Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Living Maths - Part One

Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE maths!

Here are a few more confessions to set the scene:

*  I'm interested in metacognition, patterns, and the links between maths, science and art.
*  I like order but am often disorganised, with many ideas and projects buzzing around at once.
*  I love imagining creative ways to do things.
*  My favourite part of teaching is seeing someone's eyes light up when they are inspired and their mind is humming with connections and understandings.

Steps and Stages ...

Since we started home ed., I've often wondered which maths curriculum would suit us now and into the future.  My kids are quite maths-literate, and accelerated themselves through much of K-1 maths before school age. There are gaps of course ... not many people learn neatly according to a schedule!  And we have had great chunks of time spent on Natural Learning, which helps keep things fresh and student-focused.

 I was slightly worried, as in terms of number facts, Elijah has remained at a Year 2 level for 2 years.  But I can see some important connections happening now, and am seeing evidence that he's in another phase of rapid development.  For example, Elijah doesn't have quick recall of all addition facts to 20 and can't be bothered with learning to tell the time properly, beyond the hour and half hour.  His writing is way behind his comprehension, so I've often acted as his scribe.  But he knows how to work out simple percentages (eg. 20% of 1000 or 50% of 40), has a good grasp of some fractions, can count by 2's, 5's, 10's, and quickly understands any new concept we think to introduce.  I have been glad to slow down anyway, not wishing to hasten his acceleration unless it's driven by his own interest and readiness.

The Resources Dilemma ... 

My main problem is that we're spoiled for choice!  I've examined endless reviews, samples, placement tests and articles about all kinds of maths resources.  Some programs which partly suit my preferences include Singapore, MEP, Saxon, Targeting Maths and Go Maths.  They all seem excellent.  But I am never content, so haven't ordered a complete program.  Part of me wanted to find an online solution, but I wasn't fussed with the samples of Teaching Textbooks.  Would Elijah have to prove competence to gain entry to EPGY Grade 3-4, and would it be overly expensive?

Thus far in Maths ... 

I've been using Singapore Maths Textbook 2A with Elijah (no workbooks, just using it as a reader and doing the exercises orally).  I also printed and had bound MEP Maths 2A for him.  Both children have several Yr 1 or 2 textbooks to choose from when they are inclined to do bookwork (for Jasmine, this urge occurs several times a week, for Elijah it's only when I insist) ... Rigby, Maths Plus, Easy Learn Maths, Boomerang and Step Ahead.  Elijah likes the interaction of doing MEP lessons with me, but we don't formally 'do' maths often enough to use MEP properly ... for days we'll play with numbers and ideas in other ways, so that each time we go back to bookwork, he's progressed beyond the lesson we're up to.  I've never stuck rigidly to any textbooks, skipping pages which seem boring, redundant or repetitious.  So perhaps we've been too light on with number drills.  Instead we do sums at the dinner table, counting rhymes in the car.

Whilst some maths programs incorporate a lot of hands on activities, real life applications and motivations, I still find them a bit stifling.  Jasmine likes to do bookwork, but she enjoys the other things we do too.  Elijah definitely prefers learning through stories and conversations, shows, computer games, board games and puzzles.  We've used such a diverse range of resources, it's always a challenge to record them and make sense of the path we've taken.

Ideas ...

I've been toying with the idea of several maths lessons each week being devoted to fun and inspiring ideas, such as looking at M.C. Escher, magic squares, The Golden Section, Bible numerics.  And games.  And hands on, real life problem solving.  Doesn't leave much room for drills and paperwork though.  Do we really need them?  Do I need a 'spine' at all or can we be trusted to cover the 'basics' in unconventional ways?  Will my children be able to fit in if they ever need to go to school?

I'm coming to terms with all these questions, and the answer seems to be:

Living Maths ...

Our best 'lessons' over the years have been experiences such as making a 3D graph of matchbox cars, constructing polyhedra using straws and pipecleaners, counting money as Elijah saved for an electric drum kit, taking measurements for furniture designs, adjusting recipe quantities.

I'm going to TRY to stop looking at Maths Curriculums, and focus more on just 3 factors:
-  being more creative and diligent in RECORDING the incidental maths the kids do in life and play
-  identifying WHAT my children are ready to learn or do next
-  finding interesting printables, stories and manipulatives to ensure they have FUN experiences to gain that knowledge.

I want our maths 'lessons' from now on to be memorable, inspiring, lively, exciting, challenging and real.    I intend to read more on Living Maths and Charlotte Mason and Unschooling websites.  I am excited about diving deeper into Living Maths.  I'm keen to list the many ways MATHS happens in my home, and I think articulating what we unconsciously do will help me let go of my obsession with comparing curriculums!

I already have some great resources, and know of a few more I'd like ... I'm bursting to write about them all, but will have to save that challenge for another day.  I have bookmarked some helpful and inspiring websites, and will also list these and share some links and ideas in Part Two.

If you have any tips to share about studying, doing or recording LIVING MATHS, please share them!


  1. Vanessa sounds Elijah is very advanced for his age as my understanding is that he is younger than Jasmine am I right?
    have you looked at
    i have not used it but others have often referred to it on one of the yahoo groups i belong to.

  2. Elijah is the oldest, turning 7 in June. Jasmine will turn 6 in June, so they are both just a little ahead, but probably just at the top of what would be typical in their class (Yr 1-2 and K-1) if at school.

    I haven't seen that site yet, and look forward to checking it out. Thanks! :)

  3. As joyfulmum said, the livingmath yahoo group & website is a great resource! If you're looking for some sort of spine, have you checked out Khan Academy? You can watch the videos and do exercises on it now, and it steps you through a "path" of where you're up to in terms of understanding. You can skip around though if you want, it doesn't lock you into a particular section.

    But yes, there is a lot to be said for living maths. There are so many concepts that they just pick up naturally and you think, how do they know that??!


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