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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Beka Arithmetic VS. Teaching Textbooks Math: Why I Switch Midstream


Since listing my 2013-2014 curriculum choices, I have received dozens of emails from mommas all asking the same question...

Why did you switch from A Beka math to Teaching Textbooks?  

Followed by the next logical questions...

How do you like Teaching Textbooks? And why are your younger kids still using A Beka?

A Beka VS. Teaching Textbooks: Why I Switch Midstream {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Naturally, I wanted to give Teaching Textbooks a full year before giving my "official" review.
So...
Today's the day.  Here's the skinny...

I switched because I'm a busy momma trying to juggle four grade levels and a toddler and quite frankly, something had to give!

I needed an easier work load.

There, I've said it.

In an attempt to lighten my load and maintain a certain level of school day sanity, I knew I needed to delegate one or two subjects to someONE or someTHING else.  Although I was an "A" student in most of my math classes, it was never my favorite subject.  Since, for the first four years of her education, it tended to be the subject that my daughter disliked the most also, it was the clear choice for CHANGE.

The computer-based lessons of Teaching Textbooks would require little time from me freeing me up to teach something else to another child, I reasoned.

I also thought that the animated lessons would be a welcome change for my daughter who obviously craved something a little more "jazzy" than the A Beka math that she had been doing up until that point. So, I plunked down the hefty amount and prayed that I wasn't making a huge mistake by potentially damaging my daughter for life! (Because isn't that what we, homeschool mommas, always think before we try something new?!)

So...That's the short answer of why I made the switch.  The one I tell in passing to the lady with the raised eyebrows.  But, you don't want the short answer, do you?
Nope.
You came here hopin' for the dirt.  The nitty-gritty.
Well, here it is..

Why I start with A Beka Math

Truthfully, if it wasn't A Beka, I would have to start with something else, because Teaching Textbooks only offers materials for third graders and beyond.  

But, I start with A Beka on purpose.

I believe in spiral learning

I know that most homeschool math curriculums advocate for a mastery approach to learning. I, on the other hand, wholeheartedly disagree with that method.  I prefer the spiral approach.  Although A Beka is not the only math curriculum that presents math with spiral learning in mind, it is, in my opinion, one of the best curriculums for this style.  (In full disclosure, I worked for A Beka for four years in the homeschool division AND I taught A Beka Arithmetic for several more years in a traditional setting. I'm comfortable with it.)

I believe in building a solid math foundation

I'm a firm believer that a child should learn all four math processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) inside and out...forward and backward.  No counting on fingers.  No memory tricks.  Just memorization of the facts.  In my opinion, if a child has to rely on anything other than quick memory to solve a process problem, he does not really know the answer...even if he can EVENTUALLY come up with the correct answer after using "tricks."  Using finger counting or memory tricks really only affirms that a child knows what "addition" (subtractions, multiplication, and division) is.  It doesn't necessarily show that he actually knows the individual facts.

While a child can coast through life continuing to count on his fingers, I think that puts him at a great disadvantage in higher-level math.  A long division problem, which should only take a few moments to solve, ends up being a thirty minute nightmare.  A weak foundation of math processes cripples a child down the road.  

Having taught A Beka in both a traditional school setting and in homeschool, I have always found it to be an exceptional curriculum for building core knowledge of facts from kindergarten through third grade.  By fourth grade, those foundational facts are combined to create complex, multi-step problems.

I like flare

Perhaps it is because math has never been my fave, I really desire to add as much flare and color to it as possible.  I'm not here to name names or anything, but most spiral-learning based math programs on the homeschool market today look like an absolute snooze-fest.  No color.  No pictures.  Just pages and pages of black numbers on stark white pages.  That's enough to make a clown cry, in my opinion.  A Beka, on the other hand, is a workbook based-program that offers an aesthetically pleasing page...at least in the younger grades.

Yes, it is workbook based. Yes, it often over-emphasizes review.  But, since I have very distinct opinions about workbooks in my homeschool, I have no problem embracing the parts about A Beka Arithmetic that I like and ignoring the rest.  That being said, I have never really loved the fourth grade and beyond A Beka Math.  After third grade, the work tends to be rather dry and has an over-emphasis of long division.

Why I was drawn to Teaching Textbooks

Once I made the decision to "farm out" math, I knew I needed to find a curriculum that would ALSO approach math from a spiral method, offer a great foundation in basic facts, and offer some flare! Teaching Textbooks immediately caught my eye.

With a year of TT under my belt, here's what I've come to really appreciate about the program.

