"New math" vs the way many of us learned - general discussion topic!

So I’m sure many of you are familiar with the way math is taught now in public schools vs how most of us learned. It has changed, I think mostly due to common core. There is a video floating around on FB I keep seeing pop up that explains the logic of the new way of teaching math, which is interesting. (Here’s a link: http://www.mathplusacademy.com/heres-why-math-is-taught-differently-now/) I would love to hear thoughts about different methods of teaching math and what you are using. Currently I’m using Horizons for my 2nd grader, but chose the 1st grade level. I’m not loving it, but that’s another conversation. :slight_smile: However, the approach to addition, etc seems similar to what I learned and my sons seems to be grasping it just fine at this point. He was in public school for 2 years (K and 1st) and his math was already confusing to me and my husband at those early years and even I think he was confused at times with his homework. I mean, yes we knew what they were trying to get at (mostly) but it seemed very roundabout. I understand there is quite a bit of theory about why they teach math differently in schools these days and it has to do with overall comprehension by the students and it has been determined that way is better.

I guess I’m looking for opinions from homeschoolers on this topic. What do you think about the different approaches (not sure what their actual names are), what curriculum do you use in your home, etc. Thanks! (And hope this makes sense!)

@mamalisa I have no issues with the different ways of teaching math, because we don’t all learn the same way. My daughter uses Math-u-See because she is very hands on and needs to see the how/why of math. I think the best way to teach something like math is to explain the how/why behind the principle. My issue is when a teacher only accepts one way of doing things. :slight_smile:

I haven’t watched the video, but I haven’t been overly impressed with examples I’ve seen people post from common core math–definitely not enough to change how I do things (nor would I if I had youngers).

I used Horizons for elementary (my kids liked the color and variety of topics), and it worked pretty well for us. Not perfect–occasional beefs with it, but overall easy to use, straight-forward, sometimes creative, easy to tweak (I could pull out blocks to teach a concept if they weren’t getting it from the book) etc… Like you, I used it a level below grade level, and my kids always tested above average or high the years we did standardized testing. One time I compared Horizons 4 to Ruth Beechik’s recommendations for 5th grade, and they matched almost exactly.

We went to Math-U-See for Prealgebra and up, which has worked really well here. My oldest asked why we didn’t always use it, LOL! I don’t know if he would have liked it as a child.

Even the more traditional books like Liberty Press have had some confusing elements for my kids - multiplication grids just frustrate our household . . . .
I had to use Saxon when I taught in public schools and spiral repetition may be fine for some , but again frustrating to others. We all learn differently and finding one perfect solution to methods of teaching math doesn’t happen, but I have finally found an approach (Rod and Staff) that seems to be the middle ground of old ways and yet visual enough for my visual learner and not overly confusing about making grids for my other one. It does repetition and mastery well, but it is fun enough that it has solved the frustration at our house.
The new math that has come about with the advent of the common core has got me totally frustrated. Some of my engineering and banker friends are totally stumped as well.

I totally agree @KathiJohnson. I guess that is part of my question. Is the new way of teaching math (I’m not even sure what the method is called but know it when I see it) better for everybody? I don’t see how that is possible.

I also agree with @KathiJohnson. I think it is really important to understand the why behind the principle. Taking the multiplication example in the video, recently my son asked why we have to place a zero in the second row of the answer. I had to explain about place value and solve the problem in a different way like the teacher does in the video. I think this is the purpose of the new way of teaching math, to understand the why and how. But in my opinion, after the concept has been understood we don’t need to use those long complicated processes, what we should use is the shortest/most efficient way to solve the problem.
We are actually using Abeka, which is totally traditional. I know some people dislike it but the spiral works well for my family. I always try to use manipulatives/visuals when teaching a new concept. Fortunately there is a lot of curriculum out there to choose what works better for our kids.

I am glad to see this thread and thank you @mamalisa for bringing this up. I am totally stumped on this issue. I am in my fourth year of homeschooling and my oldest is in 3rd grade. We are also using Horizons math. I ran into this new concept of teaching for the first time awhile ago in one of her Horizons lessons. My initial reaction was, “Why do I have to teach her this?! Can’t I just teach her to carry the numbers and forget it?!” My friend who used to teach in public schools and homeschools her daughter who is the same age as mine explained the reasoning behind it and I was surprised and realized my own initial reaction was probably a little narrow minded. I watched this video that @mamalisa linked to and I’m glad I did. This was the first time I saw all three methods side by side. I have considered switching to Math U See but am a little worried about what happens to my children once they are sitting in a college math class and don’t have visual manipulatives in front of them? Will they struggle? Maybe someone who uses Math U See can respond to this concern and how you have seen your children move from needing the manipulatives to working without them successfully?

