When we started homeschooling, the one thing my kids asked was that we not use Saxon Math curriculum. The charter school they had attended used it and it was not their favorite.
Let me say clearly…I know lots of homeschool families that use and LOVE Saxon. It’s just not a good fit for us.
One of the very best things about homeschooling is that you can pick and choose what will work for your family. And if something doesn’t work…you can try something else! We experienced this with our history curriculum early on, as well. I’ll write about how all that worked out sometime soon.
With math, we have used a number of different curriculums (I know “curricula” is the correct plural, but it sounds funny, so I don’t say it).
When I was looking for things to try, I loved reading about other people’s experiences. So today, I thought I’d share ours. Each one of these had pros and cons, things we liked and things we didn’t. You can click on the images to read more about each curriculum.
There is a lot to like about Teaching Textbooks. It is engaging and the fact that it is self-grading is so convenient! It was our experience, like others I’ve read, that the levels seem to be about one grade level behind other programs. For example, Math 6 we found to be more appropriate for a 4th or 5th grader. The website has placement tests, though, so there’s not too much guesswork in knowing which level to order. (My buying tip is to check used curriculum sales, craigslist, and ebay first. When you get a used copy, you need to contact the company and they will give you a new user code. Easy peasy, and way cheaper! Just make sure you check if what you’re buying is self-grading. The first versions of the upper level courses are not, but they’ve come out with “2.0” versions that are.)
Teaching Textbooks was my younger son’s math curriculum of choice up through Algebra. He completed Algebra 1, though not terribly successfully. It was a difficult math year for us. This kid is a numbers genius, and excelled at all things arithmetic. Algebra involved new challenges, which he wasn’t used to having in math. So, in that regard, it would’ve been a difficult subject with any curriculum, I believe. What made it more so was that Teaching Textbooks teaches Algebra in a way that is different from the way I learned it, and the way many other curriculums present it. This made it difficult for me to come alongside and help him with his work when he struggled. I made the decision to switch to a new math curriculum the following year. We had several good years with this, and I would definitely recommend it up through Pre-Algebra without hesitation.
Life of Fred
Because I always felt that Teaching Textbooks was a little on the easy side, I instituted “Second Math” for my son that was using it. “Second Math” was Life of Fred. We used Fractions, Decimals & Percents, and Pre-Algebra (with Biology). We loved them! I won’t argue with anyone who chooses to use Life of Fred as your sole math curriculum. But for us, it was a perfect supplement. When we were doing Geometry a couple of years ago I picked up Life of Fred Geometry as a supplement, thinking it would be a nice help. Not so much. Much like Teaching Textbooks presented Algebra in a different way, Life of Fred teaches Geometry in a very different way than our core curriculum, so we didn’t end up using it much. While I haven’t used the newer, elementary books, I know several people who use them and love them. What I’ve seen in flipping through them is impressive. If you have a child that likes to read, thinks ‘outside the box’, or just wants to try math in a different way, I would definitely give these a try.
“Key To…” Series
While boy 2 was using and eating up Teaching Textbooks/Life of Fred, my eldest tried and didn’t love Teaching Textbooks. He used it for one year, during which I supplemented with many of the packets from the “Key To…” series. We did the Key to Fractions, Key to Decimals, and Key to Percents. Later, we used Key to Algebra as our Pre-Algebra/ introduction to Algebra. I love the format of these booklets. For kids that may get overwhelmed by a giant math textbook, they are easily digestible. There are so many problems, that it’s a great resource to pick and choose what you want to do. I would often review a topic with him, and then tell him to choose 3 problems from the page to do. If he got them right, I knew he understood the concept and we moved on. Feeling like he was getting to “skip” a bunch of math was encouraging and made for less stressful math sessions. My biggest piece of advice with these is to not write in the booklets. Use a notebook. I use these frequently when I tutor kids that struggle with math. These are such a great resource!
My eldest is very hands on and so, when looking at math curriculum, I was drawn to RightStart Geometry. It’s a middle school curriculum that is very concrete. Much of the work is done with a drawing board. Instead of just looking at figures and doing problems with them, students are creating the figures. This was a low-pressure math year for us, which was great! I’d recommend it for middle-school for sure, especially for students who don’t love math. I wouldn’t say it’s especially rigorous. But for a middle school curriculum, after students have mastered basic arithmetic but maybe aren’t quite ready for Algebra 1, this was a great filler year. And it was by no means fluff. Thumbs up!
As an Algebra 1 course, I would highly recommend No-Nonsense Algebra. It is small for a textbook, which I liked. It presents each topic in a very straightforward manner on just a page or two. Each lesson presents a single topic, gives examples, plenty of practice problems, and a few problems for review. And the best thing is…you get a code to log in and watch a video lesson for each lesson in the book! It’s an amazing value! I really love this curriculum. We even referred back to it when reviewing for a placement test my eldest had to take last year for his dual enrollment classes. Big stars on this one! Love it!