  • The lessons are clear and easy to understand.  
  • All lessons can be repeated or played back should my kids not understand any of them the first time.
  • The "worksheet" problems are self-grading.  My child immediately knows whether he/she got an answer correct and can retry the problem or opt for a "hint" if need be.  
  • I was very impressed with the "real life" math scenarios emphasized in Math 7. Every single new concept was explained with a "how and when will you use this in every day life" approach.  (I have read through the entire Math 4 curriculum that my son will be completing this year and I have NOT found it to have a "real life" element.  But, I'm assuming that is because the foundational facts need to be completely covered first before the "application" is emphasized.)
  • The first few problems of each lesson are practice problems and do not affect the daily grade. This definitely helps with a child who demands perfection from herself.  My daughter was able to have a few tries at the new concept before being graded.
  • It is CURRENTLY not aligned with common core standards.
Here's a sample of Math 7, lesson 10.




Some things you should know about Teaching Textbooks

The review is sometimes lacking

Although it is a spiral-approach to math, there is not as much review of old concepts as other spiral-method curriculums. When looking over Math 4 for the upcoming school year, I can clearly see that I will have to do some additional drilling of multiplication facts.  They are taught. And it looks like they are taught well.  But, I think most kids need more daily practice of the foundational facts than TT offers.  

Order a la carte

The full package comes with both the CD program AND a traditional textbook/workbook. While, I have friends who loooooove having the workbook because their children prefer to handwrite the answers, my daughter NEVER wanted to write in the workbook.  For us, it was a waste of money.  So, this year, I only purchased the CD package.  

It is not as hands-off as you might think

Because Teaching Textbooks requires very little parent involvement on a daily basis, it can sometimes be tricky to help a child when he/she becomes confused or needs additional explanation.  While I know math, I'm admittedly a little rusty on some math concepts that I just don't use very often in everyday life...like finding percentages and lowest common denominators. For this reason, I tried to listen in to my daughter's lessons every now and again in order to stay current with what she was learning. If I did not take the time to keep abreast of the units, it was difficult to help her.  I'd have to go back and skim a few lessons in order to get the gist and be able to explain the concept more clearly to her.

The methods can vary from the norm

Every now and again, TT would teach a concept in a completely different way than I ever learned it...sometimes in a more clear, much easier way...sometimes not.  

The grading scale is misleading

I really don't like the way TT gives daily grades.  A child is given two tries to get the right answer.  So, even if my daughter got every single problem wrong the first time but was able to get them all correct on the second attempt, she received a 100%. That's not a clear representation of her ability, in my opinion.  If she got it wrong the first time, I think she should be given a chance to re-do the problem in order to correct her mistake. But, I also think the problem should be marked incorrect.  The final grade should reflect the original error...sadly, it doesn't.  

The grade screen does, however, tell you how many times she attempted each problem.  So, I just take that into consideration when assessing her work.  (Since I don't give grades in my homeschool, this is not a huge "con" in my eyes.  But, I thought it was worth mentioning for those homeschool mommas who DO give daily grades.)

Here's what I mean.  You can see in this picture that my daughter clearly missed problem 21, and yet, she received a score of 100.




The lessons can be lengthy

The audio lessons can be quite long.  For this reason, many kids opt to just read the lessons out of the textbook. They can skip the sections that they have mastered and focus their attention on the unfamiliar portions.  

The placement tests are a MUST

I STRONGLY recommend taking the free, on-line placement tests before ordering...especially if you are switching from a different math curriculum.  In my opinion, TT tends to be a bit inaccurately leveled.  What most curriculums teach in third grade, TT doesn't cover until fourth. The placement test will give you a better idea of which grade level to order.  (This year my 6th grader will be doing pre-algebra which is the TT 8th grade materials.)

The replacement costs are reasonable

Should you lose or scratch a CD, TT will replace individual CDs in a pack for around $15. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how thrilled I was to learn this when I was faced with the thought of potentially replacing an ENTIRE $130 set when one of four CDs mysteriously vanished. (Found it weeks later...but only after I had ordered a replacement. Sigh!)  In addition, TT is one of the rare CD-based curriculums that allows you to legally resell the program to someone else...and in turn, buy it used.  (A word of advice...some of the older versions are not self-checking.  If you decide to buy the program used, PASS on the older versions. Just my two cents!)

A final word

As with all curriculums, both A Beka and Teaching Textbooks receive mixed reviews.  People either love them or they hate them. I hope this lengthy look into why I choose to use BOTH has given you a better understanding of whether either one of these programs will work for YOU.  

In case you're curious, I also switch English midstream.  Here's why>>>

17 comments:

  1. Very informative, thanks. My son feels the same way about Abeka's 4-6 grades. Dry and repetitive, heavy emphasis on long division, and hardly any pictures (I wish they'd use more pics for the older arithmetic kids...they still love them). For grade levels 7 and up, is the review sufficient? Since by that time they've learned all their basic arithmetic facts & functions?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think they are more than sufficient BECAUSE they should have already mastered the processes. On the rare occasion that my daughter didn't do as well as I thought she should have on a lesson, I just had her redo the entire lesson the next day.

