Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homeschool Review: Saxon Math 1

For our math in first grade, we used Saxon Math 1. In many ways, it is similar to Saxon Math K, which we used last year. (You can read what we thought of Saxon Math K for kindergarten here.)

Overall, we've been pleased. First Son has made obvious progress in his math skills. Nearing the end of the book, he's tackled nearly all the addition and subtraction facts, has learned some tricks (like adding ten and subtracting one to add nine), congruent shapes, measuring inches and feet, identifying, counting and using coins (pennies, nickels, and dimes), fractions (half, quarter, fourth, third, sixth), graphing and more. I love a spiral math program in the lower grades and I think First Son does, too. (We cover different topics every day, so we're not doing ten days of counting money in a row. Instead, we come back to counting money once or twice every few weeks.)

I think the lessons are planned for four days a week. (We do math three to four times a week.) The scripted lessons are only slightly modified from a classroom teacher's manual, so there's still some remnants of the classroom environment. Each day, there are activities for the Meeting (completing a calendar, number line, shape patter, number pattern, counting together and more). Then, the student is supposed to practice writing a number (the number for lesson 112 is 101) followed by a brief lesson. The student workbook contains fact sheets (one-sided) to be completed nearly every day in addition to a double-sided worksheet. The first half of the worksheet is to be completed with the parent after the lesson. The second side is to be completed later in the day. Each tenth lesson day is set aside for a written assessment and an oral assessment. A written assessment is also included on the lessons ending in 5 (25, 35, 45, etc.).

I talked with a teacher who used Saxon in the classroom. They were told to devote at least an hour to math every day and it could easily be that long at home, even with only one student. We quickly started skipping large portions of the Meeting as the repetition was frustrating. As new skills are introduced in the lessons, they are added to the Meeting for daily practice, so it quickly becomes an outrageously long endeavor -- before math had even begun! I do think it's helpful to have the reminders to review skills during the Meeting, but I think it's more beneficial to just review a few things each day instead of everything. So that's what we did.

We typically do the calendar portion every day. We skip the shape pattern entirely but usually do the meeting strip (writing out the date and the number pattern). I try to practice counting something every day (usually counting odd numbers backwards by twos or counting by tens starting with different numbers). First Son counts coins for the coin cup about once a week. We always complete the weather graph. That's the only part of the Meeting First Son likes. I'd be tempted to skip more of it, but he's getting really good at writing the date and working with the calendar. (In case anyone is wondering, the Meeting Book survives being doused with water surprisingly well. Special thanks to First Daughter for discovering this very useful characteristic.)

We always skip writing the number. We have a separate handwriting program and First Son does just fine writing the numbers on his worksheets.

First Son grumbles about the Meeting, but he usually enjoys the lesson itself.  Starting the year was a little rough until I skipped the first twenty lessons or so. He was frustrated by the repetition of last year's lessons. (I'm going to prepare for that next year -- it only takes two years for me to catch on.) We're still using the Manipulative Kit for Saxon Math K-3. First Son and First Daughter are always excited when I pull something out of that math box (especially now that those linking cubes are loosening up a bit). They especially love the geoboards (like these).

At first, I wasn't sure I'd use the worksheets at all. I found them and the fact sheets to be a reasonable amount of reinforcement for the lessons, though. Very early on, we were using them daily just as recommended. First Son complained a lot and it really seemed like we could get by with less practice. So now I ask First Son to complete the first side of the worksheet alone. If he finishes it well, we skip the second side. He has to do the fact sheet. I know he understands the concepts of addition and subtraction. Now we're working on speeding up his work, which will only come with memorization. The best way for him to memorize them is to practice. I think he'd like the worksheets and fact sheets better if they were in color and illustrated, but I'm sure that would have increased the cost substantially. (Recently, he told me he'd like his math worksheets better if they had monkeys on them.)

Because the lessons build on each other and the fact sheets and worksheets review material from multiple recent lessons, it's much more difficult to skip lessons. In fact, after skipping the first twenty, we have followed the lesson plans. If it's something First Son already knows, we spend a few minutes talking about it and then go straight to the worksheet. (Easy day for Mama!)

I also found the assessments much more useful than I anticipated. Besides the fact that First Son loves the days we only do assessments (No worksheet! No fact sheet!), I was gratified to see him thinking through problems and completing them successfully. (Remember, I wasn't helping with the daily work after the first few weeks though we do check them over.) I think the combination of written and oral assessments is excellent. They are just brief little sheets and present material that was covered at least five lessons previously and practiced daily on the worksheets.

I was confused that some of the masters are in the student workbooks and some are in with the fact sheets. There's nothing in the text of the manual to tell where it is. You just have to check the fact cards if it wasn't in the workbook.

You could rather easily complete the math lessons without the Meeting Book, either making your own version of a calendar and weather graph or skipping the Meeting altogether (though I think that would take away from much of the program). You need the Student Workbook (parts one and two) and the Fact Cards (sold as a set). These are intended to be consumable. Nearly the entire course is contained in the teacher's manual so it is required. It's pricey, but non-consumable. I've bought all of my manuals used on CathSwap.

I do wish the manual was more explicit about what sheets or materials should be saved for a future lesson. Sometimes the book will say to save something for an upcoming lesson, but not always. In particular, we set up a "classroom store" which the kids loved for a few weeks. I finally broke all the boxes down because I was tired of having a store in my living room. About a week later, we needed it again. Arg! (I know, I should have read ahead more thoroughly, but when I quickly checked I didn't see it.) So I had to make a second store.

Though Saxon Math 1 does not require a lot of preparation before the lesson (often little more than jotting down the number pattern or preparing a coin cup), it does require me to be with First Son during the lesson. Counting our Meeting and the Lesson, we spend between twenty and thirty minutes on math each day, longer if I let the kids play with the manipulatives or repeat some of the lesson so First Daughter feels like she has a turn (just for fun). The worksheets and fact sheet usually take First Son 45 minutes to complete (while I'm making lunch or cleaning up lunch). He spends most of that time daydreaming and can finish much more quickly if I help him focus.

Over the summer, I intend to use some of the Kumon books I purchased last year (which we barely touched) to keep up with counting coins, measurement and telling time. We'll also review some fact cards (but not all of them) on the days we have "summer lessons."

As I said, we're pleased with Saxon Math and intend to continue with it in second grade.

I have received nothing in exchange for this review. If you follow a link to Amazon and make a purchase, even if it's something else, I receive a small commission. I don't receive anything if you follow a link to Saxon and make a purchase.