We’re Doing Our Math and Right Now H.o.p.’s liking it

Since we began our homeschooling year at the end of August/beginning of September, I’ve just not had the time for much of anything but homeschool, which means projects like the UFO interviews have gone back burner for now.

We are especially deep into math right now.

Gotta tell you, last year we got Timez Attack to try to help with memorization of the times tables, and H.o.p. really enjoyed it the first few weeks, then fell out of love because memorization just isn’t there for him. He’s dyslexic and it’s not going to happen. But I’m more interested in getting him to understand concepts anyway.

I’m not saying Timez Attack isn’t good. I still think for kids for whom memorization comes fairly easily, it is a real fun way of doing interactive drill. Because, believe me, decent gaming programs are almost absent in the education department. Someone will say, “Oh, there’s a great computer game here!” or a website will say they have good games but they’re nothing but your regular old non-interactive drills.

Math became a real sore spot for H.o.p. last year. I tried and tried and didn’t find anything that would help, an approach that didn’t send him screaming, and eventually I decided, don’t fight it, wait until he’s a little more mature and try again.

Then it was August and we would be starting the more organized part of homeschooling up again and I had found nothing to use for math. I just knew what wouldn’t work.

Around the middle of August a post on one of the homeschooling lists caught my eye mentioning a series of math books called Life of Fred. Agh, math problems presented as word problems in story form. Aaron hates those! Even I hate those! I always failed story problems as a kid. BUT this sounded different. In these books we have a little five-year-old educator, named Fred, who teaches math, but the stories are more about Fred and his life so (for example) in the first five chapters of the Fractions book we cover everything from Fred’s height and his salary and where he lives and how he lives under a desk and how he wants a bike and whether he’ll be able to afford it based on his salary to contemplating millions and billions of things and how to not get freaked out by the sheer enormity of those millions and billions of things as related to math.

How do we know what was in the first five chapters of the “Life of Fred – Fractions” book?

Because I ordered it. The first book offered is “Life of Fred – Fractions”, followed by books on decimals and percents, different levels of algebra, geometry, trig and calculus. So the books carry one up through high school. The fractions book is intended for about the 5th or 6th grade level and assumes that a child knows their addition and multiplication tables and long division.

Does H.o.p. know his multiplication tables? Even his addition tables? Memorization of numbers just doesn’t happen for him. Which is one reason I’m so intent on getting him to understand process and concepts. And tools. To not wildly guess but try to reason it out with tools–and I don’t mean the calculator. So, if he has to, he counts on his fingers and does a version of a paper abacus or counts by doing groupings of 5. (And in this way he’s able to do 1,897,583 plus 4,435,412, and 212 times 334 and so on and so forth. And it’s all right. But I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Some people will think this is horrible that he doesn’t have all this memorized.

But it’s all right.

I’m dyslexic as well. I know what this is like. I just want to teach him not to give up at first brush. I want him to gain a little patience and realize he has tools with which he can work.

Doing his paper abacus on his work sheet he was able to pass his third grade math standardized test. But, as I was saying, last year he had no use for any kind of math. He didn’t like “living math”. He didn’t want any kind of math. Say a number and he would run away. I was happy even if he would count his allowance.

Anyway, it was August and I found H.o.p. had forgotten anything he’d learned thus far between the end of last year and the beginning of this. Everything. I asked him to write down a billion and he wrote down 100.

And even though I’m dyslexic and know what this is like, it can be frustrating even for me.

He threatened hari kari.

That is exasperating.

Plus, he knew nothing about long division. Last year was so crappy math-wise we never got to long division.

But I had a really good feeling about Fred.

I went ahead and ordered the fractions book.

Despite the fact that it’s primarily word problems.

But not senseless story problems. Not, “you have this many apples and that many bushels of hay so how many truckloads of manure did you move by midnight if you took time out to watch your favorite television show at eight”?

They’re all stories hinged on Fred.

Anyway, I ordered “Life of Fred – Fractions”, and talk about service, the book got here in about two days. Wow!

It’s autographed. How fun!

Seriously. It was fun to open the book and find the autograph of the author.

I showed H.o.p. the picture of Fred. That was the first make or break point. If H.o.p. (an artist) didn’t like how Fred was drawn, he would never again look at the book and he wouldn’t want anything to do with it.

H.o.p. loved the picture of Fred.

H.o.p. and I began exploring math with Fred.

And he loves it. He loves it so much that I can make up about 10 to 20 more math problems to do with H.o.p. for each chapter, and he still loves it.

No, you don’t know how amazing this is, that H.o.p. was sitting at the table with me for an hour or two hours working on reasoning out math and he was happy (elated even!) and not threatening hari kari.

Fred even covered the hari kari. He brought up hyperbole somewhere in the first five chapters.

H.o.p. can relate to hyperbole.

At the end of every five chapters you have to cross a “bridge” to get to the next chapter. You have five tests, or opportunities, to cross that bridge. If you don’t get the first test right (9 questions out of 10 need to be correctly answered) then you do the second test, and so on and so forth.

H.o.p. did his fifth test last Thursday, crossing the first bridge, and got 9 out of 10 right. Yes, it took doing all five tests and my making up all kinds of extra Fred stories for practice problems between the tests…but on Thursday he did it, he got 9 out of 10 right and on Friday we began the 6th chapter.

Time will tell if “Life of Fred” will keep H.o.p.’s interest, but I have a good feeling about Fred. On Friday we learned Fred, who is at the point of buying a bike, was about to be cheated by a ruthless, scummy bike dealer who, in response to Fred’s innocence, kept jacking up the price of the bike. H.o.p. felt for poor Fred and was so involved in the drama of the story that he had no complaint doing a lot of big number multiplication for such problems as finding out just how badly poor Fred could possibly be cheated and how long it would take for him to save his money to pay for an outrageously overpriced bike.

Next…will Fred buy the bike from the unscrupulous dealer? Will there even be a bike in the box when the dealer delivers it? And if there isn’t, then what will poor Fred do??? Four chapters worth of fractions and other problems await before we cross the next bridge, and I know from glancing ahead that the suspense is only going to keep on building.

H.o.p. should love it.

You know, we even begin every day with math. Can you imagine THAT???? H.o.p. keeps the pencil sharpener at his side and happily keeps sharpening his pencil. The first one, on Friday, was finally sharpened down to a nub and H.o.p. was quite proud and considered it a kind of honor.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

2 thoughts on “We’re Doing Our Math and Right Now H.o.p.’s liking it”

  1. I have dyscalculia – I cannot remember my times tables, but I understand the theory of relativity. My daughter, Miranda is exactly the same and has dyslexia too (though not so severely) and I recently bought some books to try to help her with maths. She doesn’t have the same aversion as H.o.p. but she is 14 and was lucky enough to have a really good teacher at school. She can do the maths in the classroom but promptly forgets it all in any test. I may consider getting Fred for her – I had a look at the website and it does look very good. She responds well to stories and part of her multisensory learning strategies involve creating stories.

  2. Well, H.o.p. has yet to tire of Fred and the book actually has him cheerfully learning on how to work multi-phase problems and exercising multiplication and division etc. skills. He still has problems but considering his previous aversion to math I think it’s incredible what he’s done since we started with Fred. I’m really, really, *really* pleased with Fred and consider myself very fortunate to have come across these books. They seem to be just the right fit for H.o.p.

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