CH068: Homeschool Math Tips with Virginia Lee

Season 12: Classical Voices on Classical Education

Homeschool Math Tips with Virginia Lee




Mystie: Alright, well, welcome to season 12. I’m so excited to get this season started, and I’m here today with Virginia Lee to start our season off.

Virginia Lee: Hi, everyone.

Mystie: For the podcast this season the Simple Sanity Saver is Math-U-See tips. Even if you don’t use Math-U-See I think you’ll still be able to pick up some ideas, some tips, some things to think about. So, what ages and grades do you have, Virginia Lee?

Virginia Lee: I have a 13 year old son and I have a 10 year old daughter, I have an 8 year old daughter, I have a 5 year old son, and a 2 year old daughter. The only ones, obviously my younger ones are not doing math yet, everyone who is doing math is using Math-U-See.

Mystie: And us, too. And my oldest has actually just started Algebra 2 so we’re, kind of, getting into the program.

Virginia Lee: So, I have to ask – Algebra 2 – then he’s pretty good at math for high school years, I’m assuming, with that, seeing as he’s 15 and he’s in Algebra 2?

Mystie: Yes, that is ahead of the scope and sequence, I think, which is really interesting to me because for several years in elementary he was actually behind.

Virginia Lee: It just goes to show the great part about mastery with Math-U-See then.

Mystie: I think it just started clicking, maybe about 12, but it took a little bit more than two years to get through Alpha.

Virginia Lee: OK.

Mystie: And then it took about two years to get through Beta. It felt like, ‘Oh man – OK, we’ll just do it.’

Virginia Lee: You know what though? I’m glad you brought that up because that’s actually one of the things I really like about Math-U-See, is that it is mastery based, so it’s OK if it takes longer for your kiddos to go through Alpha or Beta or wherever they are because it’s not grade levels. It’s just levels of math that are not hooked to a grade and you do not move forward until you’ve mastered one concept. And, I think that has a lot to do why when later on, things start clicking for our kiddos. It can do that because you really have mastered everything before that point. And, I’m also just a big believer in as long as you’re moving forward that’s what counts.

Mystie: And that really helped me at one point when I had all young elementary and it didn’t seem like we were making that great of progress, being behind in math as homeschoolers was one of my fears, because it seems kind of …

Virginia Lee: Yes.

Mystie: Well, it was true for myself and several of my siblings and that was something I didn’t want to continue. So, I was starting to get a little nervous and I actually found YouTube videos by Steve Demme – they must have … I don’t know if they’re around anymore because I’ve tried several times to find them again and I have not found them – they were like Q&A videos so, of course, they were pretty much all questions like, “My son’s behind what do I do?”

Virginia Lee: Yes, the homeschool mom panic questions.

Mystie: “We stayed in this lesson for f-o-r-e-v-e-r.” And, yet he did that. You’re never behind, you’re where you are, math is progressive, you can’t skip anything. And, if they haven’t mastered it you, basically, are skipping ahead and you’re going to get burned in the end, so just stick with it and when things click everything else is going to smooth the way later and their mind will be free from the arithmetic part of the math to think about the concepts.

Virginia Lee: Yes, and I like that about Math-U-See also that they take really important basic math concepts and they start from the concrete and build to the abstract so that as you’re being introduced to something that’s very important for understanding math but that’s new to the child (and sometimes the mom) …

Mystie: Definitely!

Virginia Lee: … start with concrete teaching and examples and then you move up as you master it to the abstract portions of it and I think that’s part of what helps our kids be able to master things effectively.

Mystie: Just teaching the first few levels myself – or not teaching because that’s another thing I love about Math-U-See is the video lessons – but helping and the blocks (the blocks are similar to legos) and I have heard people say we already have legos do I need these math blocks but I don’t know, the math blogs are pretty clever, so I like them.

Virginia Lee: They’re there. They’re in a container. You have every single thing you need. It matches the worksheets exactly. And, there is something to be said for not having to figure out where the legos you need are. This doesn’t match the worksheet the same way so my little person doesn’t understand that we’re using this in place of this – just buy the blocks. We put ours in a big sterilite container, don’t scrimp there, scrimp somewhere else, it will save you so much time and energy and effort. Honestly, I’m going to be honest, we didn’t start with Math-U-See and as I got more kids (we were using Right Start, which I do love) but as I got more kids in math it was so difficult. I was spending my entire life teaching math because Right Start is so teacher intensive. So, if there are mamas out there who are just drowning in math lessons Math-U-See was a God-send for me because it’s still mastery based but the lessons are on DVD, so I could have an older child watch a lesson even if I needed to help a younger child with something, I could even have a younger child watch lessons and then come back and narrate the lesson to me so that I see that they understand it, and especially with older kids, I honestly get less pushback or emotional issues because Mr. Demme’s the one teaching it. I wish I could send him all the worksheets and have him correct them as well. But, the number one reason I even looked at to consider it was that lessons were on DVD. I wasn’t going to settle just because of that.

Mystie: Oh, that’s a huge factor for me. And, you know, when we started out with Math-U-See I remember, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything lately but I don’t think I’ve been looking either, I saw concerns for people about the programs’ rigor in the upper levels and I thought well, we’ll just go for it and if we start seeing that we can always switch, but yeah, my oldest son is in Algebra 2, even though he started off slow because it was mastery based then when he was ready — it just clicked – and he moved forward and it was actually like the concrete part of it that he struggled with and once he hit puberty and it was the abstract math and it was like everything clicked and he zoomed.

