I'm in the midst of sharing the reasoning behind our curriculum choices as promised in this post. You can find the first post in this series- about our Humanities/History choice- here.
I started my search for a Math curriculum the same way I started the search for all our curricula. I asked homeschooling friends I respected what curriculum they used for Math, how it worked, whether they would recommend it, etc. When Math-U-See came up again and again, I put it on the short list.
As I processed their input, I scoured the internet for guidance on how to choose a Math curriculum. I found a very helpful article which clearly described the two main types of Math curricula available- Mastery and Spiral. (So sorry I didn't bookmark that article- I would have loved to share it here.) Essentially, a Mastery Math curriculum requires the student to completely master the concept before moving to another topic. So, for example, when learning addition, the student would need to master addition up to four digits before moving on to subtraction. Many nations that are known for producing high achieving Math students use a Mastery Math approach in their schools. A Spiral Math curriculum introduces a wide variety of topics within a school year without expecting students to master them fully as they will have numerous opportunities to review and master each topic over the course of their school careers. Most Math curricula in the US are Spiral Math programs.
After reading about the difference between the two main types of Math curricula available, I felt drawn to the Mastery programs. I want to give my children, especially TS1 who is a strong Math student, the opportunity to delve deeply into a smaller range of topics while developing full mastery rather than exposing them to a shallow knowledge base about great deal of unrelated information. Once I had our choice narrowed down to a Mastery Math program, I was able to quickly sift through the available curricula and came back to Math-U-See in the end.
Math-U-See is a DVD driven Mastery Math curriculum for homeschoolers. The student watches the DVD at the start of the week with his/her parent, works through the workbook pages on the topic throughout the week and ends with a test or quiz to determine if mastery has been achieved before moving on. The curriculum encompasses three modalities in the learning process- visual, auditory and kinesthetic- through the use of the DVD lessons, tutorial approach with the parent throughout the week and the use of manipulatives (i.e., blocks, fraction overlays) to solve the problems presented.
To be honest, I do have one reservation in the back of my mind about our Math curriculum. Since this is after all, our great homeschool experiment, we will reevaluating our decision at the end of the year. If we decide to send the boys back to school for the following year- 6th grade for TS1 and 3rd grade for TS2- I worry that a Mastery Math program might leave them unexposed to topics a Spiral program would have covered. In the end, I did not let this reservation hold me back from choosing what I thought was the best curriculum for the boys. If we end up back in school, next year or at some point in the future, I am sure I can find someone to help us make sure they are up to speed with their peers in school.
So for next year, TS1 will start at the end of the Delta level of Math-U-See to master multiple digit long division. Once he accomplishes that he will begin the Epsilon level, which will be the bulk of his math curriculum next year. TS2 will work through the Beta level next year. Of course, if Math-U-See is not working for one or both of our boys, we will simply make a change at that time.
So, tell me, what do you think about the differences between a Mastery and Spiral Math program? What have you (or would you) choose?