algebra student

Should I switch math curriculum?

“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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. No math curriculum is perfect – but any of them will cover the basics well and prepare kids for life and future math.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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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12 Comments to “Should I switch math curriculum?”

  1. Very timely! Thank you. We’re sticking with ACE PACEs for now.

  2. With three more students to go I really appreciate this article. I think it is the one subject I am constantly questioning. I agree with what you said about Math U See. I graduated 2 children using Math U See only to later realize they were not ready for college math. The third I switched to Saxon once I realized Math U See had let us down, and he was well prepared for college.

  3. Do you modify the Saxon curriculum any? Do you have your students do every problem in every lesson?

    1. If you are using Saxon, the built in review is important. I require every problem in the lessons to be done. We finish to lesson 120-130 in each book per year. Only exception is Advanced Math (the Green book) — we do 20 problems per day, so 2 lessons every 3 days.

  4. Great advice….I was thinking of switching for all of the reasons you said not to switch. Very helpful!

    1. Glad you found the article helpful! some of the comments left here and on Facebook are encouraging,too, to keep on!

  5. You just answered my doubt. I will definitely stick with ACE Math then. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such good articles. Blessings from Ecuador (South America).

  6. Thank you very much for your encouragement to keep going! We have been using ACE in our home learning for over 2 decades. I don’t particularly “love” Maths but we have hung on through the days of ignorance and found some maths help. I looked at other options but it still boiled down to the mathematic matters you explain. Even though we have had some children who are not maths lovers we have all survived with great final success to cross the finish line (Not all did Algebra ll). We have celebrated and now some of our adult “children” can help the younger ones as they reach the sticky parts because they understand the ACE approach. Those who don’t relish Maths still need to come out with sound understanding and I have drilled a lot of mental maths in my children so they can at least calculate how much and how long when they need to buy or do something.

    We have a young friend who is finishing off training as a watch maker and she always thought learning Algebra was a frustration and waste of her home school time, “Who uses this stuff in life, anyway?” She had to work Algebra in 90% of an exam in her Watchmaking apprenticeship and was so grateful that her parents ensured that she persevere to understand it. On the flip side, we have some in our family who love anything at all to do with Maths because they learned it with ACE (the approach required no chopping and changing for the particular subject at school level). They worked at their own pace so they could nut it out and play with numbers as they wanted with the courses that led cheerfully into university/college study and then careers.

    1. Thank you for sharing your stories of success and encouragement!

  7. Thank you for this post. You are very accurate with your assessment of these math programs. I have been homeschooling since 2001 and I have tutored math over the years. Most of the kids that I tutored were using Saxon Math, you are correct in saying that Saxon aligns nicely with standardized tests. It does. My children over the years have used all of these programs. Math is really understanding patterns. In the upper levels of Saxon Math, I noticed that they will introduce a concept, but they don’t give enough practice problems or repetition to really learn that concept for struggling learners. Also nomenclature for mathematical concepts is really important to know for standardized tests. Teaching Textsbooks is a great program, but in the older versions of their curriculum they didn’t really label their concepts like traditional textsbooks. I think they were trying to keep it simple and not confuse kids. I have a struggling learner right now that loves Math U See, but since they only cover one topic at a time, I do supplement. Really my favorite is the ACE paces. It is broken down in to small elements and it it is a mastery based program. For my kids that were great at math I let them skip every other problem, and they could still achieve a 100 on the test. For my child with special needs, he needed to work every problem to get the pattern of how to do the problems. A criticism of the PACES is that they are too easy. I don’t think so, I think that they are designed to be super easy in the beginning so that the student can gain mastery and confidence, but if you stick with it you will find that it does ramp up and get more difficult. I think you don’t notice the difficulty level, because it happens so gradually in baby steps. I also agree that you should stick with a curriculum. I see parents confusing their kids by jumping from one math curriculum to another. This leads to confusion, creates gaps in learning, and feeds in to the thinking that math is hard. Math isn’t really hard, it is just hard work. Hard work is something every child needs to embrace and not be afraid of. Great post. I love hearing about other people’s experiences using the paces.

    1. Thank you, Kara, for the great response! I think you added some nice insights that will help others who read this. Your conclusion is strong!

  8. I’ve had this article in my inbox so I wouldn’t miss reading it. Just now getting to it. I grew up doing ACE math, then my school switched to Saxon. I use Saxon for my kids starting in 3rd grade. Prior to that I use Abeka. It’s fun and works well until multiplication comes in.
    I think for my last kid I will use ACE from K-1st grade Abeka for 2nd grade and Saxon from then on. I know that sounds like jumping around but that seems to work well in all aspects.
    Thank you for the well written article. I will be passing it on!

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