I have another friend who teaches math at the college where my husband works. She has told me that she has to begin her math courses by re-teaching students how to add in double digits. Seriously. She has a masters degree in Math and is having to teach college kids how to add in double digits because they are coming to college needing remedial math. And hers is the typical math course for incoming students! Something isn’t working if this is where many kids are ending up when they leave school and head off to college! Her opinion was that a lot of kids today are getting a very shallow basis in math and that they are moving too quickly without the depth needed to really grasp the concepts behind what they are learning.

What this man said in the video about these traditional algorithms working for a few of the people but for most it not sticking probably rings true. To me it seems like if all three of these variations work to get to the right answer, why not present all three to our kids and see which method most ignites their curiosity and their interest and move forward with them learning along those lines. However, I’m still stumped about which curriculum is best to go with and would best offer the options and teach all of these methods most effectively. We are still in Horizons, but the repetition is getting to be too much and there is a distinct lack of mental math (which I know I could add in, but math is my weakest area and I really rely on a strong curriculum here). I am interested to see the responses of others here!

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We use Saxon and it’s working well for us. It’s very non pretty, lots of numbers, boring, but it works for us. My oldest has Autism so it’s very scheduled lay out works for us. We do mental math, a test on facts, then they watch the Cdrom and the teacher for the lesson, then work on lesson practice questions to make sure they are understanding the concept taught, then move into mixed practice which is 30 more questions over everything we have learned so it gets those practice skills in. It’s a long process. I’m interested in what else is out there, but would want to go page by page through a few lessons to see really how much it differs from on curriculum to the next. Math is my weak area for sure, so I’m also grateful for the very detailed instructions and run through of each lesson, and on each question it tells you what lesson it’s in, if you need a refresher on how to do something.

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Merry - I would love to hear more on your take on Math-U-See! Most things I have read are that the majority of people stop it once it gets to Algebra. From what I have read, it gets to hard without assistance… We are using Math-U-See now (started mid-year last year) and my oldest is in Zeta. So far it works well for us. Thanks for any additional input!

Interesting–I don’t think I’ve ever read that about MUS in particular, though occasionally I hear it about math in general. I think MUS is really easy to use. The video shows how to work the problems, and then there is also more explanation in the book. On really hard lessons, I let my high schoolers read the lesson in the book and work through those examples. (My oldest especially preferred to learn by reading at his own pace versus having me try to explain it in a different way.) There are complete solutions to all of the problems and all of the tests (not just answers), so you can follow along on how the correct answer is achieved. Those tools have always been plenty for us, but you can also call MUS or ask online if you are confused about a problem. We’ve used Prea-alg, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 (I’m currently on my 2nd time through) and Stewardship. My oldest didn’t want to go on in math so we stopped after alg. 2–my youngest may want to, I’ll have to see.

I do watch the lessons with my kids (and I go to the teacher’s manual myself if I have questions). I also check my kids’ work–I find the habit of walking along-side them and working problems they miss or problems as we watch the video helps me to be a better math coach/teacher. If someone didn’t want to do that, then they would have to have the student rewatch the video, work through the TM sample problems, and read how the answer keys worked things if they got stuck on a problem. (All of which I’ve done as well. Usually that makes things clear for my kids, if not 100% then, over time. MUS doesn’t drop concepts but continues to incorporate review, which is another reason I chose the program.) If a student was still stuck, they can call MUS (moms or students can call–I’ve heard stories of students calling for assistance and that MUS was helpful–I’ve never had to call though).

Maybe people don’t really realize the help that is available, or maybe they just really want someone else to teach math for them? I actually chose MUS BECAUSE of all the help it provides with the video lessons, TM, and problems worked out in the answer key. It was the perfect complement for how I wanted to teach high school math (to come alongside more as a coach using the tools they provided).

Jay Wile gives a talk about teaching high school where he says, “can you learn alongside your student? If you can do that, you can home school high school.” I’ve found that to be very true, and that picture of walking alongside and learning together gave me courage and confidence to homeschool high school. In fact, for some subjects I don’t even do that (I thought I’d learn Japanese alongside my oldest–ha! I did 10 lessons and turned it over to him! I corrected tests but made him check his homework or tell me if he didn’t understand something & I’d try to find an answer. He graduated last May and is in college now, and my oldest is a Junior.)

