Thursday, November 17, 2011

Math Mammoth---A BIG Help for a Little Price

I am not a fan of math. It is not my favorite subject (go figure, I was an English teacher for a reason...). It's not like I can't do it. I just don't like doing it. Well, maybe that's not one hundred percent accurate, since I do enjoy doing certain math-y things, such as solving for x and computing averages for statistics (I enjoy puzzles), but in general you could say that I am a mathophobe. That's my made-up term for one who prefers to avoid doing math. Or maybe it's a real term. I dunno. But I do know I am not alone in suffering from this particular ailment. I have met plenty of folks who are baffled by the idea of having to teach math. Especially homeschoolers. One of the things I most often hear from people who are thinking about homeschooling, once we've resolved the socialization and "Isn't it expensive" issues is, "How am I going to teach math to my kids? I am no good at it."

Well, my answer most of the time has been that they should take their child with them to a homeschool supply store (or convenient convention vendor hall...but be careful!), check out the available math materials, and decide what will work for both of them together. They also might want to take a few placement tests, talk to a few people, and hope for the best. Then, I tell them to be flexible. Go slowly. Work for mastery, not a grade (though grades are good for math if you need to motivate your student). Be willing to redo problem areas. Definitely be willing to try something new if what you pick isn't working.

But you know what? Sometimes people just want you to tell them an easy answer. "Go buy xyz curriculum. It works great." I could do that, and tell them what we use (that works great for us), but that doesn't guarantee that it will work for them. If I do that and they take my advice and buy something pricey, I feel like it's my fault if they don't have a successful experience with it, and I don't want to be responsible for causing their child to have problems with math...or for them losing money they couldn't spare.


Well, I think I have finally found a solution to that conundrum. Math Mammoth. I'd heard about Math Mammoth, but never had the opportunity to check it out for myself. Recently, we were asked to review the program with the Amigos, and I was thrilled to have a chance to see what this curriculum was like...especially since Ladybug and Cowboy have been doing a lot of their math online lately (it is working for us this season to do it that way), with random worksheets thrown in from time to time), and I wasn't sure if they were really getting all they needed to know using the online method.

I emailed Maria Miller of Math Mammoth and explained our situation of having both a Kindergartener and a Second Grader who wanted to try the curriculum and who were working in the same "vicinity," but not quite the same level. She was extremely helpful to me. She is a former math teacher and homeschooling mother turned curriculum writer, and she helped me figure out which level to request that would cover both Ladybug and Cowboy to not only reinforce material they likely knew, but to move on to the next level for both of them. How's that for customer service? It sure felt good knowing it wasn't just me, the non-math expert, making the decision, and I can see how I would feel confident recommending other people contact her for help. She really listens to you.

Math Mammoth is designed so that you can present the information to your child in a variety of ways. We chose the Light Blue Series, which is a complete years' worth of work on a variety of grade-appropriate subjects available for grades one through six. It is offered in two parts, part A and part B, so you can purchase one semester at a time if you need to, or so you can split the year any way you like. We wound up with Grade One B and Grade 2 A, to help my two Amigos bridge the gap. These complete sets are available for download (and the pages are enabled for annotating, which means your student can complete them on the computer, rather than printing them up and doing them by hand) or in print versions. Each one comes with tests, quizzes, reviews, answer sheets, and the downloadable version has hyperlinks to fun supplemental activities throughout the text and is available for download for $34.

You can also choose the Blue Series which teaches topical studies at multiple levels (grades 1-6) on subjects such as addition and subtraction, place value, money, time, measuring, multiplication and division, decimals, fractions, geometry, percents, and so on. This one is also downloadable, or available as a hard copy, and contains answer keys. The download prices range from $2 to $7. Then there are also the Green Series and the Golden Series which are collections of topical worksheets for those who might need more varied pages for reteaching of different topics. The Green Series spans multiple grade levels, while the Golden Series covers one grade at a time. Both come complete with answer keys.

If you are not sure what you think you might want to use, you have two excellent choices to help you decide. 

