When Middle School Arithmetic Hits a Wall


What is important to emphasize in Middle School with Arithmetic? They know their sums, multiples, how to maneuver the numbers through fractions, squares and word problems. Each day seems like a repeat of the past, with no end in sight, and no reason on the horizon.

We’ve gone through this ho-hum stage at the exact same spot with both boys now. Saxon 7/6 around lesson 60, roughly half way through the year’s lessons.

Elementary was fun and exciting as we took our time going through Miquon Books using Cuisenaire rods and rulers from Timberdoodle. Each day was a puzzle to be solved. The boys barely knew they were doing math. It seemed like an extension of our board game time.

As the skills firmed up we moved to more traditional curriculum created for homeschoolers, with the crew we’ve tried many, and they were excited to have work ‘like their friends’. The joy of being able to do the work with ease fueled the day and the sense of accomplishment moved them forward.

And then Middle School. The learning of the day seems short. The repetition as fun as washing dishes 5 times a day.

The wall we have run into has been specific to Spiral Math Methods. I’ve written a lot on Spiral vs Mastery. The basics is that with Mastery you work on a specific skill many days in a row, with the exercises reinforcing that skill. There may be 4-6 review questions in the day, but they are not key. With Spiral you learn a slice of a skill each day. Focus on 5-10 practice exercises demonstrating how it is used, then perform 25-30 problems that represent a piece of each skill learned throughout the year.

So – with Saxon 7/6 I find it easy to figure out how the wall is hit.  My sons can no longer just wake up and do their math without me after bible. Although with the spiral programs we always use a video tutor, after the tutor, it is hard to translate what he just said, into the practice problems.  Then, to go onto 30 questions (we usually do odds or evens) trying to remember what was done 3 months ago gets exhausting.

Each math curriculum we use tries to alleviate this problem a bit. Saxon’s newer homeschool books puts the number to the chapter for each problem near the number of the question. So if you don’t remember, you can go back to chapter 14 and look it up. With our first son, that sounded wonderful. With the same problems with the seconds son, it seems wrong. They are to assume that each child will not be able to recall how to do the problem so they put the numbers there?  Teaching Textbooks has a smilar bail out, as for each problem you do not understand, you can slide in the green answers disk and watch a video on how they solved the problem.  Problem solved, right?  We even have a Math Dictionary to help us remember the spiral math problems.

So, for example, this week’s spiral topics are:

  • Adding Three or More Fractions
  • Writing Mixed Numbers s Improper Fractions,
  • Subtracting Mixed Numbers with Regrouping Part 2 (Where was part one)
  • Classifying Quadrilaterals
  • Prime Factorization Division by Primes and Factor Trees
  • Multiplying Mixed Numbers
  • Dividing Mixed Numbers, Lengths of Segments Complementary And Supplementary Angles, and
  • Coordinate Planes.

So this week, they sort of stay with Fractions, but then mix in some Geometry and Linear Equations.  Joy.  For a 12 year old to figure out how to jump around like this, is insane!

We have seen the problem for about a month now, and have been looking at options. We are thinking of Math U See since it is so close to Miquon and has the same tools as Teaching Textbooks to help the teacher and the student. We may still eventually move towards this option. However, December is not the month your child wants to spend a hundred dollars on – More Math Products.

So – our answer was found this week with the chance checkout of a book – The One Room Schoolhouse.  I’ll tell you what we’ve been thinking in my next post. 

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
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8 Responses to When Middle School Arithmetic Hits a Wall

  1. Pingback: Our Saxon 7/6 Experiment Results | Petra School

  2. Missy says:

    I found this post through Pinterest. I see that there is much to think about so I will have to come back later and thoroughly read through all the information. DS17 is doing well w/Alg II and will do Geometry next year. Teaching Textbooks is working well for us but Saxon did NOT work for us. It was about 7th grade that we had a Saxon meltdown. I’m not strong in math – never really understood it in school – so having something that can explain it to me so I can help the children is wonderful. I’m hoping that Geometry will not give us too much trouble. I was wondering if going through a logic course would help prepare them for doing proofs. I’ve also heard that doing geometry before the mind is developmentally ready for those processes can lead to problems processing those concepts in proofs. Anyway, I’ll try to come back later and dig in to the post and comments.

