July 23, 2014

Trying to Master Pre-Algebra

I’m sort of evolving my teaching-with-Khan plans as I go.
My loose goal for the school year is to get both kids through the Algebra and Geometry curricula.
I’m not confident, however, that they’re ready to plunge into whatever topics are categorized under Algebra and Geometry. My aim for the balance of the summer is to get them to achieve “Mastery” in the Pre-Algebra topics.
Khan attempts to describe a student’s knowledge of each topic. A topic can be Mastered, Practiced to 2 or 3 different levels, or Unpracticed.
A quick way to advance through these divisions are Khan’s Mastery Challenges, very short quizzes on a variety of topics. Some tuning algorithm seems to refine the questions included in each Mastery Challenge. So the more Mastery Challenges a student attempts, the more relevant the questions become.
This seems as good a place to start as any, so we loaded up the Pre-Algebra curricula and started going through some Mastery Challenges.
The kids were delighted to ace some easy questions, and surprised at a few hard ones (or easy but utterly unfamiliar ones, like the Stem-and-Leaf Plots). They were maybe a little-disappointed to see that they were earning badges with names like Addition, Third Grade. They understand the direction they're going, though, and they can sense that they'll feel some satisfaction when they earn more advanced badges.
After the first week of doing this, it seems like the kids are each getting through one or two Mastery Challenges per day.
If we can maintain the pace, they should have the Pre-Algebra curriculum complete around Labor Day.

Trying Khan for Math

Nathaniel seems to have a knack for mathematical concepts. He can picture fractional quantities in his head, for example. He is impatient with memorization and drills, however.
He’s fifteen now. He knows math at a sort of B-student-in-pre-algebra-but-occasionally-horrifies-me-by-counting-on-his-fingers-to-add-seven-to-ninety-five level. I think he under-performs on tests, largely because of his impatience with the testing.
Jessica is nearly the opposite. She struggles with any sort of mathematical visualization and dreads story problems but takes real pleasure in knowing and repeating the process of an arithmetical operation. Drills of well-known material make her happy, and timed tests make her happier.
In both cases, I’d like to see the kids advancing faster than they are, and testing better. I suggested as much—and suggesting is always risky for a homeschool parent. So now I get to be teacher.
Really, though, I’m happy to try. I’ve always been a little envious of the teaching.
My first command decision was to re-abandon Saxon, this time for the Khan Academy.
I’m building a list of reasons why. So far it looks like this. 
I'm betting that Khan is better at...
  • ...targeting lessons to what a kid needs to learn.
  • ...building test-taking skills (critical to homeschooled kids who want the chance to go to college!)
  • ...providing repeated drills when (and only when) necessary.
  • ...reinforcing concepts already learned.

We’ll see how it goes.