“I can’t understand how they get these answers!”
“I don’t want to keep doing this math curriculum. Can we change to something easier?”
Have you ever heard these refrains from your student? Are you wondering if there’s a better math curriculum that will match your child’s style, or explain things better, or be more interesting?
I have been teaching math to teens for almost 40 years now and have used or become familiar with Saxon Math, Math U See, Alpha Omega, Teaching Textbooks, A Beka, Bob Jones, and Life of Fred in addition to the ACE PACES.
In a nutshell, here’s my quick synopsis of some of the pros and cons of the main options:
- Saxon Math has been around for decades and is a very strong math program. I would say it is best suited to “math-inclined” students who might want to pursue an engineering or math field after school. But it also requires a math teacher/tutor who can teach the lessons and give help when needed. There are videos (DIVE) for the lessons, but most students will flounder without a strong teacher. Full disclosure – our school was using Saxon before I came, and I’ve continued to use it all 30 years I’ve been in this Christian school as I can make it blend well with the ACE Learning Center schedule and format. I know that our graduates do well with college entrance tests and courses and I know all the problems by heart now!
- A Beka and Bob Jones are good curriculum choices for a classroom setting; some homeschool families who get the video instruction like it. Again, the parent probably needs to be strong in math and willing to help when their teen gets stuck in Algebra.
- Math U See and Life of Fred are two curriculum choices I’ve seen students use who were not strong in understanding math and they saw some success with the visual or story-telling method. However, I have not been impressed at all with how those students score on achievement tests and college entrance tests and have observed students that who have enrolled in our school after using these math curriculums have had serious gaps. I personally would not recommend them for most students.
- Teaching Textbooks has become the math curriculum of choice for many of the homeschoolers I work with in our area. It was written with average homeschool students in mind. Every textbook comes a set of teaching DVDs for every lesson. Each lesson includes review of previous concepts. Every course also has a resource DVD with video instruction for every single problem in the lessons so that in case a student gets stuck he doesn’t have to wait for dad to come home from work (and try to teach it a different way!) but can watch the DVD for immediate help. If you’re flexible and looking for a good option for average or struggling math students check out Teaching Textbooks.
- If you are in an umbrella school program, or pursuing an international “certificate”, then you need to stick with the ACE math PACES. The elementary through pre-algebra courses were updated to 4th edition in recent years and are rather rigorous but well-written. The algebra and geometry courses are not as well written perhaps as some of the options above, but they cover the concepts needed for a strong math foundation. Many students have worked all the way through the ACE math curriculum with success and moved confidently into college and careers. Students who struggle with math in the PACES may be able to find a resource person (supervisor, parent, older sibling, tutor, adult at church) who can help explain concepts. To help any student who is working through the math PACES, we have started producing teaching videos for the especially tough concepts and posting them here at PACESuccess.
So, back to the question posed at the beginning of the article: “Should I switch my child’s math curriculum to something other than PACES” (or switch TO the PACES)?
Here are some over-arching principles that I have learned from almost 40 years as a math teacher.
- No math curriculum is perfect – but any of them will cover the basics well and prepare kids for life and future math.
- Most students struggle because they have not mastered their multiplication facts, or remembered how to do operations with fractions. Also, the rules for operations with positive and negative numbers must be drilled! Invest time every summer or fall to brush up on basic math facts with fun games, online resources, and worksheets. Drill on the rules over and over for solving fractions and using signed numbers.
- Once you choose a curriculum for Pre-Algebra, stick with it through Algebra I and II and Advanced Math if you choose to go that far. Each curriculum builds on its unique teaching style, explanations, and sequencing and will reinforce and build as it goes. Jumping ship mid-stream will guarantee that your child will flounder, have serious gaps, and feel frustrated. (Read principle #1 above again).
- When (notice I didn’t say “if”) your teen struggles with Algebra and Geometry, seek out a tutor or online resources to supplement and help. Don’t give in to the “it’s too hard for me!” refrain! When they get to college, they can’t just switch curriculum if they think it is hard. Better to learn how to get help and find success. More important than learning the algebra is building the character to be determined and not give up or look for something easier.
We report – you decide! I have given you my observations and opinions for what they’re worth, but you know your child the best. Study the options thoroughly before making the decision to change math curriculum, and seriously consider my last four recommendations above.
Please leave your own comments, observations, recommendations, or questions in the comment section below!
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