Virginia Lee: Well, that’s good to hear because that is something I’ve thought about is do I need to start looking at option for once my kids hit a higher level math because I’ve heard the same things, that Math-U-See might be need to be supplement or changed once they get into the high school level math.

Mystie: Yeah. Now that we’re there I wonder if that’s someone looking at the program who hasn’t been doing it the same. I’m not sure because it really is Algebra 2. It’s not easier, just because it doesn’t have 30 problems per lesson, but I don’t think that you need to do it that much to get it. So, if he has questions he talks to his dad who’s been doing all the math correction for the last year or two which has been wonderful. He will probably get into the pre-calculus book this year and I don’t think that’s because it’s dumbed down, I do think it’s because it’s made clearer; it’s not completely abstracted out. And, we’re in a state where we have to do standardized tests every year so even looking at that as “objective” standard. When he was younger and in elementary his math score was below the-whatever-average bar and now it’s above it. So, this is the standardized test here that we’re supposed to be using to measure ability and rigor and standard, and so I think by that standard Math-U-See is getting us pretty far.

Virginia Lee: And if he’s happy with it and he’s understanding it, to me, that’s a huge chunk.

Mystie: Oh, it is. If they’re not fighting the math program. I fought the math program.

Virginia Lee: But, that’s really good to hear about the high school perspective because we’re not that far away.

Mystie: Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. It happens fast. I think, actually, one thing that would be good to talk about is how to handle math correction because that is applicable no matter what program you use. So, what is your flow?

Virginia Lee: First of all, I never have kids doing brand new concepts, multiple kids doing that, in a day. That just does not work well if somebody hits a new concept and they’re going to need some extra help. So, don’t have all your children learning new concepts on the same day – better to put it in an extra review page if you need to.

Mystie: That is so true.

Virginia Lee: The other thing we do is so they watch their DVD lesson then they come and narrate it to me because I don’t want them to start their worksheet and be doing it all wrong. Then they go and start their worksheet. If it was a new lesson sometimes they don’t finish the worksheet that day and they just pick it up either later in that day or they pick it up the next day and finish it. And then, when they have finished their worksheet they look at it to make sure they haven’t missed any problems because sometimes they have one that they haven’t done, that it’s not a sloppy mess. I refuse to take work that looks like rats if they turn it in. And then, I have a crate in my house that they put it in. I used to, honestly, check math once a week but I have a couple of kids that that’s not – I need to check it more often. So, now I do and it really stinks. Maybe you have a better suggestion for this, but I have to check math everyday now. And so, I check math even if it means I check it in the evening once the kids are in bed if the day’s been completely crazy. But normally I can find a spot in the day to sit down with some tea or something and just run through and check the math. And then the next day is when they make their math corrections. I just put it in with their work for the next day. If there was a huge amount of math corrections I would do something different but that obviously means they haven’t understood anything. So, we need to re-do the lesson if they’re that bad. They make their couple of corrections, I see that ‘OK, we look good’ and they move forward with their new lesson for the day. So, it sometimes doesn’t feel very streamlined but we’re all on the same page, the kids know the expectations for it, they know where to turn in their stuff, and they know if I get it and I see issues, I won’t even check it, they just have to re-do the lesson, and that has made a big difference in what’s being turned in to my bin. That’s sort of how we do math correcting. I think this is just one of those cases where efficiency can’t win out if they do not get 100% they have to correct until it is and depending on how many they miss I give them another worksheet for more practice. If I see that they’re missing a concept I will go back to that concept that maybe was four lessons ago that they are not understanding and I will pull one of those pages out just so they can refresh their memory, and then we move forward. So, that’s how we do it at our house.

Mystie: Ours is very similar and I think that the correcting math every day is just one of those things you got to do, because you don’t want them moving forward or doing it wrong, not comprehending but still doing work for a whole week. When I was doing all of the math correction myself I also only had two real math students, and so we made sure that the page assigned that day was 100% by the end of the day. About half of the time, really, that felt kind of torturous, but it was the trick for motivation for not starting off sloppy. I needed to find some way to motivate them to do their best the first time. So, that’s what we were doing for awhile and then when my husband took over math correction we had to change our work flow then because he wasn’t going to dedicate an hour in the middle of the afternoon in making sure everyone got 100% so he checks usually in the evening and then they just have to correct it the next day. They still have to always get every sheet to 100%, and so then, he’s the one correcting and I mean, we’ve talked about it but he has his way of motivating them, and if it’s wrong if it doesn’t have units it, its wrong if it doesn’t have work shown, it’s wrong if … He’s stricter than I am on what’s required.

Virginia Lee: I think that’s a good thing.

Mystie: There’s not the pushback. It’s awesome.

Virginia Lee: You would think having to re-do more math would be a motivating consequence, wouldn’t you?

Mystie: He will usually help the older two with their math if they need help. If it’s just sloppy work or they did the arithmetic wrong then it’s just an X and it goes back on, but if he can tell that it was more of a concept or an understanding thing then he doesn’t just mark it wrong and hand it to him, he’ll talk to him about it. And then he’ll tell me what the younger three say, because mostly, the elementary age, then he’ll tell me it’s amazing how much it’s helpful to just have someone sitting watching.

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