  1. First, you can do what I did, and contact Maria. Tell her about your kids, their abilities, what curricula you have used in the past, what you are concerned about, and ask her for a recommendation. 
  2. You can also go to her freebies page and sign up to receive over 300 free pages of downloadable math pages. Wow! This is an excellent sampling of what she offers. You will be able to see her many differing styles of presenting the information to help all types of learners, and to keep your students interested. You also have an excellent opportunity to try before you buy. You can't beat that. Oh, yes, there are also samples specific to the particular programs available on each of those pages. Here is the Light Blue Series page and you will see samples for all grades to the right.

Once we received our downloadable material, I read through the information that was provided and chose a selection of pages that I thought Ladybug and Cowboy needed to work on and printed them up. We have used them for the past several weeks, about every other day (they are still using their computer-based program as well) and I can honestly say that I have seen leaps in their confidence level and jumps in their performance. Their speed of completing the work asked of them has improved (they have also been using our new Time Timer to keep them on track, but that review isn't scheduled until next week!) immensely with the practice.

I would like to share with you a few of the reasons I think this improvement has taken place:
  • The program is mastery oriented, which frankly, I prefer. I know some programs like to "change it up" often, and some even keep you tied to a strict schedule, but I personally think kids need to focus on really learning one topic well before moving on to the next. Besides, if I feel my kids are getting bored with, say, addition facts, I can move over to a study of counting money for a while, before returning to the addition and finishing it completely. I can also choose other pages to do (or re-do) if I feel my student needs to review and drill a previously mastered topic (or even order one of the topical studies on a problem area). I just really, really like that the program completely covers a concept in many ways before moving on. These days in public schools they zoom through the books so quickly, the kids barely have time to understand the basics of one topic before the next one is being introduced. I feel that handicaps a child's learning in the long run, and being able to work for mastery is one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling (after all the hugs and kisses I get all day, that is!!).
  • The next plus about the program is that Maria respects that there are many different types of learners, and so she uses several different ways of presenting the information on every topic, even varying the methods within each lesson. She uses number chart fill ins, counting number blocks and rods, traditional addition alongside missing number addition problems, fact families, word problems, and mental math problems to help cement concepts in the student's mind in a multitude of ways. The visuals of the problems really helped Ladybug, and we often pulled out the Cuisinaire rods to supplement their lessons. Maria also suggests using an abacus, which we liked. For my kids, especially Ladybug, hands-on is a good thing.
  • The explanation for teaching the processes for each math lesson is basically written into each lesson. It takes very little preparation on the part of the teacher for the lessons to be taught. All I had to do was to preview what we were going to do so I would know what I needed to explain (and what they already understood), and then I also needed to check and see if any manipulatives I have might help supplement the lesson, but that's about it.
  • I like that your students can complete the sheets online if you have the downloadable version. We did not use this, but if Tex had been part of our trial group, he would have loved this feature.
  • The Amigos enjoyed the supplemental activity links embedded in the downloadable version of the books. They completed some helpful (and fun) clock and time activities when their work was done, as a treat, not to mention a bit of extra learning.
  • Overall, I just plain liked the program. I feel as if I could confidently recommend it to just about anyone...especially since you can purchase as little or as much as you like, in almost any form you can imagine, to suit your individual needs. And if you need help deciding what to do, Maria is only an email away. 
Math Mammoth seems like an excellent place to start your math journey, and also like a great way to fill in any gaps in learning. I think I am going to buy the individual set for addition myself, since I feel that the two kids could use some more work on that area before I feel they have truly mastered it. I am sure I could find many generic worksheets online for free, not to mention in the half-used workbooks on my math shelf (from our days with Bubba, who had issues with math due to his public school years), but they will not present the information in as many helpful ways as it is presented in Math Mammoth. It's definitely been a winner for our family, and whether or not we continue with our online math experiences, we will definitely be using Math Mammoth in the upcoming years.

Maria also offers a Make it Real Learning series to show your students how math is truly useful and a collection of States by the Numbers workbooks which feature problems centered around facts from each state and would be great for supplementing a study of the US or your home state.

If you would like to see what others on the TOS Homeschool Review Crew thought about Math Mammoth, check out the Crew Blog post. Maria has other reviews available on her site HERE.



Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the Light Blue series of Math Mammoth for the purposes of evaluating it here on my blog. I have shared with you our personal experiences with this product, and our honest opinions about how we liked it and whether it worked for us. If you have questions about this product or this review, please feel free to contact me or comment.

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