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April 2017

 

       WHY DO HOMESCHOOL EDUCATORS EITHER STRONGLY LIKE OR DISLIKE JOHN SAXON'S MATH BOOKS?

I was online at a popular website for home school educators a while back and I noticed some back and forth traffic about the benefits and drawbacks of John Saxon’s math books. One of the homeschool parents had just commented about the benefits of John’s books. As she saw them - through their use of continuous repetition throughout the books - she thought the process contributed to mastery as opposed to just memorizing the math concepts in each lesson for the upcoming test.

One reader replied to her comment with the following:

“Or, one can use a math program that makes the mathematical reasoning clear from the outset as a matter of course rather than believing that a child will grasp the mathematical concepts by repeating procedures ad nauseam. I think the Saxon method is flawed.”

This reminds me of one of John’s favorite sayings when challenged with similar logic. John’s reply would be to the effect that “If you are setting about to teach a young man how to drive an automobile, you do not try to first have him understand the workings of the combustion engine; you put him behind the wheel and have him drive around the block several times.”

I recall when teaching incoming freshman the Saxon Algebra 1 course that I would first present students with several conditions such as having them all stand up and then asking if they were standing on a flat surface or a curve. Then I explained to them that an ant moving around on the side of the concrete curve of the quarter mile track at the high school would think he was moving in a straight line and he would never realize that, because of his minute size when compared to the enormity of the curve, he thought the curve to be a straight line.

I would then go on to explain that – like the ant’s experience in his world - they were standing on an infinitesimal piece of another curve which appears to be a flat surface to them. I would continue by telling the students that in “Spatial Geometry” there are more than 180 degrees in a triangle. It never failed, but about this time someone would put up their hand and – as one young lady did - say “Mr. Reed, I am getting a headache, could we get on with Algebra 1?”

It was a different story when presenting the same conditions to seniors in the calculus class. They would excitedly begin discussing how to evaluate or calculate them. And telling them there were no parallel lines in space did not seem to upset them either. Could it be because the seniors in calculus were all well grounded in the basic math concepts, and they understood the difference between the effects of these conditions in “Flat Land” as opposed to their “Spatial Application?”

Perhaps John and I are old fashioned, but both of us thought it was the purpose of the high school to create a solid educational foundation - a foundation upon which the young collegiate mind would then advance into the reasoning and theory aspects of collegiate academics. Both John and I had encountered what I referred to as “At Risk Adults” while teaching mathematics at the collegiate level. These students could not fathom a common denominator, or exponential growth. They were incapable of doing college level mathematics because they had never mastered the basics in high school.

Students fail algebra because they have not mastered fractions, decimals and percents. They fail calculus - not because of the calculus, for that is not difficult - they fail calculus because they have not mastered the basics of algebra and trigonometry. I recall my calculus professor after he had completed a lengthy calculus problem on the blackboard - filling the entire blackboard with the problem. Striking the board with the chalk he turned and said “The rest is just algebra.” I saw many of my freshman contemporaries with quizzical looks upon their faces. Being the “old man” in the class, I quickly said “But sir that appears to be what they do not understand. Could you go over those steps?” Without batting an eye, he replied “This is a calculus class Mr. Reed, not an algebra class.”

I firmly believe that what causes individuals to so strongly dislike John Saxon’s math books is, not from their having “used” the books, and suffering frustration or failure, but from their having “misused” the books. Or—more importantly—from having entered the Saxon curriculum at the wrong math level assuming the previous math curriculum adequately prepared the student for this level Saxon math book—when in reality it had not!

So when home school parents place the student into the wrong level Saxon math book—and the student quickly falters in that book—it stands to reason they would blame the curriculum, when in reality, their student was not prepared for the requirements at that level.

Why? Because Saxon math books do not teach the test, they require mastery of concepts introduced in previous levels of math to enable the student to proceed successfully at every level of the curriculum.

Taking the Saxon Placement Test before entering a Saxon math book from Math 54 through Algebra 2, will ensure the student and parent can adequately evaluate the student’s ability to proceed at a certain level with success based upon what they have previously mastered.

The Placement Tests can be found on this website at the link shown below:

http://homeschoolwithsaxon.com/saxon_placement_tests.php

 

                  



                  

March 2017

 

                                                                           WHY USE SAXON MATH BOOKS?

The title of today’s news article was the title of my seminar at Homeschool Conventions when I travelled the Homeschool Convention circuit several years ago. What I wanted to convey to homeschool educators at these seminars was factual information on why John Saxon’s math books – when properly used – remain the best math curriculum for mastery of mathematics on the market today.

