Monday, November 9, 2015

Teaching Myself Math with Life of Fred

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We discovered the Life of Fred math curriculum several years ago. This unique program teaches math in a story format. Readers of the books will follow the adventures of Fred, a 6-year-old math professor at Kittens University. The stories are laugh out loud funny and illustrated by cartoon drawings. Despite this novel approach, they offer sound teaching. Every concept is illustrated in the story, enabling the student to understand why he or she needs to know it. The lessons include many word problems that require the student to really understand what he’s doing.

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Emily used one of the pre-algebra books and the algebra book as supplements a couple of years ago. Although Life of Fred is a complete curriculum, I wasn’t sure if there was enough practice for her or if the instruction was thorough enough. This year, though, she wanted to use Fred for her primary curriculum, so we decided to give it a try.

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve studied math. I have had no trouble helping Emily with her algebra I and geometry, but I realized that I would need some brush-up on my math to keep ahead of her from algebra 2 on.  I ordered both the Advanced Algebra and the Trigonometry (which is considered to be a pre-calculus course) Life of Fred books, thinking that I would work through them and keep ahead of Emily. What I didn’t realize was how much fun this would be, or how much insight into math instruction this would give me!P1050483

I started with the Advanced Algebra book 4 weeks ago. I’m moving very quickly through the 500+ page book and will probably finish it this week! Many of the lessons are short, so I’m doing several a day. The story is funny and the lessons are varied and engaging, which makes me want to do “just more lesson.” Pretty funny idea for math, isn’t it?

I wasn’t really sure how well Life of Fred taught the concepts until I actually worked through it myself. With Emily’s previous books, I skimmed through many of the lessons and wondered if there was enough instruction. Now that I’m actually working the problems, I can see how many of the problems are requiring me to incorporate concepts from previous chapters, and to figure out things that haven’t been fully explained yet, making connections between concepts. (Sometimes, a concept is actually explained in the solution, so it’s okay to peek ahead for a little help if you get stuck and it’s also important to read through the solutions even if you get the answer correct, because you might just learn a little something more! If I hadn’t actually used the program, I might not have realized that. Now I know to remind Emily to study the solutions as well. I also realized that Emily would probably need more practice to cement the concepts, so I ordered the supplementary Zillions of Practice Problems for Advanced Algebra. She will probably also use CTC and IXL for additional practice when needed.

A few months ago, I worked through some of the algebra 2 lessons in CTC math. I think CTC math is a good program. It includes short videos that explain the concepts before the student works on the problems and plenty of practice. Emily enjoyed using it for Geometry. I didn’t enjoy it as much. I get bored watching even a 5 minute video—I’d just rather read an explanation! Also, the problems on a page were similar, although they did progress in difficulty, so the work seemed tedious at times. I didn’t mind doing it, because I enjoy math, and I still think it’s a good program, but I didn’t love it either.

I’ve discovered that actually working through a curriculum  myself rather than skimming it gives me a much deeper understanding of it and insight as to whether it would be a good fit for my child. I do read through nearly everything that she does for history and science, but it never occurred to me (nor did I want to take the time) to do the same for math. Now I know!

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