When looking at new curriculum of any sort, it is nice if you can have an idea of who the author is, why it was written and what the educational philosophy of the author is. Before opening up the materials that came from Wildridge Software, I was already excited and biased in favor of the contents. My husband had enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation with Wildridge cofounder Joan Bangs, and had hung up the phone excited to share all he had learned. Joan and her husband Larry (author of Math & Musicâ„¢ and Math & the Cosmosâ„¢) homeschooled their five children back in the pioneering days of homeschooling. They also formed an accredited private school, Wildridge Academy, where they developed their curriculum, A Bigger Worldâ„¢. So, they bring to their curriculum homeschool and private school experience.
The Bangs' also have a commitment to help nurture the love of lifelong learning. "We strive to produce truly educational products which challenge students and sustain their curiosity so that they will continue a lifetime pursuit of knowledge." In an email from Joan, she said, "It (homeschooling their five children) was a busy time, but a very rewarding and happy time. It was not easy, but when we look at our children now as grown adults, watching them succeed and enjoy living and learning, we would not change those years for anything." Larry Bangs has an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, a master's degree in physics and has done additional graduate work in astrophysics. Don't let that intimidate you, though. He also knows how to communicate with your student and with you.
One reason I am particularly interested in Wildridge Software, is their philosophy of bridging disciplines. Math & Musicâ„¢ includes teaching on mathematics, music, physics and history. Math & the Cosmosâ„¢ includes science, mathematics, literature and history. This allows the natural strengths and interests in your student to help with learning subjects that are more difficult.
Let's take a good look at Math & Musicâ„¢. We are a family with children that love music. Math, on the other hand, has been a struggle. Math and Musicâ„¢ is just what we have needed to spark greater interest in mathematics. Many times, during a difficult math problem, the question comes up, "Why do I need to learn this?" In the words of Wildridge Software, "Math & Musicâ„¢ is an interdisciplinary program emphasizing the practical value of fundamental math skills by relating these skills to the basic elements of music." This information helps all of us answer the question, "WHY?"
Chapter one in the textbook is a great introduction to the study of math. I find math difficult to get excited about, and this was really interesting!! It is written in a straightforward style, and provides definitions, historical references, and excellent comparisons to understand the difference between mathematics and arithmetic. For example, "Learning arithmetic is like learning to whistle. Beginning the study of mathematics is like beginning to learn about the complex beauty of the classical symphony." Perhaps my previous lack of interest is because I stopped with the whistle (arithmetic) and never got beyond to the symphonies (mathematics).
The materials included in Math & Musicâ„¢ are a textbook, a teacher's guide, a student guide and a CDROM. The student begins with the student guide to get an overview of the program, descriptions of the written materials and those available on the CDROM, and suggestions for how to study the materials. Each assignment (and there are ten) has a checklist of all that needs to be completed. Starting with a vocabulary list, the student then reviews the study questions before reading through the text. Amidst the text are directions to view the multimedia exercises for that particular area of study. There are also bulleted problems to answer and vocabulary to write out and use in sentences. Some assignments include projects, websites to visit, or experiments to complete. Assignment nine is an independent research project and assignment ten is preparation for the final challenge test which is taken when the student has completed the program.
Topics included are: Mathematics or Arithmetic, Early Number Systems, The Operations of Arithmetic, Number Patterns  Introduction to Algebra, Exploring Trigonometry  Mathematical Reasoning, The Science of Sound, and Appreciating Different Musical Styles.
The CDROM is easy to use. Each student enters his or her name and birth date to be recorded in the database, and this allows their scores and progress to be tracked. There are eighteen exercises, nineteen challenge tests, an audio glossary, and a final challenge test. I am very easily intimidated by computer programs, and I found the main menu and all the features of the CDROM to be very easy to navigate.
The Teacher's Guide provides the password for administrative access to the CDROM, learning objectives (far too long to list!), recommendations for teacher preparation, and the answers to study questions.
Math & The Cosmosâ„¢ is organized in much the same way. There are seven assignments with the following topics: Viewing Nature, Observing the Sky, Mapping the Stars, Understanding the Motions of Stars and Planets, Investigating Deep Space, Connecting Astronomy, and Mythology, and History. The seventh assignment is preparation for the final challenge test. An additional feature of Math & The Cosmosâ„¢is a slide show containing the pictures that are in the textbook and extra pictures of space. Once again, the written and multimedia materials are very easy to use, even though the material itself can be challenging work.
Math & Musicâ„¢ and Math & the Cosmosâ„¢ are the first two units in a larger curriculum  A Bigger Worldâ„¢. It is eventually intended to be a six year, 7  12 grade curriculum, with the third unit (Architecture & Physics) due for release in May of 2003.
These programs will not replace a full curriculum for any one subject. There is easily a year's worth of work in each of these programs, though, since you will be using them to supplement your other materials. Since my husband and I are both weak in math and science, I intend to work through this material for the next year and begin our students after I have done all the assignments. I am not willing to have them pass my academic experience in only eighth grade, although the day is coming soon!
To learn more about Wildridge Software, please see their website at www.wildridge.com, or give them a call at 18882444379. Joan Bangs has been known to bring help and encouragement to folks when they call to make an order. The Old Schoolhouseâ„¢ Magazine is planning an interview with the Bangs' sometime in the next year; that is an assignment I can hardly wait to complete!
Higher level math and science education can be a challenge for homeschool families. The folks at Wildridge Software are helping us with their curriculum, A Bigger Worldâ„¢. We have a friend in Lawrence Bangs, who is gifted at communicating in a way that all of us can understand. In Math and Musicâ„¢, the bridge to musical scales and harmony has increased our interest and enthusiasm in mathematical arenas yet undiscovered. I imagine the same thing will happen with Math and the Cosmosâ„¢ as our natural interest in astronomy can bridge the gap to higher level math skills that we never dreamed of understanding.
One note that should be made: this program is not written from a Christian perspective. It does reflect an implicit wonder and awe of God's creation, though. If you are uncomfortable with materials that do not include explicitly Christian references, then this program may not be for you. I would urge you to give it a try, though, because, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).
If you share the vision of Larry and Joan Bangs, of preparing students for the enjoyment of lifelong learning, and if you want some help with higher level math and science studies, take a look at Wildridge Software. The materials will create bridges from areas of interest to areas of struggle, and offer opportunity for countless conversations with our students. And, ultimately, it can open the window for all of us to see "A Bigger World."
Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