Anyway–MUS has worked out well for us. I’d say if it’s working for you, it probably will continue to. Don’t fix what’s not broken :smile:


They definitely don’t need math manipulatives forever. The manipulatives are mainly used for teaching a concept and having your child teach it back to you. They don’t need to use them as they do the worksheet (unless that particular worksheet TELLS them that they are to build each problem). I thought the way manipulatives were used for algebra was pretty intelligent. They aren’t used a lot at that level, but the demonstrations that use them really make abstract concepts concrete and did aid understanding (if not for my kids, then for ME, LOL!)

Since I didn’t start MUS until Pre-algebra, I debated whether to invest in the manipulatives (and then, bless someone’s heart, I found a big box of them at our used sale for $5!!! What a huge blessing!) I was so glad I had them though–they really opened up some concepts for my oldest and made me wish we had tried MUS sooner.

Manipulatives provide a kinesthetic/tactile learning experience (and studies show that incorporating a variety of learning styles has more impact than even just teaching to your child’s strongest learning pathway). But they really are a scaffolding type of device–the end result is to be able to do math in your head and on paper, not to build with manipulatives. Manipulatives are a tool to help you get to that end, so that what you learn is more concrete and remembered more easily.

When my oldest struggled with subtraction with borrowing in 3rd grade, I spent a week just working with base 10 blocks, changing 10’s or 100’s for 1’s or 10’s until the concepts really made sense in my son’s head. When we went back to pencil and paper, it was so much easier. From what I’ve seen with my friends who used MUS in the elementary years, that’s the way manipulatives work there too. You use them as long as the student needs them–which for some won’t be long at all on any one concept, and for others might be a long time.

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Merry - thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed reply! I really appreciate your input. And it certainly gave me hope and put me at ease. Thanks again!!!

I thought you made a pretty strong case for Math-U-See, first off. I’m horrible at describing things like curriculum, so I have a hard time explaining why I like what I like. I thought you did really well, just wanted to mention.
I wanted to say, however, that I was glad you pointed out about what studies have shown because it is exactly what I believe has been beneficial to my children. We have different kinds of approaches to math, we don’t use one way nor one curriculum only when we do math. I find it that it becomes more enjoyable to my children and I and we tend to want to do math if we do it like this.
I don’t use everything we know or have everyday, not even every week, but I go with the flow, based on when I think it’s needed to add or change things.
Some of the things we use are Miquon Math, Cuisinaire Rods, Practical Arithmetics by Strayer-Upton, Math-U-See manipulative, video lessons for Ray’s Arithmetic, many other homemade manipulatives.
It sounds like a lot but with each child I may only use two or three things, just different things depending on what helps them more.
I love how Miquon Math is very visual and kinesthetic. It makes hard math seem so easy, because you look at it from a different perspective. Very outside the box.
I love how Practical Arithmetics is very mental and practical too. It gives real life problems for children to work out. It teaches a very easy way to solve problems and it just makes sense, it’s easy, and fun!
The Ray’s Arithmetic free video lessons are so cool for littler ones. My 4 year old son loves them and he has not had to sit at workbooks to learn. Then he applies what he has learned to real life by counting and adding pieces of wood to the porch, etc. All on his own.
All of the manipulatives are fun of course, and they help cement everything and my children love building things with those mainly.
My PT was telling me she could not help her granddaughter with her math because she couldn’t understand it either. I’m wondering if this will help them, but I kind of have a guess that, just with any subject and children that don’t get a one on one time to learn things and get overlooked because they must keep up with the overall speed, those students may still continue to do poorly, unfortunately. And for those whose parents are more involved after school and want to help, is it going to impact them now too?


Hi there @GC123! Thanks so much for mentioning Practical Arithmetics. I had not heard of this before, but after doing some digging into what it is and looking into as many reviews and samples as I can find, I am planning to order these books. I have been looking for something for over a year for my daughter to switch to, and this is what I’ve been looking for. Thanks so much for mentioning it. I can’t tell you how many countless programs I’ve researched and contemplated. Thanks again for mentioning this one. I would not have heard of it otherwise!