Why did I emphasize “when properly used”? The reason is because improper use of Saxon math books is one of their major weaknesses. The vast majority of students who encounter difficulties in a Saxon math textbook do so, not because the book is “tough” or “difficult”, but because they either entered the Saxon curriculum at the wrong math level or because they skipped books and have not properly advanced through the series. Or - for one reason or another - they had been switching back and forth between different math curriculums. Because of switching curriculums, the students had all developed “holes” in their basic math concepts, concepts critical for future success in the math book they were now using. In John Saxon’s math books these “math holes” created frustration and failure for the students who were returning to the Saxon curriculum in the upper level math books.

At every convention, there were always a half dozen or more homeschool parents who came to the booth - all facing the same dilemma! Their sons or daughters had recently completed or were currently completing another curriculum of instruction in algebra, and while they said they were happy with the curriculum they were using, they expressed concern that their son or daughter was not mastering sufficient math concepts to score well on the upcoming ACT or SAT tests. I asked each of them to have their student take the on-line Saxon algebra one placement test which consisted of fifty math questions. The test was actually the final exam in the Saxon pre-algebra book (Algebra ½, 3rd Ed).

In almost every case, regardless of which math curriculum the students were using, the answer was always the same. Not one of the students passed the test. It was not a matter of receiving a low passing grade on the test. The vast majority of them failed to attain fifty percent or better. The curriculums the students were using were not bad curriculums. They correctly taught students the necessary math concepts in a variety of ways. But unlike John Saxon’s method of introducing incremental development coupled with his application of “automaticity” to create mastery of the necessary math skills, none of these curriculums enabled students to master these concepts. They taught the test!

In those cases where the parents asked for my advice after learning about the failed pre-algebra test, we worked out a successful plan of action to ensure that the failed concepts were mastered and the “math holes” were filled. The plan enabled each of the students to successfully move to an advanced algebra course later in their academic schedule.

Now to address another topic that arose during the seminars. Several attendees asked whether or not they should use the new fourth editions of algebra one and algebra two textbooks as well as the new separate geometry textbook. I told the audience that the new fourth editions were initially created for the public school system together with the company’s creation of a new geometry textbook. After all, don’t you make more money from selling three math books than you do from selling just two?

I explained that the daily geometry review content as well as the individual geometry lessons had been gutted from the third editions of John’s original Algebra one and Algebra two to create the new fourth editions of those books In my professional opinion, I replied to the homeschool educators that they should stay with the current third editions of John’s original Algebra one and Algebra 2 two books and not fall into the century old trap of using a separate geometry text in-between the algebra one and algebra two courses.

One homeschool parent commented that I was mistaken because she had called the company customer service desk and they told her there was geometry in the new fourth edition of their Saxon Algebra 1 book. I have a copy of that edition. It was designed to be sold to the public schools along with the company’s new geometry textbook, and it does not integrate geometry into the content of the book’s one hundred twenty lessons as John’s third edition of Algebra one does.

Here are the facts regarding the geometry content in the two books. I will let you draw your own conclusions:

1. In the index of the third edition of John Saxon’s Algebra 1 textbook, there are seventeen references dealing with the calculation of total area, lateral surface area, and volume of spheres, cones, cylinders, etc. In the new fourth edition index, there are only four references to area and volume and they are not geometric references. They deal with determining correct unit conversions of measure and the application of ratios and proportions in their solution, all of which are algebraic not geometric functions.

2. In the index of the third edition of John’s Algebra 1 book there are nine references to the word “angles.” In the index of the fourth edition, there are none. The reference term “angles” does not appear.

3. In the third edition index of John’s Algebra 1 book, there are three references to “Geometric Solids.” In the fourth edition index, the word “Geometric Solids” does not appear.

4. The only reference to the word “geometry” in the fourth edition index is the phrase “Geometric Sequences” and that term is not a geometry term. It refers to an algebraic pattern determined through the use of a specific algebraic formula.

5. Geometry references, terms, concepts and daily problems dealing with them are found throughout John’s third edition of Algebra one. This does not occur in the fourth edition of algebra one created by HMHCO - the new owners of Saxon Publishers.

So why was the homeschool educator told there was geometry in the new fourth edition of algebra one?

Well, let me see if I can explain what I believe the marketing people came up with. I say marketing people because several of us have tried for several years to find out who authored the new fourth edition and no one at the company could – or would – tell us who the author is. Someone commented that it was given to a textbook committee to create the new fourth editions of algebra one and two as well as the new geometry textbook.

