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Sunday, April 14, 2013

MEP. A math story.

This post has been written in response to some questions on the AO forum regarding our process with MEP maths, particularly how to start students in the middle years, or how we've skipped years when needed. I've added some of my general thoughts about teaching math as well. But, you are formally excused from the table if this is excruciatingly boring fare for your palate. You don't even have to feel bad. Just click away. ;)

So. Here goes...
Another realm open to Intellect has an uninviting name, and travelling therein is difficult, what with steep faces of rock to climb and deep ravines to cross. The Principality of Mathematics is a mountainous land, but the air is very fine and health-giving, though some people find it too rare for their breathing. It differs from most mountainous countries in this, that you cannot lose your way, and that every step taken is on firm ground.    v4p39

Once upon a time, we came to a definitive crossroads in our math story. One boy continued to struggle as he always had, and at the very same time, we ran plum out of math books. While I'm not a big fan of curriculum hopping, if it were ever to come to pass, this was the time. Should I stick with the same ol' or go with something new? If something new, should I go with a non-curricular approach, popular at the time with some of my friends, or with a more traditional math program? Hmmmm. Have you ever asked those questions?

Though my boys could *do* math, I realized that there was a serious lack of understanding of the concepts. This was not necessarily the fault of MUS, but most likely due to the fact that I was not really teaching them math. I didn't know how to teach math. With that said, I really don't think your average later elementary kid is just going to 'pick up' on math on his own. Yes, there are kids who like math and catch on quickly, and can work independently, and can make their way through the elementary years without much trouble. This was me years ago and now this is my second-born. Fast forward, start high school math with more abstract concepts, and if one still lacks a deeper understanding, it is by no means easy anymore.

So, we found as we were working through Math-U-See, on the whole, they could do the lessons that were asked of them, but they didn't really understand what they were doing. Read more MEP transition nitty gritty here.

Enter MEP. It was practically love at first sight.

First of all, the entire curriculum is available for free online for one's perusal. That's convenient. It's all in electronic format. That's convenient. And it's the best math curriculum I've ever seen. That's really convenient!

You see, somehow I had never realized that math could be a living subject. MEP takes complex concepts and breaks them down to the point that most are introduced as far back as YEAR ONE, and are continually touched on and subsequently built upon by lots of roundabout ways, concrete activities, and real-to-life approaches, throughout every year, so that at some point, one just kind of already seems to know how to measure volume and solve for an unknown factor, etc. without really ever having had to struggle to learn it. Well, that's been our experience, anyway, with those children with whom I have used MEP from the beginning.

Trouble was, with my older boys, I didn't know how or where to start. You see, it has been said that MEP is difficult to accelerate because of it's richness. Well, it is that same richness that makes it difficult to know where to begin. When all along your other math program hasn't introduced those building block concepts, how far back do you have to go to fill in the holes? You cannot start a fifth grader back at Y1 simply so that he gets the whole scaffolding thing. Because the fifth grader knows LOTS of it already, he needs some foundation repair, that's all. Foundation repair is more difficult when you have an existing structure, you know. However, that's whats we needs. SO, where do we begin then? We are not going to pour a whole new foundation. We're just going to patch up. And that means, we'll fix problems as we come to them. We want math to be challenging without being frustrating.

For us, this meant, I needed to start the boys about a year behind where I thought they should be in MEP. Get this, NOT where they should have been according to MEP standardized levels. They were approximately 2-3 years behind that schedule. Students taught with MEP are in standardized schools and are started at 5 years old and are given an entire schoolyear to work steadily through each year of the curriculum. In standardized schools students don't have the luxury of skipping up a year or working on a personalized plan. They do MEPy__ because they are __ years old, and are in __th grade. Period. Not so, with my childrens. Almost everything around here is custom built. Including the garden gate and my closet shelves. Custom can sometimes mean makeshift. But not always. In the case of educational plans for my eldest children, they are almost always makeshift because often I have no idea what I'm doing. I learn from them, and hopefully the second batch will turn out better as a result. :)

So, we put them back in MEPy4. With daily one-on-one lesson time, one child picked up quickly and was actually up to speed within that year, I believe. The other, who had been struggling with MUS, now struggled with MEP. It's not magic, after all. Math struggles seemed to run in his veins (he's now built up an immunity!). But, math is a subject that needs teaching. And in 30min/day per lesson, we made the transition. I admit that MEP requires teacher time. But as a homeschooling mom, that's what I'm here for, right? :) Now, wait a second, I totally get the whole 'I have lots of kids though!' thing. I am not saying it's easy. It's not. I was sort of rebellious at first. But I'm SO glad we stuck through.