Wow! I’m so happy to hear this! I’m glad about that.
I, too, read all of the reviews I could find on it and we are on our second year in the red book (4th grade). I love it, truly. And my daughter loves it. She has fun with it, and is learning really well too. I even do my math differently now, much faster and I enjoy it too now. Just so glad to have these books!!
I hope you two will enjoy them much too!
Thanks for letting me know :smiley:

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I have a little bit of a different experience, but I thought it might add to the conversation. I was a terrible math student. I always did well, but never really understood or liked math. I passed calculus and jumped for joy never to take another math class.

Then I became an elementary teacher and taught math using one of the hands-on, spiral approaches. It completely changed my relationship to basic math! I now do math in the newer ways I learned alongside my students! My mental math processes are much stronger and more reflexive than at any point in my life.

I use Everyday Math. Unlike skill and drill or mastery based programs, kids are exposed to a topic and invited to form a conceptual understanding before being exposed to a formal algorithm. This is in direct contrast to the way most of us were taught. Most of us learned the algorithms by rote and little else. In contrast, the program has kids work on a concept in a variety of ways, through games, work with manipulatives, and paper practice. In addition, kids complete 6 or so review questions every day, that touch on topics from other parts of the year. It isn’t the case that since you covered it in chapter 3, you don’t have to know how to do it anymore. It keeps their working knowledge alive.

Since the program is cyclical, each year builds on kid’s previous exposure to topics. It’s a really great way to build confidence, because they’ve seen the topic before.

The program, teacher’s manuals and student journals, was very inexpensive to obtain, even the newest version. About $30 or so.

I just wanted to add this in, given the dialogue on new methods. I wish everyone luck finding the right path for your learners.

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Hi there,
I just wanted to send a quick reply to say (as you saw on the Changing Math Update post) our Practical Arithmetics books arrived and we have started using the first one! Again, thank you for mentioning them. I love them! I can’t stop looking through them, looking ahead at what we’ll be covering next, etc. My daughter LOVES this book. We are starting in the first one (the red one) as she is in 3rd grade this year. It is all review so far for her but I thought it was important for her to start with understanding their language of math even if it means we move quickly through the first bit. She is disappointed every day when it’s time to stop math. This is SUCH a change for us. Again, thank you thank you for this mention. I received all three levels when I ordered it and really think we’ll be happy with it in the long term. I hope your school year is going well too! Have a blessed holiday season. :slight_smile:

I’m really happy for you! I feel very relaxed now that I have found curriculum that actually is helpful to us and not a burden. I loved using what we started with when we started homeschooling as I needed to learn what it was like to do this whole homeschooling business and I am very thankful for the strong foundation which it provided me but as I grow more comfortable in this journey in knowing more I am absolutely thankful for materials like Practical Arithmetics by Strayer-Upton and some others we have found and been using.
My daughter is also on the red book although 4th grade level. She started it last year. She loves it too! And so do I! It’s amazing how it teaches harder things in math without making it seem hard. It just flows so well. She easily learns it and applies it to her everyday life. You’ll see that too! And it is fun. We like doing the games together.
And it’s like you said, not a popular mainstream choice but most things I use aren’t. Go figure! I use them because they work well. :slight_smile:
So yes, things are going well in our Homeschool so far! I’m glad to hear yours are too!

We use Math U See and I like their approach to everything we’ve encountered so far. Especially fractions which were difficult for me when I was younger. For our family I think MUS does a great job of explaining how to work through the various skills. And I really like that they have an excellent grasp on one concept before moving on to a new one.

From what I’ve seen of Common Core math it was just crazy confusing. And why go through a bunch of steps just to add two numbers together like that? I have no interest in even trying to explain all of that to my kids. But then I was taught the old school way which just seems more logical to me LOL!

That said, one of the things that’s so great about homeschooling is that we can use whatever works best for our family. And that might even mean using different math curriculum between your different children. So though we all use MUS for now, I have friends who have used MUS for one student, and TT for another. It’s nice that we have the flexibility to tailor our curriculum to what fits our children’s needs best :smile:


Erica -did you find that you had to supplement with the MathUSee curriculum?
I am finding myself looking back at my own teaching experience and seeing that I covered more skills than what is presented in the MUS text- for example my first grade classroom vs. what is covered in MUS Alpha. I guess I just need confirmation that it all works out in the end- I am really liking the MUS approach in theory, but finding it difficult for total buy in from my past teaching experiences in regard to content covered (not the delivery system). Also in your experience did you find any holes or content that was not covered in the series that you would like to have seen or covered more in depth?