At the back of the new fourth edition of algebra one, just before the index, is a short section of thirty-two pages referred to as the “Skills Bank.” Within these thirty-two pages are thirty-one separate topics of which only twelve deal with geometric functions and concepts. Each of the concepts is about a half page in length and covers just a few practice problems dealing with the concepts themselves. Since they are not presented or practiced throughout the book, I believe it makes it difficult if not impossible for the student to master any of these concepts encountering them this late in the book – if they are encountered at all.

Here are several examples of how these geometry concepts are presented in the “Skills Bank” of the new fourth edition of algebra one:.

1. Skills Bank Lesson 14: Contains two short sentences explaining how to classify a quadrilateral. The student is then given only three practice problems on the concept.

2. Skills Bank Lesson 16: Contains two short explanatory sentences describing congruency followed by only two practice problems.

3. Skills Bank Lesson 19: Contains five brief statements describing the various terms used to describe a circle and its component parts, immediately followed by two problems asking the students to identify all of these parts.

The “Skills Bank” concept is fine as far as using a brief addendum to define what those geometric terms mean. But when does the student get to work these concepts so that the review creates “mastery” as John‘s original books were designed? “The “frequent, cumulative assessment” of John Saxon’s math program is referenced by the company on page 5 of their new textbook as one of the key elements of the new book. However, those attributes are never developed for the geometry concepts. Additionally, the company’s use of colored “Distributive Strands” reflecting the distribution of functions and relations throughout the textbook does not list any geometry functions or relation strands showing up anywhere in the book – at least not in the book they sent me.

The new algebra one fourth edition textbook created by HMHCO - under the Saxon name – may be a good algebra textbook. However, it does not contain geometry concepts on a daily basis as John’s third edition of algebra one does. Before you make a decision to use a separate geometry textbook along with the new fourth edition of algebra one and two, please read my September 2015 news article. If you need to discuss the issue further, please do not hesitate to call or email me.

 

                  



                  

February 2017

 

                                             SHOULD YOU GRADE THE DAILY SAXON MATH ASSIGNMENTS?

I continue to see comments on familiar blogs about correcting – or grading – the daily work of Saxon math students. That is a process contrary to what John Saxon intended when he developed his math books. Unlike any other math book on the market today, John’s math books were designed to test the student’s knowledge every week. Why would you want to have students suffer the pains of getting 100 on their daily work when the weekly test will easily tell you if they are doing well?

I always tell homeschool educators that grading the daily work, when there is a test every Friday, amounts to a form of academic harassment to the student. Like everything else in life, we tend to apply our best when it is absolutely necessary. Students will accept minor mistakes and errors when performing their daily “practice” of math problems. They know when they make a mistake and rather than redo the entire problem, they recognize the correction necessary to fix the error and move on without correcting it. They have a sense when they know or do not know how to do a certain math problem; however, when they encounter that all important test every Friday, – as I like to describe it – they put on their “Test Hat” to do their very best to make sure they do not repeat the same error!

In sports, daily practice ensures the individual will perform well at the weekly game, for without the practice, the game would end in disaster. The same concept applies to daily piano practice. While the young concert pianist does not set out to make mistakes during the daily practice for the upcoming piano recital, he quickly learns from his mistakes. Built into John Saxon’s methodology are weekly tests (every four lessons from Algebra ½ through Calculus) to ensure that classroom as well as homeschool educators can quickly identify and correct these mistakes before too much time has elapsed.

In other words, the homeschool educator as well as the classroom teacher is only four days away from finding out what the student has or has not mastered during the past week’s daily work. I know of no other math textbook that allows the homeschool educator or the classroom teacher this repetitive check and balance to enable swift and certain correction of the mistakes to ensure they do not continue. Yes, you can check daily work to see if your students are still having trouble with a particular concept, particularly one they missed on their last weekly test, which can be correlated to their latest daily assignment. However, as one home school educator stated recently on one of the blogs “Yes, they must get 100 percent on every paper or they do not move on.” While this may be necessary in other math curriculums that do not have 30 or more weekly tests, it is a bit restrictive and punitive in a Saxon environment.

John Saxon realized that not all students would master every new math concept on the day it is introduced, which accounts for the delay allowing more than a full week’s practice of the new concepts before being tested on them. He also realized that some students might need still another week of practice for some concepts which accounts for his using a test score of eighty percent as reflecting mastery. Generally, when a student receives a score of eighty on a weekly test, it results from the student not yet having mastered one or two of the new concepts as well as perhaps having skipped a review of an old concept that appeared in the assignment several days before the test. When the students see the old concept in the daily work, they think they can skip that “golden oldie” because they already know how to do it! The reason they get it wrong on the test is that the test problem had the same unusual twist to it that the problem had that the student skipped while doing the daily assignment.

