First up, I’m going to share with you the backbone texts we’ve used. I don’t have over the top positive reviews for all of these, but we used them, and I’m going to share them with you here, along with what we thought.
Algebra I and Geometry I books from the Art of Problem Solving. This is not math for the faint at heart. Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) prides itself for its challenging puzzles and in-depth study. For the math lover, this is a perfect choice, and you can choose to take their online chat-based classes, or use the books on your own. I’ve met the head of AoPS, Richard Rusczyk, and he instantly became one of my Favorite People. His humor, good nature, and passion is contagious, and we love the AoPS website for its instructional videos (hosted by Rusczyk), as well as for its free online math “gaming” puzzle component, called Alcumus. We tried – we really did! – to work our way through the Algebra I text, but we got bogged down, sticking with it way too long (2 years, as Ian will readily remind me) and never completed it. It’s a monster of a book. In the end, it wasn’t the best situation for us, though we still love AoPS for the other features I listed.
Beast Academy, also from Art of Problem Solving. Over the last couple of years, AoPS has branched out to provide math instruction for elementary students. They’ve done something quite fabulous, really, creating textbooks and workbooks in graphic novel format. These books are in full color and feature a cast of quirky, funny monster characters. Each grade comes in four parts, with corresponding workbooks. So though the individual books are affordable, you’re buying eight of them per grade (for example, 3rd grade textbooks 3A, 3B, 3C, and 3D and a corresponding workbook for each text). Still, if my kids were younger, I would totally snap these up. The development of these books is time intensive, and though Eva was able to work through books 3A and 3B, the time in between the next releases was too long for her to stick with them. They now have 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, and 4A completed and released. The other thing I like about these books is the math itself. Consistent with AoPS’s reputation, the math goes deeper than traditional texts, helping kids learn to find patterns and understanding, and not simply memorize math facts.
Singapore curriculum. Basic worksheets and texts working through typical grade leveled studies. Singapore is praised for running a bit deeper and faster than traditional American texts, and we were able to speed things up even more by doing end of unit quizzes first and only studying the things we didn’t already know. It’s also very affordable. That’s the good stuff. The “eh” factor: well, “eh.” Singapore was never a hit for our family, though we used it for a couple of years. It got us through upper elementary math, but that’s really all I can say for it. My kids hate worksheets.
Math Doesn’t Suck by Danica McKellar. This is our most recent textbook choice, and the one we’re working through currently. I’ve read a ton of reviews of the book, and though I am still somewhat put off by the “solve problems without breaking a nail” lingo, after working through most of the first book, I feel good about recommending it. McKellar is no air-brain. She takes math by the horns, celebrates the awesomeness of girlhood (albeit a specific kind of girly-girlhood), and challenges her female readers to build their inner strength and confidence by becoming mathematicians, though sometimes I’ll be honest – I feel the encouragement can come across as a bit condescending. However, the language is fun and light and overall empowering. It’s a narrative, and it’s hardcore math. Though I’m resistant toward the feminine stereotypes she insists on (building her word problems out of nail polish and lipsticks and cute boys), I also think that these types of images shouldn’t be universally banned in the name of girl empowerment, because some girls actually do like nail polish and lipstick and boys, and that should be validated as well. Honestly, I’m still mulling all this over. For now, Eva and talk about the imagery of makeup and jewelry, enjoy the fun of it, laugh at the absurdities, and substitute “11 games of Minecraft” for “11 lipsticks” and the like. In our math studies, I read this book aloud to her, and sometimes I skip the more heavy-handed “it’s cool to be a girl who loves math” break-out boxes, because you know, we get it. All that said, we like it, and plan on purchasing the Algebra text once we complete Math Doesn’t Suck.
Why Pi? by Dorling Kindersley. This book is great fun for math fans and for kids who are simply interested in what makes the world tick; it’s both visually and verbally stimulating and is full fascinating information about math and numbers. This isn’t about working problems, but unlocking the magic behind them. It lived in the back seat of our car for months, and the kids read it cover to cover dozens of times.
Murderous Maths by Terry Deary. This series is part of the Horrible books that span history, biographies, science, and math. They are written in the UK, and they say “maths” there, not “math.” Murderous Maths titles cover specific math topics, but are not meant to be your core text. Like all the Horrible books, they’re full of humor (sometimes slightly dark humor) and packed full of comic insets. Like all my enrichment text choices, I love to leave these in the backseat of the car. The kids can’t resist a book in the car. Ian in particular enjoyed these. If you purchase through the link I’m embedding here, be sure to tell Horrible Ray that I sent you. I’m a big fan of Horrible Ray. He’s a pretty awesome guy, as is his whole family.
Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin. We’re so lucky to have met some of these outstanding math heroes. We first encountered Benjamin online, watching his famous TED talk, where he shows off his “Mathemagics” show, squaring 5 digit numbers in his head! He’s charming and funny, and of course, brilliant. Ian and I were hooked, and later that year got to see Benjamin perform live at a conference, and meet him afterwards. We purchased his Secrets of Mental Math book, which gives the secrets behind his Mathemagics show. This was during our first year of homeschooling, and we decided to simply work through the book as far as we could for our math studies. It was great fun, and so fascinating to think of computations quite differently than we’ve been traditionally taught. If the text isn’t enough, you can also purchase his Great Courses DVD set of the same name, watching him teach the lessons out of the book. We own it all.
Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Both kids read and loved it. Here’s the publisher description, that says it better than I could: ” In twelve dreams, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets a Number Devil, who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, numbers that magically appear in triangles, and numbers that expand without end. As we dream with him, we are taken further and further into mathematical theory, where ideas eventually take flight, until everyone-from those who fumble over fractions to those who solve complex equations in their heads-winds up marveling at what numbers can do.” I also ran across this fantastic list of math-related books. There’s plenty here to keep your math student busy!
Super Fun Videos
Mathemagics. An online TED talk given by Arthur Benjamin, and discussed above under Secrets of Mental Math, this wonderful performance will amaze math lovers and non-lovers alike. Benjamin gives a truly entertaining “talk” as he tells people what day of the week they were born on and squares huge numbers in his head.
Solving for X Pre-Algebra DVD. My big complaint about these episodes by Bill Nye (of Science Guy fame) is that he didn’t make more of them. There are only two parts here, but fun and engaging, as all of his films are. These aren’t deep, but rather a jumping off point for further exploration. A great supplement for pre-Algebra studies.
The Story of Math. This is such a fascinating documentary and is watched in several episodes. It does a fantastic job of tracing the history of math from its origins in our understanding. If you’ve been studying your history, you’ll have some nice cross-over references. The host is great, and scenery beautiful, the script and narrative fascinating. The host talks not only about the math that was discovered, but about the seriously famous mathematicians who did the discovery; a huge number of them had equally serious mental issues, which is worthy of its own “class” discussion.
The Joy of Mathematics. Another offering by Arthur Benjamin, this series produced as part of the Great Courses collection is several hours long and broken up into different math topics. It’s one that you should purchase in upper elementary/early middle school and refer to for its progressive lectures over many years. I’ll be honest: sometimes this goes over our heads. But that’s ok: I’m not afraid to be stumped, and there’s a whole lot here to be absorbed.
Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension. Ah, fractals. This is Beautiful Maths. It’s the math of art, the math of snowflakes, the math of symmetry. It’s also a form of math that is often excluded in the traditional classroom, which is a crying shame. Watch this documentary on a snowy day or during an evening with the family and some popcorn. You won’t regret it.
Between the Folds, PBS documentary. A wonderful film exploring the far-reaching art and science of origami. It’s one of those films that is so much more fascinating than you’re expecting. If you follow the link, you can find additional games, origami history and interviews with the director about film making.
Vi Hart. The witty, wonderful, brilliant mathematician who helps us see that math is AWESOME. Use her YouTube channel to practice her fractal doodles, make a mathematical Thanksgiving dinner, explore Mobius strips, and in general enjoy her crazy, quirky humor. She now works for Khan Academy, so you can check her out there as well. Last year, Eva fell in love with her hexa-flexagons, and followed Vi’s instructions to make her very own and very yummy Mexi-hexa-flexagon. Good times.
Alcumus. This is an online math “game” (basically you solve questions for fun badges and the like), that we’ve enjoyed for years. It is a part of Art of Problem Solving, which also provides great math videos, texts, and online classes. We primarily use the Alcumus module and the videos, hosted by the charming and brilliant Richard Rusczyk. He’s awesome. You can read more about our experience with Alcumus here.
DreamBox. This is a purchasable online account that will help your child with math, grades K-5. Though the world is virtual, I love the program for its hands-on quality. In DreamBox, kids learn math through conceptual understanding, not simply through arithmetic. Object grouping, interactive number lines, scales, and the like help students visualize why a particular math concept works the way it does. The game is engaging, the animations fresh and fun. Kids unlock new tools and levels along the way, and parents are included with personalized reports of student progress. This was far and away Eva’s favorite math resource (Ian had already moved past it by the time we learned about it). She was so sad when she graduated!
Khan Academy. If you’re interested in education at all, you’ve likely heard of Salman Khan, the charming provider of 9-minute lectures on just about anything, who’s on a mission to educate the entire world for free. We have never used Khan Academy exclusively, but we do enjoy popping by from time to time, especially for the math content. As they’ve become more successful, they’ve overhauled their website, making it more fun and accessible. Digital badges and progress maps are key here, as students get rewarded for their hard work.
Descartes Cove. After hearing rave reviews of this Myst-type math game developed in 2006 by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, I ordered it for our public library’s children’s collection. Here’s the description, taken from the website: “Marooned on a desert island once inhabited by Rene Descartes, students discover his notebook and gear and begin their journey through the island’s tunnels, volcanoes, abandoned mines, and sunken ship. At each step, they solve increasingly difficult puzzles and math challenges that follow NCTM standards. As they master each math concept, they prepare to tackle the final quest to build a means to escape from the island.” Grades 6-8. For my full review, click here.
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