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Back to Homeschool: Plan Your Math and Spelling for Next Year

Now that the summer is here, it's back to homeschool time; time to reflect on the previous year, and think about what worked and what didn't.

Birds are chirping, daylight stretches beyond 6 p.m., and you’ve finished homeschooling for the year – it’s finally summertime. Now, as a homeschool parent, it’s time to reflect on the previous year, and think about what worked and what didn’t.

Whether you’re a current Demme Learning user, new to homeschooling, or considering another curriculum, we want to help you be prepared for the upcoming school year.

Is My Child Ready for the Next Level of Math-U-See?

Because Math-U-See isn’t a grade based curriculum, but instead focuses on mastering a level before moving on to the next, it is important to know what that mastery looks like.

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Observed Assessments

One of the newer concepts I learned from working alongside parents this year is the value of conducting observed assessments. If your student has not completed the final test in their test booklet, consider using it for an observed assessment.

You may want to have your student only complete one of the test pages or sections each day to make sure they are fresh and engaged with each concept. This will also make it easier to identify areas where there may be gaps.

• Observe for frustration, long pauses, or evidence of counting during computation.
• Have the student show their work so you can evaluate if wrong answers are due to not knowing the concept or merely a computation error.

If you have already administered the final test in your test booklet and are still not sure your student has mastered the level you might want to re-evaluate using our online assessment. Again, if you do end up downloading a Student Quick Check, be sure they show their work and observe for fact mastery.

Should I Teach Math Over the Summer?

For some parents, a good assessment leads to a decision to take note of some of the “fuzzy areas” and either work on them during the summer or to take a break and focus on them in review during the beginning of the school year.

I have to admit, when I was raising my children, we all were tired and needed a break. Other than go to the library and read books, we did not “school” during the summer. However, especially this year, with the great collaboration conversations I have participated in with parents such as you, I do feel a little wistful thinking that, knowing what I do now, we could have had fun with it and it would have likely been fairly painless.

A Couple Thoughts for Summer Practice

• Keep sessions short. In assisting a parent recently with a summer plan for her student who was struggling with working though multi digit addition, we decided a good plan would be to daily put one problem on the whiteboard and sometime during the day he would either work that one daily problem. The plan was to start fairly easy and slowly increase difficulty. The worksheet generator will be a good resource to provide both the problems and the escalation.

• When in doubt, contact us for a free consultation. The Demme Consultation Team is available to walk alongside you as you debrief last year and set your students up for 2018-19 school year success.

• For other ideas you can check out our blog post about keeping math sharp over the summer.

We Have Time to Get It Right

The good news is that since Back to School is a few months away, we have time to assess, pause, plan and take time to get it right.

6 Signs Your Math Curriculum Isn’t Working

How can you know if your math curriculum is really not working?

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Selecting a math curriculum is a huge decision for homeschoolers. After all, math is one of the “Three R’s,” full of essential skills your student needs to master, now and for their entire life. Talk about pressure! So you do your research, and you weigh all the options (Wow…So. Many. Options…) and, with probably a little trepidation, you make your choice. And now you’re second-guessing. Whether you’re new to homeschooling or have previously used the same curriculum with multiple students with great success, it’s not uncommon to reach a point where you question your choice of math program. Flexibility is one of the many benefits of homeschooling, so if it’s not working, it could be time for a change.

1) It’s Too Hard

This curriculum is making your student hate math. Your student is struggling every day to maintain the small gains you’ve made. Maybe it’s moving too fast and your student can’t keep up, or maybe they’re spending an inordinate proportion of their school hours doing math. Maybe your student relies mostly on procedures and rote memorization to work out problems and you’re concerned that they may not be developing the deeper conceptual understanding necessary to progress. You’ve tried everything but standing on your head – you’re willing to give that a shot if you thought it would help – and you’re both feeling discouraged.