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  2. I found this very interesting as we, too, use both! I only wish I hadn't switched until 4th grade because our daughter is not quick on math facts. But that's a daily review for us in other ways. I also wish daily math fact practice was included with TT.

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    1. I really struggled with that choice for my son who will be starting TT in third grade (4th grade TT) instead of 4th. I think 4th is the IDEAL year to start TT which would actually be the equivalent of Math 5 or even 6 in TT. But, I need some additional wiggle room in my day, so I'm taking the plunge and starting him a year earlier than I had originally planned. I'm hoping I it goes well.

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  3. I'm not familiar with either of these programs, but the way you've described it sounds pretty similar to our situation. In our early years, we used Spectrum workbooks (for more than just math, but mainly for math) that I picked up at Lakeshore Learning. Earlier this (calendar) year, we received a subscription to CTC Math (a review I did on my blog), which looks very much like the way you described TT: a video explanation followed by a digital worksheet. That's what we're going to use for this coming school year since our subscription is good through March. Come March, we'll figure something else out to finish up the school year.

    For math fact memorization, Learning Wrap-Ups are good. UberSmart Math Facts (a computer download) is good too. Depends on what your kids do better with, digital or physical products.

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm...I've not heard of either one of these programs. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Thank you for this information. I recently made the leap to put all of our kids in Abeka for 1- what I thought would be 6th, but now, I may do as you are doing... and switch to something else in 5th instead. I like Abeka for the repetition and the colors like you said. Plus the daily speed drills.

    I'm not sold on TT though... we'll see. Thanks for waiting to give your review till you had used the product for a year. It makes your review so much more detailed and helpful.

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    Replies
    1. Although I used the speed drills when I taught at a tradition school, I've never used them in homeschooling. We play lots of flashcard games, though. Either way, the daily practice is A MUST, isn't it?

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    2. I bought the kids flashcards too. I have a kid in Algebra, a 3rd, two 2nds and 2 PK's in math (plus a baby on the way). I got flashcards that are self correcting and can be used to create piles of known and unknown, so they can work on them more independently... I hope I manage to actually *teach* the Abeka lessons well, they do seem a bit more time consuming, but my younger kids all need the spiral, colors, and daily practice. My older child started in Abeka 1, but we quickly discovered that he was going to speed through school, as he devoured the program in 4 or 5 months. So, he went to a Mastery program for his own sanity! and he is primarily a self teacher, especially in math.

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  5. Thank you for this overview. I currently use ABeka and I was very close to switching my son to TT for this 4th grade year for the same reasons you've listed, but I could not get settled so I continued on with ordering AB. It may be a long year! It would be nice to have another "voice" i.e. the video teaching. So in your opinion, ordering one grade up has worked for your kids? That was one thing I couldn't decide on.
    Thank you,
    Gayla

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think it is that cut and dry. My daughter skipped two grades while my son will only be skipping one...for now. I think it depends on when you make the switch and what program you are switching from. Not to mention the strengths and weaknesses of your individual child.

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  6. Thanks for this information.

    My husband is a computer/IT guy. He follows all the copyright rules "to the book." No illegal stuff.

    That said. He regularly reminds me that if you purchase a CD, you -- as the owner -- are allowed to make a backup copy. For your use only, of course. :-)

    Thanks for all the great things you share on your website.

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    Replies
    1. Good to know. Thanks. One thing that I DO love about TT is that it is one of the rare CD based curriculums that allows you to resell it to someone else.

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    2. Just to clarify -- that includes DVDs, CDs, mp3s, ...

      My son just said to me, "Mom, remember to mention for your use only."

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  7. I'm switching my 5th grade son to TT's after lots of research and reading your blog/FB throughout last school year. He has been doing Saxon which is boring to me but he loves the repetition and no frills learning. It seems like he should be further along in math than Saxon allows with its slooooow pace. It is also really frustrating how he doesn't have a notebook and they don't give examples on the pages. Anytime he gets stuck on a problem we have to pull out the teacher's edition. With the switch, he is certain that he doesn't want to use the CD with TT. This means I will have to continue doing board lessons but he loves those and thinks it's fun to learn from me. (I guess that means I will have to sit up all night to teach myself 5th grade math this year!) I don't love that idea, but I have time for it, unlike you with your brude, I only have 3! Do you think it is a good alternative to the CD though? I have read mixed reviews on using just the textbook. Thank you for this terrific post!

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    Replies
    1. It is exactly the same lessons as what is presented on the CD. Personally, because the book is all in black and white, I'd think it would be rather uninteresting unless you were to really jazz it up with some fun games and review. But, it could be done. Good luck.

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  8. Looks like you found something that works really well for you and your little one. Thanks for sharing.

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