Ask Dr. Callahan & Jacobs Geometry
My boys both used this and I would definitely recommend it. The Ask Dr. Callahan video series teaches with short lessons, which the boys liked. And I liked that the program didn’t have them working all of the problems in the textbook. I also really appreciated the time that the publisher takes in answering questions via email. After a difficult year with Algebra 1 with my youngest, I was unsure about diving right in to Geometry. I sent an email asking if we should consider purchasing their Algebra 1 course before going on to Geometry. I received a quick reply suggesting that we go ahead with Geometry, as the course has quite a bit of Algebra review in it. I found this impressive, as they could’ve told me to order the other course just to make more profit off of me. (And he was right, the review in the course was sufficient.)
The only complaint I would have is that the tests, although taken from the book, are not always representative of what students have covered in the chapters. After a few poor test grades, and my kids complaining that they weren’t being tested on what they’d studied, I ended up going through and previewing the test questions and changing them up a bit. I still pulled questions from the chapters, but chose different problems to substitute for others.
Regarding the Jacobs Geometry text … it’s great! I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a good geometry text, whether or not you use the Ask Dr. Callahan videos/lessons. One of the best things I did when we started this course was to hire a tutor (my math-genius niece who does Calculus for “funsies”) to come once a week and review with the boys. It was good for them to be under someone else’s instruction, and I was able to throw out more than a few “I told you so’s” when I’d overhear her telling them to show their work.
When we made the decision to homeschool, I actually had a work colleague say these words to me, “So… you know everything?” While I wanted to say, “Why yes, yes I do.” What I did say was that just like in public school, homeschoolers have resources to teach what one individual teacher may not be able to. Finding a math tutor as we’ve moved into upper level math has been one of these resources that has been a smashing success.
Time 4 Learning Algebra 2
I wish I could say that this was a smashing success as well, but I can’t. And I so wanted it to be. We used the Time 4 Learning platform for my youngest’s math this past year for Algebra 2. We also used it as a foundation for his English, Science, and History along with other resources. The English and History especially were good, albeit a bit corny at times. I wish that they allowed for purchasing an individual course, as I might consider using it again. But as it is, you pay a flat rate for a package of courses. Within that package, you can pick and choose which courses you’d like, which is nice, but not as nice as being able to pay for an individual course.
Speaking specifically about the Algebra 2 course, we had several issues that made it something I can’t recommend. First, my son repeatedly scored poorly on the assessments. When we’d talk about it, here’s how he described what he felt was going on: “It’s like they teach you to spell c-a-t …and then test you on how to spell ‘encyclopedia’.” He got very frustrated after thinking he understood a lesson, only to go to the assessment problems and not have a clue what they expected. After running this by our math tutor, she agreed. What we ended up doing was having my son watch the lessons on the website, attempt the problems he could, then have my niece actually teach the material when she’d come to meet with him. After that, he’d do the rest of the assignment. We also relied heavily on videos from Khan Academy and other sources to supplement his learning, including a used copy of an Algebra 2 text I picked up to reference. Another thing that gave me pause was that our tutor found errors in the answer key on at least 3 occasions. I get human error, but I don’t think we’ve experienced this much error in any other math curriculum we’ve used. The final element that was difficult was the over the top corniness of many of the lessons. A little corny is cute… a lot is wearying and a real turn off. I will say that the customer service is fantastic. They were always quick and helpful in responding to any questions I had. Like I said, I really wanted this to work. It just wasn’t a good fit for us.
My eldest had a statistics class through his dual enrollment at a local community college this year and was thrilled that, barring any changes in his plans, he is done with math classes forever. (That was a real motivation when trudging through the course!)
My plans for my younger son for this upcoming year include working to prepare for the College Mathematics CLEP test. I’m using the REA Study Guide as a foundation for planning, and am pulling lessons from a variety of sources (including the Algebra 2 text I ordered last year to supplement his course). My niece will tutor him again.
I’ll let you know how it goes. (Update: We found THE BEST math curriculum for Algebra 2 and ended up doing that CLEP test instead. Oh how I wish we’d have found this curriculum sooner!)
You know, I knew this before, but have really become firm in my belief that everyone will have different experiences with curriculum. That’s probably why I like to read so many reviews before deciding on something. Another thing that I firmly hold to is that one of the best things about homeschooling is the ability to find curriculum that works for your child.
Have you mixed up what you’ve used in math, or have you stuck with one curriculum? I’d love to hear your recommendations.
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