2) It’s Too Easy

This might seem like a good thing compared to being too hard, but being bored is another great way to encourage your student to hate math. We want our students to love learning, not be frustrated or bored by it. Have you consistently seen that your student zips through problems (especially word problems) and doesn’t have to take the time to think about breaking them down into smaller parts, approaching them from different angles, or try using different methods to solve them? Students who find their math program too easy might not be developing the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they will need as they progress to more challenging material.

3) It Doesn’t Equip Parents with Tools for Teaching

The curriculum presents concepts in one way and one way only – and that way doesn’t make sense to your student. And it’s different from the way you learned it, and the curriculum doesn’t explain it in a way you can confidently present to your student. You contact customer support at the publisher for advice. They repeat the same method you’ve already tried, and don’t have other suggestions on how to overcome this obstacle. Now what?

4) There’s Too Much Material

Again, this might seem like a good thing. But it’s easy to be overwhelmed, as an instructor or a student, if there’s too much to take in. We, as parents, want to get our money’s worth, so we may feel like we should use all of the materials provided – even if they don’t add value or even confuse things. It’s also important to have access to practice materials, but there’s no benefit to busywork if your student has mastered the concept.

5) There’s Too Much Teacher Prep Time

While we expect to put in some effort to teach our children, most of us want a curriculum where a lot of the leg work has been done for us. If we have to spend a lot of time creating or modifying lessons, making materials for activities, or practicing the concepts ourselves, it can drain us and take time and energy away from more enjoyable activities. Which leads us to…

6) Nobody Is Having Any Fun!

Math lessons might not be a laugh a minute, but they should provide a balance of challenge and enjoyment. If you or your student dread math every day, trust your gut: something isn’t right.

If you find yourself nodding in agreement to one or more of these points, it could be time to make a move. Our experts can give advice on how Math-U-See might solve your math problem. (Get it? “Solve your math problem?” We crack us up!) And if we’re not right for you, we’ll tell you that, too. Let us help with a no-strings-attached consultation.

Need more help?

Considering a New Math Curriculum?

You’re at a homeschool conference and you overhear a conversation between two parents. One is unfamiliar with Math-U-See. In describing us, it’s likely the other would say, “You know, the one with the blocks!” And we’re fine with that. Our manipulatives are at the heart of who we are. But they’re only the most visible, memorable part of our math program.

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1) We’re Skills-Based, Not Grade-Based

Our focus is on concept mastery; math is cumulative, and each concept builds on the one that precedes it. This is why we use the unusual Greek letter names instead of grade levels in our lower levels. Each focuses on one primary topic, starting with addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division, and finally fractions and decimals. Our upper level math, starting with Pre-Algebra, follows a similar path to other high school math programs.

2) We Provide Thorough Instructor Support

You get an instruction manual and videos for your selected level. We ensure you have a thorough understanding of how to model and teach each concept. And if you have any questions, our top-notch Customer Service team is standing by!

3) Our Student Materials Are Clean and Uncluttered

They focus on practicing and reviewing concepts, while our tests allow students to show and apply what they have learned. If your student demonstrates mastery of a particular concept, there’s no need to complete every Student Workbook page. There’s no busywork, only useful practice and review.

4) We Focus on Conceptual Understanding

Students learn not only how to do math, but why. We build on the bigger framework underlying all math topics so students can build on previous understanding. We encourage memorizing formulas and facts, not as an end in itself, but so that students don’t experience cognitive overload and can zero in on learning new concepts and skills.

But we can’t be done without talking about the blocks. (Plus our other Manipulatives, the Fraction Overlays and Algebra/Decimal Inserts). Considered together, our Manipulatives are something special, if we do say so ourselves. In some recent research on manipulatives use, you will see that ours check all the boxes:

• They’re used from pre-K into high school. Everybody uses manipulatives for counting…but factoring polynomials? How cool is that?

• The manipulatives allow students to “see” concepts, first physically, then mentally as concepts get more abstract.

• Our manipulatives are only math manipulatives. They’re not teddy bears or coins or fluffy ducks. They don’t represent other objects and they have no extra features that can be distracting for learners.

