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Math on the Level Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

John and Carlita Boyles
Family Lifestyle Learning
9461 Vinecrest Road
Windsor, California 95492

We have a new favorite math curriculum! Math on the Level is a K-8 (pre-algebra) curriculum that starts with an important foundation to teach kids math. Most math curriculums teaches concepts in a carefully delineated progression based on the child's grade level, with carefully scripted lessons and relatively little repetition or review. Math on the Level, on the other hand, teaches parents how to teach their children math using the world as their textbook, and gives the parents control over how and when each topic is taught and how much and how frequently review is needed. This curriculum looks at a child's level of mastery and maturation, not just their grade level! A maturational approach starts with what the child is ready to learn and at what pace and in what style. Children may to move very quickly through some math topics but struggle with others. Children who are gifted or who have developmental disabilities or learning disabilities may need to go at a very different pace from other kids their age.

For example, my oldest son who is gifted hated math for the first few years because it was mostly just memorizing the math facts! We needed more creative ideas at the time for helping him learn the early math basics in a way that was more interesting than just page after page of practice problems. Once we got to the "good stuff" where he could use critical thinking skills more than just rote memory, he finally started to enjoy math. My children with Down syndrome learn much more slowly and require much more repetition than other typically developing children, and need the problems to apply to the real world in order to understand them. Math on the Level provides just what we need to tailor the program to each child's particular, and changing, needs. We can focus on what they are ready to learn, instead of trying to force them to learn something they are not ready for just because it is "time" according to the curriculum author.

The complete curriculum sells for $370, or books can be purchased individually. The seven books in the set cover every math topic your children will need from kindergarten to 8th grade (pre-algebra). There are no consumables, and you can make as many copies of the various charts and worksheets as needed. There are also two volumes available for reviewing addition/subtraction and multiplication/division called 9's Down Math Facts ($80 for the set). Each of the four teaching guides (Operations, Money and Decimals, Geometry and Measurements, and Fractions) includes a Concept Chart and a Review Chart so you can ensure that you are teaching each topic your child will need before advancing to algebra. The daily math lesson starts with a review of five problems that you choose based on the Review Chart, focusing on areas that need a little more work and decreasing repetition of items that are mastered until they are finally dropped from review. The books contain ample information to easily create the five problems for that day and to maintain records of what your child is learning. After the child completes the review, you have a short teaching session in which you teach new concepts or reinforce and expand on topics previously learned. For example, if he is learning multiplication of fractions, the teaching time might involve doubling a recipe together or slicing a pizza to demonstrate parts of a whole. The problems cover a broad range of topics and emphasize learning in the real world rather than just completing problems in a workbook. The variety of exercises allows parents to tailor learning for their child, rather than force them into a cookie-cutter model.

Let me describe a typical day using Math on the Level. For my 8-year-old son with Down syndrome and my almost 3-year-old typically developing son, we are working on counting, recognizing a one-to-one correspondence with items, recognizing money, recognizing numbers and sorting. So for our math time we took advantage of a living room strewn with toys from the day's play, and we played store. For every toy they put in the toy box, the boys could earn one penny; and for every 10 pennies, they could earn a small piece of candy (could be any privilege or incentive). As they cleaned up, they each accumulated their pennies in a little pile. When they were done, they had to count out their pennies into my hand to buy a piece of candy. With one simple and really fun game, they both had some real-world experience with all of the skills we were learning. The game is adaptable for different skill levels. An older child could put two toys away for each penny (which adds a bit of skip counting). For our oldest son, we could have him calculate sale prices or taxes or have him work on percents and fractions, mental math, or estimation.

This is just one example out of hundreds of ideas in the curriculum. For younger children, most of the work will be experiential, but as they are ready for more formal math work, we will begin to use the five-a-day review. The concept charts make it easy to determine which skills need to be reviewed and how often, and there are plenty of samples and ideas for problems throughout the curriculum. You might choose two problems that review addition with two-digits, one fraction problem, one estimation, and one simple geometry skill. Because all of these skills have been practiced during your teaching time and are being frequently reviewed, only a few problems are needed to keep the concepts fresh in your child's mind. Any items the child has a hard time with could be further reviewed during teaching time. Again, this is more time-intensive than just assigning a worksheet and grading it. However, because of the one-on-one nature and the ability to teach several children the same skill at different levels, I do not think the overall time commitment is any greater. Because you are able to easily keep detailed records of which skills have been learned and which still need to be reviewed, you do not have to go in any particular order for most skills (although certainly some will build on and eventually replace other skills). So you can take advantage of those wonderful spontaneous learning opportunities for math skills, even if the skills are out of order. You can also address the child's maturational readiness for each skill, rather than try to force the skill before he or she is ready.

We loved the simple, comprehensive, interactive, fun activities in this curriculum! Math is all around us and should be taught as we go to the grocery store, or bake a cake, or build a tree house. You could easily incorporate Math on the Level into unit studies by designing assignments around the main topic. For example, a study on weather could involve measurements or charts of weather. Everything is presented in a clear, concise, easy-to-understand manner that will have you feeling confident about your math instruction in no time. But as much as my family loved this curriculum, it would not be appropriate for everyone, such as those who prefer everything prepared for them or who like the structure of having someone else decide scope and sequence. I think any extra prep time is well worth it, especially in light of the ability to tailor the learning so specifically.

One thing I would change in Math on the Level is to teach the math facts through 12 instead of 9, which I think is very helpful as kids begin more advanced math, although parents can easily do this on their own if they choose. The 9's Down Math Facts starts with the harder computations, such as 9x9, and moves down to the easier facts so that children have more opportunities to practice the harder facts. I would love to see the program at least partly computerized in the future, which could allow for easy record keeping and generation of the review sheets every day, although these tasks are really not that difficult or time consuming. It would also be great to have all of the charts and worksheets on a disk to print if you do not own a copier.

This program would be wonderful for just about any student, as the learning can be adjusted from very basic all the way to very advanced. You can tell that it was written by fellow homeschoolers who understand the joys and concerns of teaching at home. The program is very upbeat, encouraging, creative, and comprehensive. Math on the Level makes it easy to create a unique math program that changes with your children and gives them a love of learning!

Product review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2007