I was in the second-from-the-top set, so I couldn’t have been too bad at it, but I had, and still have, little confidence around numbers. I know how to use a calculator and I can work out the essential, every-day stuff but I still break out in a cold sweat if someone says “Simultaneous Equations” or “Trigonometry”.
I think this is a pretty constant theme among a lot of Home Educators I have spoken to. I know that maths is important, I know that my children should do it, but, because of my lack of confidence in the subject, I worry that what I am teaching them may be utter gobbledegook.
K is about to turn 11 and would be starting Key Stage Three in year 7 in September (which would be 6th grade in the USA) and she is reaching the point in maths where her workbook questions sometimes confuse me. I can usually work out the answer and can sometimes show her how I worked it out but whether my methodology is sensible or should be shared is another matter altogether! J is 7 and still tackling the basics so, for the most part, we can work through things together.
Last year, while we were travelling, we used a combination of age and stage appropriate workbooks and online maths from Khan Academy to help with her maths. This worked to keep her ticking along but, now we are home and settling down to a more structured Home Ed routine I wanted to come up with a better structured maths curriculum.
We started with CGP books. I have heard great things about these and so ordered the Key Stage 3 Study Guide from Amazon. She happily worked independently through the first few pages, which were revision of past skills rather than new information, and then moved on to the harder stuff. However, I did think that, since each page is mostly explanation that she was not getting much practice at each new skill. I know that, when I learn something new, I have to do it MANY times before it sticks! And I think that she was struggling to retain new things from this book.
So, to support her learning I then downloaded worksheets that I found on the internet to go with the topics on each page, to give her more practice. This worked kind of OK, but she got angry if the worksheets and the workbook used different terminology or methodology.
This week, we have had a couple of meltdowns from K about maths. She finds the explanations in the book hard to follow. She doesn’t retain the new skills even once she has completed the work and she doesn’t enjoy doing the workbooks or worksheets. These books are great, but they just don’t seem to be right for us. I don’t want maths to become a battleground and I don’t want schoolwork to be miserable for her. Something has to change.
Every child learns differently and it is clear that these workbooks just don’t seem to compliment the way that K learns. So we have gone back to the drawing board! That is the great thing about Home Ed – if one way of learning isn’t working, we can change it about and try something new.
K was keen to go back to some web-based learning. Khan Academy last year was great (and free!) but since it is based on the US Common Core (their equivalent of our National Curriculum) not everything fits in with our way of learning. We have been trialling the free parts of Conquer Maths and K has got on really well with the video lessons followed by printable worksheets that can be instantly marked when you input your results. I asked about maths programmes on a couple of Facebook groups I am a member of and, for her age, Conquer Maths is by far the favourite among other Home Educators. We were also given a discount code for 40% off their fees. Since Hubby has only just started work again after more than a year off for our travels, this spend was not a decision we have made easily but it feels like the right one. 10 minutes after signing up, K got onto the laptop and whizzed through four lessons happily. With those she made a mistake on, she went back and re-did them so her current score is 100%. She’s a perfectionist!
So we are now happy with our new curriculum solution for maths. I have also signed up for J to use Conquer Maths too, as adding an extra child was very reasonable, and for her we will be using a combination of both workbooks/worksheets and screen work. I think she still needs to be able to be able to work things out with a pen and paper, and often requires manipulatives to help her out too. She is a much more tactile learner than K, who likes to have things explained to her and to try it out for herself.
We are back to happy maths. Long may this numerical bliss reign!
Happy maths again!