Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sue Patrick Workbox System--The Beginning

Somehow summer vacation has faded into the sunset. As it  has for many of you, the beginning of our school year has arrived. Lesson plans have been made, curriculum purchased (or created), supplies acquired, and our school area organized. It was about six days until our scheduled first day of school that I had this wild idea to implement the Sue Patrick Workbox system into our school. Now I live in North Carolina very close to where the creator of this system, Sue Patrick, lives. I’ve heard those in our homeschool support group talk about using the workbox system. In fact, Sue was at our bookfair this past July and gave several seminars explaining her system, but I was unable to attend the seminars. In fact, I didn’t even think I was that interested in her system at the time.
I believe what started it all was trying to figure out how to get my oldest son organized and able to work in a bit more streamlined fashion while communicating to him what he should be working on independently. I had purchased a planner for him. I tried writing out what he needed to do on a daily basis and it just wasn’t working for me. Hmm,what to do? Time was running out before our start date. Then while cleaning up the school room, I came to the goody bag from the bookfair and again reviewed the materials from Sue Patrick. It got me thinking. Hmm, maybe...
In short, what is the workbox system? The workbox system as developed by Sue Patrick is a way of setting up your school and going through all your work in an organized way with your subjects broken down into easily accomplished tasks. Everything needed for each assignment/subject is placed in one plastic shoebox/workbox and the student works through each box until he is done for the day. I’ll go into more detail in the next blog. 
The first thing I did was visit Sue’s website. It gives you some basic information on what the whole workbox system is all about and ordering information for her book which explains everything fully. In purchasing it, you are also allowed to log into her website for free downloads which are helpful in setting up your own workboxes. Well, I knew I didn’t have time to read her book. I wanted to have everything set up in the next couple days. Thank goodness for the homeschool blogosphere. (I am planning to attend a seminar later this month and buy the book eventually.)
I began searching blogs. Homeschool moms who blog are wonderful. They want to share what they’ve learned and share pictures. This was especially helpful in figuring out the practical side of setting up the workbox system in our own home. How could I feasibly put this together in a matter of days for low cost in the space we had? Well, with the inspiration in these blogs I came up an idea that works for both my 8th grader and my 2nd grader.
If you are considering the Workbox system, I would advise you to look at some blogs too. Here is a great place to start. This is a collection of blogs explaining the workbox system and how it worked for them. This page also has some downloads made by homeschool moms to use with the system. Very helpful!
Next Time--I’ll share how we implemented the system into our school.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Math-u-See: Curriculum Review

In our family we’ve had a real journey when it comes to the study of mathematics. We’ve used not one but six math programs in the seven years that we’ve homeschooled. Now let me open by explaining that I taught middle school math for three years in the Christian school. I’ve taught very bright students and those that struggle. Here I’m going to give you a little history so you will understand the relief at finding a math curriculum which finally worked for us. You might find yourself understand exactly our circumstance.

Our Mathematical History:
 In our first year of homeschooling, I bought the complete 1st grade Abeka curriculum. By the end of the second semester, we realized it just wasn’t working. So we switched to Alpha Omega LifePacs Math. In 2nd grade, we used Horizons Math and that seemed to be an okay fit for us. In third grade, I put my son on Bob Jones DVD school for all subjects. He did very well. We did it again in 4th grade and I could see him needing me more and more especially in math. For 5th grade, I went back to teaching him all subjects and we tried Abeka for math only since that is what I taught in the Christian school. The year went satisfactorily, but I knew he was struggling. There were days we had tears and math would take a couple hours. In sixth grade, we started the year with Teaching Textbooks. That lasted a semester. He absolutely hated it. So we stopped and he just studied math facts for all operations while I tried to figure out what to use next. That’s when I investigated Math-u-See.

Basics of Math-U-See:
Math-U-See was created by former math teacher, Steve Demme. It works well with all learning styles at all levels of math learning from the struggling student to the advanced. Math-u-See is mastery based vs. spiral. That means that in each level there is a focus covered in each book. The levels are set up as follows:

Primer (which is an introduction to mathematics. It is best suited for Pre-kindergarten to kindergarten level students.)
Alpha (simple addition and subtraction)
Beta (advanced addition and subtraction)
Gamma (multiplication)
Delta (division)
Epsilon (fractions)
Zeta (decimals and percents)

That covers the Elementary levels of Math.Then there are the usual high level math classes:

Algebra I
Algebra II

The elementary levels being set up as mastery can be used at different grades levels depending on the math level of the student. For example, a fifth grader would typically be in Epsilon, but a struggling ninth grader might be using it as well. There are no grades assigned to each level.

The Math-u-See system utilizes blocks in all levels of math even through the high school levels. These are very important and really make the Math-u-See experience different than other math programs. Most of us moms, dads and teachers were taught how to do math but not the whys about math. We were taught to think of math in an abstract manner. With this program students are taught to know the whys about math and with the blocks they learn math in a concrete way and then move into the abstract. It makes math much more understandable and (even more) it takes math concepts and rules and allows them to make sense so that memorization is not really necessary.

Teaching DVDs are included with the Teachers Manual. The idea is for the teacher to watch the DVDs and allow Mr. Demme to teach you the system of Math-u-See so that you can then teach your children. However, if you have children in the 3rd grade or above, it is completely acceptable to have them watch the DVDs with you and then you can go through the lesson together. If you have an even younger child who learns well through listening or watching, then you can view the DVDs together as well. They are a great learning tool.

Our personal experience:
I decided to give Math-u-See a try after a couple weeks of searching through other math programs. We decided to put our sixth grader into the Alpha level which can normally be used in the first grade. He moved through Alpha quickly starting in February and finishing it in April. Math now took us 20 to 30 minutes a day. He was not only finishing quicker but understanding more fully—really understanding how math works. He could now do mental math—figuring out computation in his head. The addition and subtractions facts were learned. Then we skipped to the Gamma level which teaches multiplication. He finished it that summer. This past year in seventh grade, he completed Delta (division) and Epsilon (fractions). This summer before 8th grade, we have been going through the Zeta book—decimals and percents. We should finish just in time to start the new school year and pre-Algebra, putting him on track for grade level. That’s a lot of math in 18 months.  This past year I put my 1st grader into Alpha. He is much more math minded than my older son, but he still did great with Math-u-See. No tears here.

Advice in using math u see:
Math-u-See books are divided into 30 lessons with a test after every lesson, four unit tests divided through the level and a final exam. Within each lesson, there are seven pages to be completed (A-F plus test). Do you need to complete all those math pages? Absolutely not. Pages A-C cover the same new material. Pages D-F are called systematic review and include the new lesson material as well as review material. With my younger son, we did math only four days a week. We viewed the lesson on Monday and did the A paper. Tuesday we did the B paper, Wednesday we moved to the D paper and Thursday he took the test. If I found that he needed more review, we could take another day to do so. My older son who was moving through the lower levels at a much quicker pace might do the Lesson and A paper on one day, the D paper the next and the test the third day. Then we started the next lesson. This is all to say that you, the parent and teacher, can decide how much time you need to take for each lesson.

Make sure to purchse the blocks (both sets). They are imperative to this math system and used through all the levels. There are other manipulatives used in the upper elementary levels which can also be purchased to demonstrate those concrete methods of teaching things like fractions and decimals which we adults never had as students.

One other thing is that it is very easy to purchase used Math-u-See items and to sell your used items. Look for a local place to sell used curriculum or there are several online places to buy and sell including a special Math-u-See Yahoo group.

Visit the website to learn more about Math-U-See . There are video segments to watch and sample pages to view from the books.