Sunday, November 22, 2009

Living / unschooling maths

It's been 5 months since Billy had a formal maths lesson (ie with worksheets & set tasks). As much as I loved the curriculum we were using, it just wasn't a fit with Billy, and I came to the realisation that nothing would be a good fit. He's a very asynchronous learning and hates repetition, not to mention hates worksheets with a passion, so any formal curriculum would have to be chopped and changed. I started to read the Living Math yahoo group - reading the posts made me see the maths that's all around us. I started doing fun maths things like playing card games during "Maths Time", then as I relaxed I dropped the scheduled times altogether.

Maths now mainly consists of Billy asking questions as he needs to know something and me explaining how to get the answer. A few months ago he asked me "If we had 25 kids coming over and we wanted to give them each a small drink bottle filled with Coke, how many 2 L bottles would we need to buy?" First of all I got him to fill and measure the smaller bottle's volume with water - 250ml. Then I talked him through the calculation I was making - we'd need 25 lots of 250ml, or 6250ml. We talked about the fact that "milli" means 1000, so there are 1000ml in 1 L. So we'd need 6.25 L of coke, and then I got him to work out how many 2L bottles we'd need to make sure we'd have enough. Now that question was obviously hypothetical - 1) I am not having 25 kids at my house and 2) I wouldn't feed them Coke if they were! - but he came up with it, so to him its far more real than anything you'd find on a worksheet.

He'll also ask questions like "if the pizza is cut into 8 pieces and there are 3 of us, how many pieces will we get each?". He likes to give his own twist though and after working out the proper answer, he'll usually come up with one like "or we can have 2 pieces each and then whoever finishes first can have the 2 leftover bits!"

There are some other maths resources that get picked up & put down as he wants.

Cyberchase - This is a really cool series of cartoons dealing with a maths theme - its a group of kids in cyperspace who have to foil the plans of The Hacker who has infected Motherboard with a virus. I even enjoy watching them with Billy! There's also an associated website that has fantastic games etc on it.

Timez Attack - This is a Doom type game where they learn times tables (there's no shooting or blood & guts though). The character has to find his way around the dungeons and attack the ogre by answering his times tables questions. The free version you can download is complete
and all that's needed - the purchased version just has extra floor plans. They can't move on from one level until they answer all questions correctly. I got out of bed the other morning and Billy was playing this!

Mathletics - while this is Australian curriculum based, it's still a good tool that can appeal to kids in different ways. Billy might go months without using it, and then decide to sit down and do it for an hour.

ABC School shows - our government-run TV station plays several maths related education shows each week.

For a while I was saying "hey, do you want to watch cyberchase?" or "let's play Addition War?" if I thought he hadn't had enough Maths for the week, but now I'm comfortable enough to see how it all evens out over time.

And let's not forget the maths in everyday life:

Cooking - this has been great for concepts like fractions, volume, doubling, halving etc. He can work out things like to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons with the 1/2 teaspoon measure means he'll need 3 of them. I'll often ask him questions like "what if we only had a 1 tsp measure or 1/4 tsp measure?".

Shopping - weighing the fruit & veges, comparing prices, working to a budget (can I afford the lego & the lollies??), paying for items, working out change.

Craft - estimating, measuring.

In the time since we started unschooling maths, he's been exposed to the following subjects, some in more depth than others.
  • Addition / subtraction with carrying
  • Multiplication
  • Simple division
  • Fractions - 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, 1/100, mixed fractions
  • Doubling
  • Measuring & estimating
  • Probability
  • Perimeter & area
  • Tessellating shapes
I know because I kept a checklist for the first few months just to reassure myself that he is still learning the "prescribed" maths stuff for his age and the next couple of years. The subjects above are taken out of the Yr 2 and Yr 3 syllabus - he's still officially in Yr 1, so I have no concerns about the way we're going!


Lightening said...

Sounds fascinatingly wonderful Kez. No doubt he's learning heaps. We found that while we were away - we starting noticing more of the natural maths that seemed to be occuring around us.

Do you ever have to do any "formal testing" to see where Billy is up to? I'm just curious as to how the homeschooling situation works. Like, do they do the Numeracy and Literacy testing in year 3,5,7 etc?

Kez said...

I think it depends on the state's regulations. In NSW, we don't have to do any testing. I'm not even sure if we could do the N&L testing if we wanted to.

I'm not a fan of testing (esp so young!) - as far as I'm concerned it's used for 2 things. Either to compare how kids are going (which I don't think comparison is a good thing as all kids learn at their own pace) or to see if kids know something - being with them all day you quickly find out whether they know something without testing!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Thanks for the math links - I'm just on the verge of giving up on formal math for my younger son - he seems to be learning concepts before I teach them anyway - and he HATES the worksheets. I just haven't quite wrapped my mind completely around unschooling math yet. It was good to read your post.

Kez said...

An Almost Unschooling Mum - glad it helped you. That was pretty much the position we were in too!

karisma said...

Kez, We can do testing in years 3 and 5 if we are that way inclined (which I am not) They are called Basic skills tests and are multiple choices. You can arrange them through the BOS.

The kids have to sit for them at home but you have to have someone besides yourself to supervise so you do not tell them the answers. They pretty much just give you an idea of where your child's learning level is in the state. We don't worry about it. Every child learns at their own pace, we are pretty relaxed about it all these days.

Kez said...

Thanks for letting me know that Karisma. Like you, I'm not planning on doing them with Billy but its good to have up-to-date information when people ask!

Anonymous said...

Yea, I love reading about others' experiences with living math. I'm looking forward to that comfortable feeling you mentioned. I'm still feeling anxious about doing away with curriculum!