Tips for Teaching High School Math
By Diane Kummer
If you had the choice, which would you prefer: To have a tooth pulled without the benefit of Novocain? Or to teach high school math to your teen? Judging by the emails and phone calls I receive, most homeschooling parents would opt for the extraction.
I have a confession to make: I love math. (Please still be my friend.) Let me give you some of the reasons for my math affection.
· I am basically a black-and-white kind of person. In math, there are right answers and there are wrong answers—black-and-white absolutes.
· In addition (pun intended), I enjoy being organized. In math, problems are solved using orderly, logical steps.
· Furthermore, I don’t like loose ends or theoretical discussions that seem to have no purpose. In most cases, math lends itself to arriving at concrete solutions that offer practical answers used in the real world.
· But most importantly, I love math because it gives me another opportunity to worship and be grateful to an absolute, orderly, practical, and very relevant God. You don’t have to look very far to see that the wonderful world of math has at its core an awesome God who continues to oversee His creation. A neighbor lent me a math-oriented book several years ago that highlighted various patterns in mathematical number sequences that have mathematicians baffled. But when you stop and contemplate this orderly arrangement, the mysteries suddenly have an answer—a Creator God who specializes in order. Just as we integrate a biblical worldview into our history, literature, science, and even foreign language studies, we shouldn't miss the opportunity to relate math to the Great Mathematician.
Now that you are intrigued (hopefully at least a little) by the subject of math, I’d like to give you some tips for teaching it to your high schooler, and take a minute to discuss curriculum, consistency, coherence, and cohorts.
No matter what the vendor at the curriculum fair tells you, there is no one “best” math curriculum. I have found that as long as a curriculum is developed by a well-known, respected publisher who has demonstrated that it adequately prepares students for post-high school educational or vocational plans, then that curriculum is worth considering.
Of course, we all have our favorites and our opinions. But these opinions are largely based on personal experience. My opinions are based on what has worked with my own children and the 100 or so homeschooled students I have had the privilege to tutor in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.
Since the curriculum that has worked best for my students or your friend’s children may not answer the particular needs of your own teen, I suggest you gather curriculum information from a wide variety of sources. Check with more-experienced homeschooling parents, homeschool graduates, and others. Ask what math curriculum they used, whether or not they were pleased with the results, and what they feel were the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum.
Because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, you’ll find links for a number of possible math curricula in the Homeschooling Thru High School section of HSLDA's website at www.hslda.org/highschool/math1.
Finally, choose a curriculum that meets your student’s needs and complements his learning style. If your teen is not keen on math and it does not come easily for him, look at curriculum that is entertaining and steer clear of dry, boring texts. On the other hand, if your teen is a math genius who thrives on challenges, select curriculum that has intensive application problems that will motivate him to go beyond the text.
A good foundation is essential in math. Be consistent in ensuring that your teen understands a concept to the best of his or her ability before going on. If your teen is having a problem, for example, in learning how to complete the square in solving quadratic equations, this is not the time to gloss over her lack of understanding and say, “Oh well, who needs to know this anyway?” The inability to complete the square will come back to haunt you when it’s time to graph parabolas.
A tremendous advantage of homeschooling is that you can adjust the pace of teaching. If you and your teen hit a math snag, slow down, enlist the aid of others if need be, or call the publisher of the curriculum. (Many publishers have help lines specifically for assisting parents in teaching concepts their teens may not understand.)
Also, be consistent in having your student complete his math assignments. Math is not a subject that lends itself to one month on and the next month off. Daily math assignments and regular, consistent testing will greatly benefit your teen.
While every homeschooling parent desires to raise independent learners, math is one subject that requires regular instructor involvement. Resist the temptation to give your young person the math book and send him on his way. By all means, encourage him to read the lesson on his own if you prefer, but you as the parent should supervise his learning and check on his progress on a daily—or at least weekly—basis, and you should be ready and available to assist him at any other time.
I’d encourage you to take 5-10 minutes to read over your teen’s math lesson each day even if he is capable of doing the majority of the work on his own, so that when he comes to you for help on lesson 73 you can jump right in and explain the concepts. Be an enthusiastic learner yourself, and you’ll see how your good attitude rubs off on your student.
Do your best to provide coherence by correlating what your teen is learning in math to the real world. For example, let your son know that learning how to calculate area in geometry will come in handy someday when he is calculating square footage for wall-to-wall carpeting in his new apartment. And point out to your daughter that her algebra word problems are allowing her to practice the calculations she will need to be a great comparison grocery shopper one day. (These skills might even save her enough money to buy that cute new outfit she wants!)
Remind your student that a good knowledge of math is not only necessary in everyday living, but also vital in many professions. From scientists to engineers to bank tellers to real estate agents to small business owners to homeschooling parents—and on and on—the ability to work with numbers, perform calculations, and then apply this knowledge to problem solving is critical.
If you need help teaching your teen high school math, then you may want to try a couple of alternatives, or enlist the aid of some cohorts. (I know that the word cohorts can have a somewhat negative connotation, but it begins with a c, and I like organization, so bear with me.)
Consider purchasing a video or CD/DVD curriculum in which another instructor actually teaches the lessons. You can watch right along with your student so that you can keep up with understanding the concepts. Another alternative might be an outside class, such as a local community college course (most junior colleges offer high school algebra, geometry, trig, pre-calculus, and calculus) or a co-op class taught by a homeschool mom who enjoys math. There are even online math courses your teen could take. (Check out some of the possibilities offered by correspondence schools at www.hslda.org/high school/correspondenceschools1 and others at www.hslda.org/highschool/math1.)
Maybe your teen merely needs occasional help. A math tutor might be just the solution. Look for a capable tutor among your extended family or friends. Don’t forget to consider retired people in your church, a former teacher who is now staying home with her own young children, recent homeschool graduates, or the neighbor down the street who happens to be an engineer and also a godly role model for your son.
Think about bartering a skill that you have for the math skills of someone who could lend support in teaching your teen. Your support group may be able to supply you with names of tutors. You can also hire instructors from various tutoring agencies, although this option can be somewhat expensive. Ask the Lord for possibilities if you find that you need assistance in teaching math.
I hope this article has given you some creative ideas and a better understanding of the help available for teaching high school math. For those of you who would still prefer to have a tooth pulled without Novocain in lieu of teaching high school math, please don’t give up.
Frankly, I used to feel the same way about history when I homeschooled my children. Because it took me all day to rev up the necessary enthusiasm (meanwhile praying that we would run out of time before opening our history books), I always saved history for the afternoons.
But as I humbly learned right along with my children and discovered that the Lord was involved in every aspect of history, I eventually came to enjoy the subject. Likewise, please be encouraged to know that you can learn to enjoy math!
Ask the Lord for help and enthusiasm and look forward with anticipation to the unexpected ways in which He will provide. Math may never become one of your favorite subjects, but you can come to the point where it won't be something you dread teaching every day.
Having graduated both of her children from high school at home, Diane Kummer is now one of HSLDA's high school coordinators and teaches math to homeschooled high schoolers.
Article used with permission.