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That’s probably not the best title, but it’s the best I can think of at the moment. At least it’s better than “Things I’m Doing With My Second Grader to Help Her Learn Math and Make Sure She Has Mastered It”!

So let me tell you about my little second grader. I say she’s second grade because we have to have a grade level according to the state of Oregon. I informed the local school district of our intent to homeschool back in August and stated that she was in second grade, which is mostly true. However, most of our school work is not based on grade level. For instance, we are using Spelling Power, a mastery based program that allows children to go as fast as they can, or as slow as they need to. She tested into Level B, and in two weeks she has gotten half way through the 4th group of words, which is the equivalent of almost 4 weeks in a regular spelling book. At the rate she’s going, she’ll be in Level C before the end of the school year. But the levels are not technically grade levels. So I can’t base her grade on the work she’s doing. I basically base it on how many years she’s been in school at this point–especially since the State of Oregon is happy with that.

Math is kind of the same idea. We are using Singapore Math. I was a math whiz when I was in school, and I love how Singapore teaches math the way that I think. It is not Common Core, but it gives kids the tools to pass a test based on Common Core (which is something we will face in 3rd grade with required state testing). [Just for the record, the Common Core math that I have seen actually makes sense to me. I told you I like math!] Anyhow, Singapore has 6 levels, split into A and B, but the levels do not exactly correspond to grade levels. Level 1A is a bit too much for a beginning first grader, but I would assume that the average second grader would be able to start at Level 1B. My daughter started at 1A, but that was mostly because I felt she needed the extra practice with some stuff. We did double lessons some days, skipped some things I knew she knew well (like shapes), and we finished it pretty quickly. We are two lessons from being done with 1B as of this week. [I should mention, we started second grade back in April but took about 6 weeks off during the summer.]

She does understand the problems, but she thinks differently than I do. Sometimes she will get it, and other times it’s like she doesn’t want to, or something. That, and it seems to be so hard for her to memorize math facts. We have tried several things. Quarter Mile Math is a great program, but it is frustrating for her when she can’t better her previous scores, and it hasn’t helped her learn the facts any better. Too much pressure, and she doesn’t do well under pressure. Xtra Math helps, but again, part of it is timed, and she doesn’t like the pressure. We do it every week or two to track progress, but I type while she answers aloud, to eliminate the slowness of finding the keys. Math Trainer seems to be the best program so far, and I try to have her do that often. She does 5 minutes a day, and it doesn’t pressure her with a time limit per problem (unless you set it up to do that, which we don’t). It corrects wrong answers and has her repeat it again. It’s not fancy or flashy, but she hasn’t complained about it, so we use it frequently.

Then someone on Practical Homeschooling’s Facebook page recommended RightStart Math. I was intrigued. I had always though that an abacus would be helpful as a manipulative for learning math, but I had been waiting to find one at a thrift store. But when I looked over how their abacus works and tried the virtual one, I was realized that this was not just a regular abacus. I brought my daughter over and showed her how it worked, and she loved it. It made sense to her! I asked her if she wanted me to get her a real one that she could touch, and she got very excited. So I bought one on Amazon. It has revolutionized our math time. I can help her understand the concept and let her do the work on her own. She totally gets how it works, and she can do it quickly, and recently she did some math in her head (subtracting something like 58-13), so I know it’s working! I hope it holds up, because I intend to use it for the rest of my kids. I just wish I hadn’t known about this one sooner!

I’ve been reading this book called The Self-Propelled Advantage, and the author makes a case for having students learn to mastery, not just enough to pass. One of the big advantages of this is that the student will have fewer gaps in their understand if they master everything. It also teaches them to excel and keeps them from feeling like a failure. If they get a D on a test, for instance, in regular school they would be passed on, but with a mastery approach, if they get a D, they study their weak areas and then take the test again, until they get an A. I think there is something to this. Now, I don’t test much. There is a daily spelling test of the 5 words my daughter studied the day before, as well as new words, with the Spelling Power method, but that is part of the method, and the test isn’t graded. Any words she misses are the words she studies that day. With math, I know if she knows the material, more or less, and I know when to take a break and focus on something else. But sometimes it’s I’m not always sure.

So what I’ve decided to do with her math is have her take the placement test next week, after she finishes the reviews. If she gets an A, I will give her a short break from Singapore Math (anywhere from 1 day to a week) and let her spend some time doing Khan Academy math. Then I’ll give her the 2A placement test. I know she won’t get an A on that, but it will tell me what she knows and what she doesn’t. Anything she knows well I will skip, because why study something you already know well? Then when the book is done, I’ll give her the same test again. If she gets an A, we move on. If she gets less than A, we go back and study the missed areas, using other resources (like Khan Academy).

I think this method will give her enough testing experience to avoid test fright when she has to take the 3rd grade state-mandated test, and it will help me tremendously to know where to focus my attention during the next few months. For now, I’m going to let her use the abacus, but I suspect that eventually she’ll get an “abacus in her head” and then she won’t need to use it anymore. She is more right-brained (which is where the RightStart math program gets its name, I think–it’s designed for right-brained students), and being able to visualize the math helps her so much. I visualize numbers after a fashion in my mind, and I love manipulating them in my mind, which is why I like puzzles like Killer Sudoku. Singapore Math teaches that same kind of mental manipulation, but kids need something concrete to develop the abstract, which is where manipulatives come in. Some kids develop that abstract understanding faster than others, and my daughter is a bit slower. My hope is that by the end of Level 2B, she won’t need the abacus anymore. We’ll see.

So that’s my plan for math. If you homeschool, what math program are you using, and how are you helping your child master the concepts?


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