I’d like to introduce you to someone: Me, circa 1990-something.
Yes, I was that kid. Math brought tears. Anger. Hatred. Hours wasted staring at the same two problems. Frustration. Eye rolls. More tears. Self-loathing. I wasn’t very old before I was convinced that math was something I simply “wasn’t good at.”
Our society has fallen deep into the trap of thinking that being good at math is like having blue eyes. You’re either born with it, or you don’t have it.
Yes, being good at math is a talent. But what does that mean? Being naturally “good” at math? I guess it means that you’re mathematically inclined–the concepts and ways of thinking are more natural to you. But does this mean that you don’t have to work at it? Of course not!
A master cellist didn’t just sit down one day, play Bach on a nearby cello, then say, “Wow! I’m great at cello!”
Every talented person has to put in hard work to make the most of his talent.
We pretty much agree that everybody can learn to read. Why can’t everybody learn to math? (so to speak).
When it comes to being the Homeschool Teacher, I’ve broken math out into three basic steps.
Step One: Mindset
I wasted so much energy feeling like I could never do math, despite the fact that I come from a long line of highly-math-competent people. It wasn’t until college that I realized I did have what it took to understand math.
I went into my pre-cal class (I didn’t trust myself to take anything higher than that!) with the mindset “Yes, I can do this. Pay close attention. Ask whatever questions you need to ask. I can do this.”
Of course, it’s easier to say that as a nineteen-year-old than it is as a nine-year-old.
Becky is only doing 1st grade math, but already I’ve heard the words, “I’m not good at this! I don’t like it,” come out of her mouth. I tried not to freak out as I beheld my younger self sitting in front of me, bursting into tears over a math problem.
“Math isn’t about getting it all correct right away,” I said, “Math is about learning how to do the problems. Everybody has to learn how to do it, and when you get something wrong, you just need to figure it out and correct it.”
Nobody likes to get stuff wrong, but it’s part of life (and especially part of math). Getting the mindset right from the get-go is a goal of mine as the teacher of my children.
I don’t know when I’ll start actually grading Becky’s math, but it won’t be for a while. I want her to understand that learning math is more than red marks and failures or successes–it’s a process of learning and gaining skills.
Step Two: Curriculum
I realize that not all History books are made equal, but one boring history book isn’t very likely to convince a student that she is “bad” at history. The same cannot be said of math.
As a homeschooling student, we used Saxon.
Saxon is good at some things. It’s good at drilling stuff into your head, but it’s terrible at the how and why.
When I started researching homeschool curricula, what I was really going was researching math curriculum. Choosing the right math book could make or break our homeschooling experience, of that I was certain.
Eventually, I decided on Singapore Math, and I am so glad I did.
Singapore is teaching my kids how to think about the numbers and imparting tricks to make mental math manageable. Heck, I’M learning new tricks, and every time I do, I think to myself, “That makes so much sense. I wish somebody taught me that years ago.”
Step Three: Schedule and Expectations
We reached a point where Becky was taking far too long to do her math, and she was getting more and more frustrated. Whenever we tried to break a problem above ten (think, 19 – 5) into number bonds, she freaked out and got frustrated.
So, we stopped. For an entire week, I didn’t advance her. Instead, I had her do number bonds over and over and over. We started up to ten, then up to twenty. I had her practice her doubles ( i.e., 3 + 3) over and over.
When we resumed advancing, it went more smoothly. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about homeschooling is that fact that you don’t have to keep plodding on when you get confused. You can stop. Assess. Practice. Correct. Then continue.
My system is far from perfect. There are still tears and days when we both get frustrated. BUT! I think there’s something to this–especially the mindset. I’m happy with the curriculum, and now I just need to be positive, patient, and consistent.