  3. Mary says:

    I personally would love to use Saxon, but my boys don’t agree. I also love Teaching Textbooks, so that is what we are using.

  4. We love Life of Fred by: Caroline I actually supplement LOF with the older program of MUS that I got for about $15. Fred is very engaging and focuses on word problems which (by MUS’s admission) is the whole goal of math, ultimately. Fred utilizes all kinds of operations in each problem and quickly works to multi-step problems. When this gets too fast I slow down and do a lesson with MUS that explains it slowly.If your child can imagine things well then Fred is WONDERFUL. If they have to touch something, then MUS would be great too.We are going to continue through the end of Fred and supplement as needed, but really Fred explains things extremely well.

  5. pebblekeeper says:

    Well, Since I haven’t “seen” you talk about MUS, I can’t interpret your facial expresssions. 😉 ha! But there is a relieved knowing look, that sort of pitties the fool that doesn’t follow their advice. In the grand scheme of math programs MUS is really not expensive, it is underpriced, so it is do-able. We started 6th grade with a brightly colored curriculum from Pearson, that, last year, we thought was the answer to moving forward. Not so . Within a few days we knew it would be an uphill battle. So we switched to the DIVE CD and Saxon. It was good, for 60 lessons.

  6. Very interesting, Angie, to read what bothers your child with Saxon. When I began homeschooling the girls, everyone and their dog used Saxon down here, and I actually got lots of eyebrows raised when people asked me what we were going to use and I mentioned using Math-U-See. My dad, the engineer and mathematician, took a look at the samples for Math-U-See, Saxon, and Moving With Math, and felt that Saxon was merely teaching math at the elementary school levels the same way I learned it in school (and taught it as a teacher at the elementary level when I was teaching in the public school system), and how much of Saxon (back then ten years ago) explained the concepts in the same poor way I “learned” them in school. I know things may have changed with Saxon now, but back then, that’s how it was. My dad looked it all over (those were the only three math programs I could find out about and request samples of in early dinosaur internet days of dial-up), and he felt like Math-U-See explained the math in a unique way that would transfer into better learning and understanding of numbers, place value, and a lot more.

    He taught math at the university levels (at Stanford) and worked with countless young adults who just didn’t understand math on a basic level, so we started using Math-U-See.

    While both girls didn’t do as well in the fractions level at Math-U-See, they both did fine after that, and Kelsi is sailing through Algebra I and will start Geometry later this year. Neither of my girls are necessarily “math people”, but they have remained fairly positive about doing math each day. Some people criticize Math-U-See and say, “Well, the fractions level must only be doing fractions, so they’re going to forget everything they ever learned prior!” Not true. The same material is taught over and over again, but using fractions to do it. It has completely worked with both of my girls whose learning styles are completely different, and whose interest in academics is completely different.

    I’ve had so many people call/email me and ask about what to do with math, because their children are kicking and screaming with Saxon. Most of the time, it’s because they are having their child do all 60 problems each day (or whatever high # of problems it is). Sometimes, it’s because it spirals so much that they are just struggling each day to keep focused on the new lesson. When they’ve switched to Math-U-See, in every case, life has gone much better for them, although I’ve also suggested to them that they just do 20 math problems of Saxon each day and see if that alleviates the situation.

    Math-U-See does do some review lessons, but in a slightly different way. When the child starts a new lesson, there are three separate pages that can be assigned for that new lesson (A, B, and C). My girls do page A, and if they score 90% or higher, then they don’t have to do B or C on following days. If they score less than 90%, then the next day, they do page B for that lesson. If they are still not doing as well on that lesson, then they do page C on day 3. Pages D, E, and F are review pages. There are some problems on the page that are from the new lesson they’ve been working on that week, and there are some review problems. Yet, it’s never caused heartache with my girls, and we’ve hardly ever had to look up how to do the “older” types of problems, although occasionally with one of the girls, she’s had to look something up (maybe once or twice a month). She doesn’t retain quite as well as the other daughter.

    I’m not telling you to switch to Math-U-See. I just know that in our community, most of the families are now using Math-U-See. I don’t know if this is because I’ve had so many families come to me, upset about their child’s total frustration with Saxon, or not. I just know that the tide has changed, and most of the families down here use Math-U-See, and I don’t get questions or hear the frustrations with them like I do with the Saxon families.