• The instructional materials clearly demonstrate how the manipulatives represent the concept presented. Students then use the manipulatives to “teach it back”, demonstrating their understanding of that concept.

All things considered, we’re pretty proud of our award-winning math curriculum. We have helped countless students – and parents! – see the beauty and fun that can be found in math. There’s nothing better than those “Aha!” moments when a student who thinks they’re bad at math really gets a math concepts. The light bulb comes on, shining brilliantly and filling them with the confidence to conquer the next challenge.

Looking to further the conversation?

Considering a New Spelling Curriculum?

Are you ready to try something unique?

We’re pretty confident it won’t look like any other spelling program you’ve tried. Knowing how students learn to spell and using a program based on research and developmentally-appropriate practices can help you guide students to becoming competent, confident spellers.

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If you’ve ever taught a struggling speller (or been one yourself!), you’re well aware of the feelings of frustration and failure these students face.
They dread writing assignments because they know their papers will come back covered in red marks. They feel misunderstood when others trip on the errors in their writing and miss the message of the piece. It can be just as frustrating to teach these students, especially if you’re a good speller yourself.

We try everything we can think of: drilling phonics rules, creating word banks, having students rewrite misspelled words or consult the dictionary – yet certain students just can’t seem to spell.
According to research, spellers advance through a common progression of developmental stages as they develop spelling mastery. Some of these stages last several years, although they’re independent from age or reading level, and students may move through more quickly or slowly than other kids, but they can’t be skipped. Spelling You See follows these developmental stages. A strong visual memory is essential to become a competent English speller; for young kids, this can be really difficult. Even if reading ability is excellent, spelling skills can seem to lag far behind.

Spelling You See: A Unique Spelling Program Based on Brain Research

Spelling You See is a program that has been designed using the latest neurological research to guide students appropriately through the developmental stages of spelling. Here are some of the highlights of that research:

• Stress is bad for learning. The hippocampus, the part of the brain we need to move info from short-term to long-term storage, is extremely sensitive to cortisol – aka, “the stress hormone.” If we’re anxious or frustrated, we physically can’t learn easily. Does “anxious” or “frustrated” describe your speller? Spelling You See is designed to minimize stress.

• Spelling lists are boring. Regardless of reading level, Spelling You See uses short, interesting passages; carefully-researched, engaging illustrations; and top-quality colored pencils (or stickers, in Listen and Write).

• Shorter is better. Neurological researchers have found that the human brain can actively engage with a subject for a maximum of 10 minutes. Each Spelling You See activity is designed to fit within this time frame in order to provide an optimal learning experience for students.

• Context matters. Remember when we said spelling lists are boring? It’s easier to learn and remember material when it’s accompanied by meaning. We don’t use nonsense words, either – just real words in rhymes or nonfiction passages.

• Same old, same old. That’s not a bad thing; learning becomes permanent when information is repeated regularly over time. We apply the same set of core activities (listening, reading, copywork, chunking, and dictation) to each week’s words or lessons.

• Engage multiple senses. Yes, we just said “same old, same old,” but using a variety of senses in fun, colorful activities to interact with the lessons keeps things interesting. Remember those core activities we listed in the last bullet? Students using Spelling You See hear words and passages read aloud (auditory), mark letter patterns and word parts in different colors (visual), and write words in copywork and dictation exercises (kinesthetic). They’ll also read the passage aloud each day. Using all these senses enhances the student’s ability to master the correct spellings of words.

Intrigued? We’re not going to be falsely modest – it’s a great program and we’d love to see what you think. Let us talk to you about your unique situation and learn for yourself what Spelling You See can do for you.

Schedule a Free Consultation Today

We are here for you!

If you’re looking for more information, just want to go over your options, or need assistance in any of the topics we discussed in this blog post, please fill out the form below so we continue the conversation.

About Demme Learning

Demme Learning is an independent family-owned and operated publishing company. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Demme Learning has been providing innovative learning solutions for homeschoolers, parents and small group learning environments since 1990.

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