Saturday, December 13, 2014

Homeschooling :: Finding Beauty in Math

When I first began this journey called homeschooling, I didn't really give much thought to specific subjects. I figured that early grades would be easy and that I had enough of a grasp of basic facts to be getting on with in the beginning. Anyway, by the time I reached more difficult subjects I was sure that I would be able to find resources that could help me along and fill any gaps in my knowledge.

What I did not realize though, was that by researching the myriad of available curriculum I would come to understand not only how very limited my own knowledge was, but also that I would want to learn all the things that I had missed.

I had always known that there were gaps in my own education. I used to read about all the things that Laura knew how to do when she took her exams in Little Town on the Prairie, and I wondered why no one had ever taught me any of those things. In the course of changing schools a couple times when my family moved I knew that my fellow students had covered topics that I had not and I always hoped that no one would find out that there were so many things I didn't know.

I especially hoped that these gaps would go unnoticed in math. I was able, by some miracle, to progress all the way to calculus in high school, but by the time I got there I was utterly and completely lost. I "passed" the class only because I was exempted from the final exam since I'd opted to take the AP Calculus test. I decided that I hated math and that I would do everything in my power to never have to think about it again.

Then I had children and decided that I wanted to teach them.

And then I learned something amazing:

Math is a beautiful thing. 

In fact it is breathtaking.

Whenever I find myself being asked questions about homeschooling by people who are genuinely interested, I always find myself most excited to share all the wonderful resources I have found to help teach math.

I pull out my cuisenaire rods and show them how we play with them and what they can do. I tell them about how we play games and have fun with numbers and mathematical concepts, not because we have to, but because we enjoy it.

I share my excitement over the fact that when a number is squared, it makes.... a square! You may laugh at me, but I cannot even begin to tell you what a big smile that knowledge puts on my face.

Did you know that multiplication and division are just faster ways to add and subtract?

Did you know that 5+2 can never equal anything but 7? (Really, take a minute to think about that. 5+2 can NEVER be anything other than 7)

Did you know that you can make a curve using only straight lines?

Did you know that numbers can have theological meaning?

Did you know that music is the incarnation of MATH???? Just think of Bach. I am rendered speechless.

And don't even get me started on Euclid. The exercise my brain has received from his Elements has stretched and strengthened my mind by leaps and bounds.

All I ever had was a vague and abstract understanding of algorithms and formulas. I had no concrete basis to build on and that is why I felt like I was in the middle of a fog that just kept getting thicker with no way out.

All these things may be obvious to the rest of you. And if they are, I think that's wonderful. I wish they had always been obvious to me. Then again, maybe I don't wish that. Because if I had always known, perhaps the wonder of all this would have been lost on me and I would not now be able to communicate these things so enthusiastically to my children.

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The resources I'm listing below are really only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much available, this is just a sample of what I've found and loved and have been able to use thus far (keep in mind that my children are still young and we have not reached advanced math topics yet):

cuisenaire rods
Education Unboxed (a fantastic site that shows how versatile cuisenaire rods really are)
Let's Play Math  (a great little book that highlights so many possibilities of how to have fun with math and is also full of ideas for games, books and other resources)
Beauty for Truth's Sake (a thought-provoking book that discusses the deep significance of mathematics)
Rarefied

And here are some curriculum resources that I've tried and loved:

Ray's Arithmetic (this is also available for free online)
The Verbal Math Lesson
Math-U-See
Primary Challenge Math
Living Math.net

5 comments:

  1. I'm on the beginning of this same journey, except I barely squeaked through Trig. Maybe someday I'll get to Euclid, too. :)

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    1. It's exciting isn't it? I just started reading Consider This, and read the chapter about humility - that's exactly where I am right now - realizing how much I don't know has opened the doors to so much wonder!

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  2. I love this! In school I didn't get as far as you, but I felt the same way, as though I really did not understand math and shouldn't get good grades. I think I had to be out from under the pressure and discovering it with my own kids to get relaxed enough to enjoy it. Also it seemed that when I started teaching them algebra, I thought I would have to re-learn it slowly with them, but it turned out to be so different from the first time. There were things about it that fell into place just because I had been living on the earth for 20 more years and *using* math every day.

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    1. That's so encouraging. I think you're right - it makes such a big difference when the pressure to perform on a test is no longer there. It is so much fun to be able to enjoy the process rather than being forced to "get through" and move on.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this! I wandered over from Wednesdays with Words. I feel similarly about math after homeschooling for 6 years. We have always used RightStart Math and LOVE it. I UNDERSTAND math so much better now! Thank you for the resources. We have Let's Play Math, but many of these are unfamiliar to me. I'm off to check them out!

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I really enjoy feedback and discussion, so please don't hesitate to comment!