    But let me reiterate again, many of the Saxon families who have complaints have these problems because they’re making their children do 50-60 problems of math each and every day – taking sometimes 2 hours or more to spend on their math. That’s just totally not necessary in a homeschooling or tutoring situation! I can tell in one or two math problems if they “get it” or are struggling. Math-U-See consistently only has 18-20 math problems per page, and it usually takes no more than 30 minutes for the girls to do their math. Occasionally, it will take longer, but not often.

    I don’t know what the newer Saxon materials look like; I haven’t taken a look at them. Saxon was bought out by a public school textbook company about 5-6 years ago, and they began changing up their program so it would be more like public school math books (blech). I know that their public school version of Saxon is still a lot better than what the regular public school texts are doing, and a friend of mine teaching in a nearby public school told me that her entire district switched to Saxon about 3 years ago. Their #1 complaint is that it spirals too heavily, and their students struggle at times with remembering or being tested on what they did a few weeks or months ago. But it is still a whole lot better than what the other public school textbooks are doing: teach 5-10 methods of how to do each new concept in math, and ensure that none of the kids really “get” how to do any of it! And be sure not to make them learn their math facts! Total failure. I’m currently voluntarily tutoring a sweet public-schooled 3rd grader in her math, and in our town, the students are not allowed to bring math books home with them at the elementary level, so the parents can’t figure out how to explain the math concepts to their children when they bring their worksheet home for homework. It’s maddening! And the schools here aren’t requiring students to memorize their addition and subtraction facts, let alone their multiplication facts (it’s out of vogue now!), so by 3rd or 4th grade, the students are completely floundering. Ugh.

    I hope you can find what will work for you. I was a bit nervous about having Kelsi do algebra this year, but Math-U-See has made it easy for her, and she is doing well. I took the highest math levels offered in my high school back in the day, so it’s a refresher for me, too. But even though I took math through Trigonometry, I still didn’t really “get it” except to memorize the formula for the week and try to pass the test. Ugh. My girls are doing much better at math than I am, and I’m thankful for that.

    If either of your children would be in Pre-Algebra, we’re not using that level right now, and I could mail it to you for you to borrow so you could see what you think of it for a couple of months. We’re currently using Algebra with Kelsi, and Zeta (focus on decimals) with Brittany. Brittany will start Pre-Algebra in a couple of months, but you could use it for a while to see if it would help.

    • pebblekeeper says:

      Hi Julianne! Your answer not only solidifies how I feel, but will hopefully further help my readers, I thank you! I have been 100 percent convinced that we should switch to MUS for High School. It is so similar to what we did with Miquon. My only woulda shoulda coulda regret with our learning was not switching directly to MUS when Nate was in 4th grade. We went Saxon 5/4 because it was available. Nate is a math wiz, and his No Nonsense Algebra is working well for him, as long as he understands it. We have watched quite a few MUS videos on line (they are on their website for those listening in) and can see that it would give that bigger tactile picture of what is actually going on, before putting pencil to paper. We may have the chance to review MUS this spring – so that is why I am holding out purchasing it right now. It will depend on what level is offered to the reviewers. If we have extra monies at tax time, I will switch for sure, but probably invest in Alg 2 instead of 1. I’d like to ‘review’ Alg 1 and purchase Alg 2. I still have all of my rods.

      For the record – for those reading along – I have NEVER spoken with one person who is using MUS who had one complaint – or said it wasn’t working for them. They usually just smile and look a lil smug. 😉

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 9:42 AM, Petra School

      • Well…smug isn’t how I’d define myself when it comes to math, but RELIEVED would be a better explanation of how I feel with math! That may change when Kelsi starts Geometry later this spring…I would understand the proofs as the teacher or my dad would write them out, but it was so hard for me to come up with them on my own. I got C+’s and B’s in geometry when I was in high school – I tried so hard to get A’s but just couldn’t do it in geometry. We’ll see how Math-U-See teaches geometry later this year. Maybe I’ll learn to love it! 🙂 (My girls, BTW, don’t know that I struggled through geometry – and I’m not gonna tell ’em!)

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