I had my struggler take a term to do a Life of Fred book. We plowed on with MEP. There were days. Let me tell you there were days. Little by little we worked through the new concepts and the new way of looking at math. I resigned myself to the idea that he might always be a year behind his younger brother. And he would probably never love math. Some people are built for math and others are not. That's absolutely okay. But, they must be disciplined to DO math, to take the time, even if it isn't their strong point. And we learned this.

We are so made that truth, absolute and certain truth, is a perfect joy to us; and that is the joy that mathematics afford. Also, there is great joy in standing by, as it were, and watching our own thought work out an intricate problem.   v4p63

Last year, miracles happened. Or it finally clicked. Whatever. In AmblesideOnline's y7, Javen was in y6 and Cullen in y7. Everything was going fine. Most days. Except for my anxiety that they would only finish junior high math in high school. Uh, slight problem. WAY back when I was researching MEP, I came on a homeschool conversion chart. I don't know who made it, or how true it is, but it says, that since MEP years 7 & 8 have a lot of repetition, they might be skipped. I was pretty much banking on it. So, when we got to the end of that year, I hesitatingly went forward and put them both straight into y9. It worked. And guess what?! I'm not sure when the pivot turned but, struggler, struggles no more.

Can I hear a big “Hallelujah”, please? :)

SO. whether or not MEP was meant to do just that, we've found that it is possible. I think it is a workaround for kids who don't start off in MEP, and I would still recommend going through the years in order, at the regular speed. I think that's best. But, if you didn't start way back at the beginning as did my younger children, there is still hope!

Now. An important note.
I have seen success with my boys and now with my younger kids using MEP, not because it is a miracle math curriculum. Though I am quite infatuated with it. :) I am confident our success is because of time spent every. single. day. with. each. student., working through the lessons, not verbatim mind you, but usually covering 50-80% of the lesson plan. I have learned the hard way, that I must take the time to check their work (this is how to check for comprehension), and go over problem areas (this is how to ensure mastery). As I postulated at the beginning of this post, for 90% of kids, it isn't going to be enough to send them off to teach themselves math. And though it is a significant chunk of my time, at the end of the day, I really believe it to be worth it! :)

I hope this has been helpful!
Please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences in the comments! ;)


sally said...

thanks for share..

Hammy said...


Renelle Jones said...

Thank you so much Amy. it is so good to have someone who has been down this road and willing to share. It makes more sense now and although I have lacked confidence in myself to help with mathematics, having read many of your MEP posts is helping a great deal. Here's your 'Hallelujah' from me and I will require one in return one day I'm hopeful :) hehe correction ... I'm sure. Blessings, Renelle

Lisa said...

thanks for this post, Amy. My ds (in yr4 of our first year of AO) struggles so much in Math (we use Saxon). It is definitely not his thing. I considered a different curriculum, but was advised by some of the AO moms I know not to do so, because of the "gaps". So we have been plugging along - slowly. Today was awful. He had 30 problems on his lesson (a review lesson before moving on to the next level) and he only completed half of the problems, and most of those were wrong. The problems that were incomplete, he said he didn't know how to do. I showed the paper to my husband and he said, "That's the work of someone who doesn't know what they're doing." And he suggested I go back to the beginning of the book and start over. Yikes! All this year's work will be for nothing if we start over. Plus, my ds would be crushed to have to go all the way to the beginning. Any suggestions or tips?


TL Glaser said...

We did not try MUS until high school with my dear son. Big mistake. He fell into a pattern of cranking out answers without thinking. Then, when he hit the unit test, we found out how much he had memorized without truly knowing. Sigh. Pamela is taking a very slow stroll through Jacob's Algebra and Geometry plus reviewing basic math by doing Kahn Academy (to point out weak areas) and then doing MEP lessons to work on said weak areas.

I do think people can make up for math weaknesses at any age. Math is reasonable and understandable when well taught.

Way to go in finding the path the rarified air of math for your sons!

Naomi said...

Thank you so much for this post Amy. I think it's a must read for anyone transitioning to MEP. Some lessons are really simple, others are really, really hard because of those concepts that are taught in the early years that are expected to be known, but new to my kids. I appreciate your candor about your experience!

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