In all the years I taught John Saxon’s math at the high school, I never graded a single homework paper. I did monitor the daily work to ensure it was done and I would speak with students whose test grades were falling below the acceptable minimum of eighty percent. I can assure you that having the student do every problem over that he failed to do on his daily assignments does not have anywhere near the benefit of going over the problems missed on the weekly tests because the weekly tests reveal mastery – or lack thereof - while the daily homework only reveals their daily memory!

NOTE: The upper level Saxon math textbooks from algebra ½ through calculus have a test every four lessons, making it easy to standardize the tests always on a Friday - with a weekend free of math homework. However, from Math 54 through Math 87, the tests are taken after every five lessons which either require a Saturday test or place the test day on a rotating schedule. You can easily remedy this by having the student do the fifth lesson in the test series on Friday morning, then later that day, have them take the weekly test leaving them to concentrate on resolving the one’s they missed on the test - with no week-end homework. This places them on the same Friday test schedule as the upper level Saxon math students.

 

                  



January 2017

 

                                             SHOULD HOMESCHOOL STUDENTS TAKE CALCULUS?

Calculus is not difficult! Students fail calculus not because the calculus is difficult - it is not - but because they never mastered the required algebraic concepts necessary for success in a calculus course. However, not everyone who is good at algebra needs to take a calculus course.

A number of the students I taught in high school never got to calculus their senior year because they could not complete the advanced mathematics textbook by the end of their junior year. They ended up finishing their senior year with the second course from the advanced math book titled "Trigonometry and Pre-calculus" and then taking calculus at the university level. This worked out just fine for them as they were more than adequately prepared and had an opportunity to share the challenge with likeminded contemporaries on campus.

Some of my students advanced no further than completing Saxon Algebra 2 by the end of their senior year in high school. They were able to take a less challenging math course their first year of college by taking the basic college freshman algebra course required for most non-engineering or non-mathematics students. These students would never have to take another math course again - unless of course they switched majors requiring a higher level of mathematics. And, if they did, they would be adequately prepared for the challenge.

I believe the answer for homeschool students in these same situations is what we in Oklahoma call "concurrent enrollment." In other words, don't take a calculus course at home by yourself. Under the guidelines of "concurrent" or "dual" enrollment - or whatever your state calls it - take the course at a local college or university and share the experience with likeminded contemporaries. If your state has such a program a high school student can also receive both high school and college credit for the course. I would not recommend taking calculus under "concurrent" or "dual" enrollment at a local community college unless you first verified that the college or university your child was going to attend will accept that level credit for the course. Many of them will accept those credits but only as electives and not as required courses in the student's major field of studies. Check with the head of the mathematics department or the registrar's office before you enroll in the local community college.

The concept of "concurrent" or "dual" enrollment was just beginning to take hold in the field of education when I was teaching and there were not many high school students taking these college courses enabling them to receive both a high school and college math credit for their efforts. As we gained experience with the new program, we learned that our high school juniors and seniors who had truly mastered John Saxon's Algebra 2 course could easily enroll at the local university in the freshman college algebra course and could - provided they went to class - easily pass the course. And, if they were English or Art majors, they would never have to take another math course if they so desired.

Students who were eligible and wanted to take a calculus course their senior year looked forward to taking it at the local university and receiving "concurrent" or "dual" credit for the course. Many of these same students went on to become research technicians in the field of bio-chemistry and physics. However, several of them never took another math course in their college careers because they were English or Art History majors. They took the college freshman calculus course because they wanted to prove they could pass the course. They wanted to be able to say "I took college calculus my senior year of high school."

So, what does all this mean? Home school students whose major will require calculus at the college level should adjust their math sequence to complete John Saxon's advanced mathematics textbook (2nd Ed) by the end of their junior year of high school, and then take calculus the first semester of their senior year at a local college or university. Not only will this enable them to receive "concurrent" or "dual" - unless their state prohibits it - but they will enjoy the camaraderie of other likeminded college students taking the course with them. There is a final serendipity to all of this. When enrolling at most universities, honors freshman and freshman with college credits enroll before the "masses" of other freshman students. This would virtually guarantee the student with college credits the courses and schedule they desire - not to mention the potential for scholarship offers with high ACT or SAT scores and earned college credits in a course titled "Calculus I" recorded on their high school transcript.

 

                  




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