By Lee Binz
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How to Teach High School Math at Home
Of all the subjects I hear homeschoolers moan about, math is towards the top of the list! Math seems like such hard work, for both teacher and student! It takes time, practice, and review; then rinse and repeat! Even for math-loving parents it can be challenging. As a math person myself, I enjoyed teaching math, at least until we got into Algebra 2. At that point I joined the ranks of “in over my head” homeschool parents!
Do you know what I have learned about homeschool math? Everybody loses it at some point. Sooner or later, we all throw up our hands in despair and feel like giving up. Homeschool teachers aren’t the only teachers who feel that way! The feeling tends to be universal! So we learn how to compensate and get the job done with a minimum of hassle. If math is not your forte, don’t be afraid; there are many things you can do to make it as painless as possible, both for you and your children.
As homeschool parents, perhaps you have thought how important it is that we instill a work ethic. We want to teach our children the value of hard work. That’s the great thing about high school math. Sure, colleges want to see advanced mathematical thinking, but the value of math goes far beyond college admission! The real value is teaching kids to work hard. It’s not easy and it takes effort. Don’t give up! Important note: the lessons in hard work are for your kids. For you, I have some tips to make it easier!
Four years of math is important because it’s required for high school graduation in every state. It’s also important because almost all colleges require a full four years of math. However, that doesn’t mean your child has to do four years of upper level math, including calculus. It just means they should continue to work at their own level and keep moving forward every year. Yes, it’s wonderful to complete calculus in high school, but not everyone is going to get there. Just because they don’t get to calculus doesn’t mean they can’t get into college!
Sometimes parents wonder what the “correct sequence” for math is, and stress about making sure they’re doing it “right.” The good news is that in the grand scheme of things, there is no “right” sequence to do math. There is a "typical” sequence, which usually has two flavors:
algebra 1 – geometry – algebra 2 – trigonometry/pre-calculus – calculus
algebra 1 – algebra 2 – geometry – trigonometry/pre-calculus – calculus
Some curriculum providers will try to tell you that one way is “best” but it doesn’t matter which order you choose. It’s best to complete geometry before 11th grade if possible; that’s when students take the PSAT, and that test includes geometry. Completing the class before 11th grade can improve the score on that test. Geometry is completely different from algebra, but it does review some algebra concepts. For that reason, if your child struggled with algebra 1, taking geometry next can firm up their algebraic understanding before they go into the more difficult algebra 2 concepts. If they didn’t like algebra, then geometry can give them a bit of a break before they have to tackle it again as algebra 2. But for many people, the sequence of math isn’t terribly important; the most important thing is that your child learns math consistently each year.
A common question between homeschoolers is “what math curriculum do you use?” We all have our preferences, but in the end there isn’t one “best” curriculum for everyone, despite what the sales people may tell you at homeschool conventions. There’s no magic program that will guarantee your child will love math, but there is one key which will at least prevent them from HATING it, and that is to use a curriculum that fits your child.
Here is the bottom line for finding the correct math text. The best curriculum is the one that matches your child’s learning style, and doesn’t drive them crazy. Even if your best friend swears by it, even if your most trusted advisor says it’s the best math program, if it’s not a good fit for your child, it won’t work well. The best program is the one that helps your child learn.
So how do you find that best-fit curriculum? When your kids were in elementary school, you probably could bring home whatever curriculum you thought would be best, and your kids would go along with what you chose. When kids become teenagers, they start to have personal preferences about a lot of things, and your preferences and learning style may not be the same as theirs. Sometimes they develop pet peeves and personality quirks that make them dislike a particular book or video, such as a teacher’s accent or the use of a white board. It may not be reasonable or logical, but when you’re honest, you’ll realize that we all have pet peeves or things that drive us crazy.
To avoid this problem, let your teens have some choice in their curriculum. Perhaps you can present them with several different options, and let them choose the one they prefer. You might be surprised by what they choose. When I homeschooled, I was completely shocked at my son’s choice of Saxon for math. I had previously rejected that option. Personally, I hated the look of it —all print and no pictures—but that’s exactly why my son loved it! He likes numbers and thought pictures just got in the way. Imagine what would have happened if I had brought home a curriculum that I liked, based on my preferences, with lots of photos and colors! He would have hated it, and might have ended up hating math, thinking it just wasn’t for him.
In addition to finding a curriculum that fits your child, make sure that it is intended for homeschoolers. You don’t want to use a curriculum that assumes you have a thorough understanding of differential equations if you don’t even know what that is. Homeschool curriculum will not assume that a math major is teaching in a classroom. Instead, they will assume that a parent like you is teaching a child like yours. Video tutorials are always helpful, and 800-numbers are a plus, in case your kids (or you) get stuck. When my kids came up with an answer on a test that didn’t match what the answer guide said, I made them call the 800-number to see whether their answer was right before I gave them credit for it! No matter how much they whined about it, and they did whine about it. All. The. Time. True story.
They say attitude is everything. It's so true, especially for math! Try not to instill or encourage a fear of math. Do what you can to make it enjoyable or tolerable. Don't label yourself or your children as math-haters. Another saying is "fake it till you make it." Also true in math! For best results, try to convey a matter-or-fact attitude, rather than horror about daily work.
If math still seems overwhelming for you, and you find yourself never getting around to doing it, you’re not alone. Every homeschool parent has at least one subject that they simply don’t like, understand, tolerate, enjoy, or remember to do each day. If math is the weak area, the best way to make sure you do it every day is to put it first on the list of things to do. Your weak area becomes your homeschool priority each day.
Make it the first subject you do in the morning, the thing you do every day. Even if a fabulous opportunity comes your way, get math done before doing the fun stuff. Even if you are offered free tickets to the play, or even a field trip to the Superbowl, get math done first (unless the Seahawks are playing, of course)! Never leave the house until that one thing is done. Make sure you put it first each day, and try to do it first in the morning when you are both fresh. Make it the first curriculum you buy each year, and the one you’re most willing to spend money on. Be willing to spend more money on math than any other subject. It’s a great investment with math particularly, but it's worth it for any weak area. If the math curriculum you buy isn’t working, purchase a new one that does work, because this is your weak area and you need to invest in it. These strategies will help you compensate for your weakness in this area, and will greatly increase your chances for success!
Whatever level you are facing, teach math at their level, and continue moving forward. Complete one lesson every day, never miss a day. If your child understands a concept, skip the lesson and move on. It's extremely helpful with math-reluctant kids to include math during the summer, so they maintain their understanding.If possible, do a math section during the summer, unless you are traveling.Most kids lose 3 months’ worth of progress over each summer, and then they need 3 months of review each fall to catch up again. You can see that doing math in the summer can REALLY speed things up!
Don’t go backward, trying to achieve the impossible "perfection" in math. Consider your own checkbook for a moment. Like you, I have mastery over math; I can add, subtract, multiply and divide as well as any 6th grader. But my checkbook? I don't always exhibit perfection in math, and I regularly make math mistakes in my checkbook! So if you are waiting for perfection before moving on, it will be frustrating to everyone in the long run.
What is required is that your student is reasonably successful in math, and understands it reasonably well. Four years of math is required. For some, that means a daily struggle over four years that will end in Algebra 1 at the end of high school. Sure, it's not optimal, but it does happen. For other kids, four years of math can leave mom or dad in the dust, and the child pushes forward into calculus and differential equations.
Below are brief overviews of the most popular math curricula. You can find video samples online for most, so your child can compare the programs and give feedback.Another benefit of letting them help choose is that they might have more ‘ownership’ of the course and won’t complain so much! (Caution: actual results may vary.)
This is the most popular homeschool math curriculum, top rated by math experts. There is nothing but math problems on the page, so it thrilled my math-loving son and he actually chose these books for that reason!
DIVE CDs Video for Saxon
These are the original videos that coordinate with Saxon books, and intended for use by Christian homeschoolers. This is what I used, and I loved them. DIVE into Math Video Example
Saxon Teacher Video
Created by Saxon textbooks, these video lessons go through every problem in the text and the tests. Saxon Teacher Video
Homeschool With Saxon Video
Another tutorial for Saxon math, this is a video of a live instructor, and was intended for a wide variety of classroom and homeschool settings, so it may have a classroom feel. Homeschool with Saxon
Teaching Textbooks is very popular, and created by Harvard graduates. Each level includes videos for lessons and answers, and demonstrates every problem in the book. Video Examples and Information
This has been around for years, and uses interactive video-based strategies. Video Example Chalkdust
This has also been around a long time, and uses a DVD format. Video Example
Thinkwell has been around a long time. It only allows you to take a test once, which can be frustrating. Video Example
Abeka uses a classroom setting in their video. I have watched HOURS of these videos when I was placed next to them in a convention, and the classroom setting drove me crazy! Video Example
This is a Christian curriculum intended for homeschoolers. They offer an online class for high school math that seems very much like a school environment, so it's not my favorite. Video Example
I have heard that this program does a good job with hands-on learners. Video Example
Ask Dr. Callahan
This video works with the Harold Jacobs Algebra book, which was the book we used and loved. Ask Dr. Callahan
This is a video-aided instruction program for independent learners that many homeschoolers love. It’s web-based, so it does not include a textbook. Video Example
Life of Fred
This is a literature-based curriculum. It may require additional practice problems for students to be completely comfortable with math concepts. Life of Fred
If you have a child who loves literature but hates numbers, it may be helpful to supplement a math program with books. One option is the book “Algebra the Easy Way” by Douglas Downing (who happens to be my son’s economics mentor)! Another is Living Math, a website (livingmath.net) with a variety of links for literature lovers, including a long book list!
For kids who will benefit from some hands-on supplements, try “Family Math for Middle School” which we used as a supplement for algebra.“Patty Paper Geometry” is great for hands-on exploration of geometric proofs. We also supplemented pre-calculus and calculus with the videos “Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear,” which my children loved so much, they watched them twice!!
Math Games and Supplements
LivingMath.net lists fun math readers, primarily for early grades
Algebra the Easy Way is literature-based math for high school
Family Math has a wide variety of math games to do at home
Patty Paper Geometry provides hands-on experiments with geometry
Great Courses: Calculus Made Clear provides great explanations of calculus concepts
Khan Academy offers video math lessons
Once you get past calculus, find higher level math classes from MIT Open Courseware
The Home Stretch
Let's face it, math won't be a career choice for everyone. It is, however, a very important skill for daily living. How often have I watched the news and prayed that God would raise up a generation of leaders who understood – in a profoundly meaningful way – that a trillion dollars was a whole boatload of money?
Also, spend a little time reflecting on this truth – every time a plane crashes or a bridge falls or a patient dies because of a hospital error, you can bet that someone, somewhere messed up the math. We all wish that would never happen, but it does.Let's make it our goal to stem the tide of math mediocrity. You get the idea.Math is important and, for some children at least, it will be fun.Studies show that adult attitudes about math have a profound effect on whether children grow up to be math lovers, math haters or just math indifferent.It turns out that moaning about math isn't such a good idea after all.Kids are wonderful mimics so let's all try to give them a positive perspective on math. You will make the world a better (and safer) place.
What classes do you need to teach? How do you cover them all within four years? Use what you know about your students and their learning styles and consider the subjects that colleges want to see. It's all covered in my class Planning High School Courses (Online training)
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.