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My 6 Secrets to Success with Math! Yes, Math! - by Gina Berrios

My 8 Secrets to Success with Math! Yes, Math!


Gina Berrios never liked math growing up. Her tried-&-true secrets will help your homeschoolers stay on track, keep learning and overcome obstacles!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I love Saxon Math! It is the only math curriculum my children have used, and I have not felt the need to switch to anything else.

I have now taught it successfully through Algebra I.

While I say that I have successfully taught it, that does not mean that I have been perfect or it has been easy. Each of my kids is very different, and I have had to adapt my approach for each one of them. One of my kids is a math whiz. He will be on to the next problem while I am still explaining step one of the previous problem.

Another child has struggled with math, and it correlates with her struggle with language and reading comprehension. I decided to repeat an entire year of math for her because she just did not have a firm grasp of it at the end of third grade. It is a decision she and I do not regret!

I know there are many math curriculums out there, and people can make lists of pros and cons for all of them, but I would like to share with you how we have found success in using Saxon.

I think some of our habits can work regardless of the math program being used.

1. Do Math every day.

We do math every day. I refuse to get behind in Math. Other subjects can be juggled around, but not Math. If we do a Math lesson or test every full day of school, we actually end Math about four weeks early.

This four-week cushion gives us the flexibility for when we need to put on the brakes and back up for review (See point 4!)

For my middle school kids, Math is the first subject of the day because they are more focused in the morning. We use the Saxon Teacher CDs from fourth grade on. The boys begin their school day by watching their CD for that day’s lesson. They then do their mental math and practice problems on their own.

Before they go on to the lesson problems, we check the practice set, because if they did not get all of them correct, then they did not grasp that concept. If necessary, I will re-teach it and review with them until it is learned. Then they continue with their lesson.

I have to invest teaching time in each child, every day with math. For the younger grades, there is a daily pattern and problem to solve. There are coin cup activities, counting patterns and flash cards. It can be tempting to skip them. But remember, you know this math; your child does not.

While it may seem redundant to you, it is new to your child, and it is laying a foundation for higher math. The early years of Saxon Math can seem a bit teacher intensive, but it will pay off to invest the time.

2. Do the Timed Facts drills with each lesson and test.

With Saxon, you can buy the supplemental test workbook with the Timed Math Facts. I highly recommend doing this! Kids have to memorize their math facts, plain and simple.

If they cannot do them, they will really struggle with any math beyond fourth grade. Getting quicker at timed drills only improves their math skills (and confidence) which they will need for middle school math, especially Algebra.

We record each test score and time on the provided score sheets. The kids like keeping track of their score and best times. They also will set a personal goal for a time or number correct. It is fun to celebrate when those goals are met. They also have fun timing each other on these drills.

I use the scores as a motivation too! When one of my kids begrudgingly did his timed math, never finishing in less than the allotted five minutes, I told him he would have to do flash card drills with his younger sister. He had a week to improve his time.

It was amazing! By the end of the week, he finished in one minute and thirty seconds and was spared the remedial flash card drills. He likes to brag now that his fastest time is 34 seconds.

3. Expect perfection on each lesson!

Really, 100% on each lesson? You bet.

I had a great conversation with one of Seton’s amazing math counselors. He told me that I should expect 100% on each lesson, because if my child is not doing the homework correctly, then he is not learning the concepts to be successful on the test.

I learned this lesson the hard way with one of my kids. It was in my early years of homeschooling and my child was in Algebra ½. Each day, she would finish her lesson and put it in our “I’m all done basket.”

At the end of the week, I would grade the lessons. At the same time, I would grade the math test (which was testing the previous week’s lessons.) She was getting most of her lesson wrong and her test scores were falling.

I put the brakes on math. I could tell from her lessons which concepts she was struggling with, so I went back and retaught those lessons.

From then on, math was graded every day as soon as the lesson was finished. Any wrong answers were reviewed and corrected. She had to ask herself, was it a silly math mistake, did I use the wrong formula, or did I not understand the problem?

Her test scores quickly improved because she was getting all of her lessons correct.

So now, it does not matter if it is first grade math or Algebra 1, math is graded when completed. Incorrect answers are corrected and the finished assignment must score 100% (Even if it is the second time through).

4. Do not be afraid to put on the brakes.

There will be times where Math will get hard. I tell my kids they are not to say, “I can’t do this. It’s impossible.” Instead they are encouraged to say, “I can do this; I just haven’t learned it yet.”

Saxon is cyclical, meaning that a concept is always reviewed. You may be on Lesson 100 and there could be a problem from Lesson 3 in that lesson.

If the concept was not mastered back in Lesson 3, you will still be struggling with it 97 lessons later.

So, do not move on from a lesson until the concept is mastered. This is where that four-week cushion comes in. You will not necessarily derail your school year if you take a few extra days to teach and review challenging concepts.

If you really encounter difficulties, call the Seton counselors. They really are wonderful!

5. Celebrate when Math is easy.

The beginning of every Saxon year is a review of the previous grade. My kids fly through those lessons, and I let them. I do not skip those lessons. Let them have the victory that Math is so easy. It builds their confidence.

Because of the cyclical format, there will be easy problems in the lessons too. Again, there is the temptation to skip those problems so your child can finish more quickly. Fight that temptation.

The review is important and those problems will show up on tests again.

6. Insist on showing work and keeping it neat.

This is a struggle with one of my kids who likes to rush through his lesson. He will do the work in his head, scribble down an answer and have no idea why he got it wrong when we grade it.

The lessons on dividing fractions brought this to a quick end, and I had my “I told you so” moment about why you have to show your work.

We use graph paper for the lessons because it helps with neatness. I insist that the kids show their work. They have to line up the steps and it has to be neat and orderly.

Eventually it will become a habit if you keep insisting on it. Being able to go back and find the mistake in a problem is really important for understanding what you are doing (or doing incorrectly).

I also do not allow the kids to turn in a test without going back and checking every problem. They must show their work on all tests too!

7. Make visual aids.

We will write out important formulas, definitions, shapes, prime numbers, etc. on note cards and hang them on the wall in front of the child’s desk.

It is important to keep these items out for quick reference while they are being committed to memory.

Of course we take them down for tests, but otherwise they are there for daily reference.

8. The Solutions Manual and a timer are your best friend!

The Solutions Manual is worth the investment! It gives the step by step solution to every problem in the book. It is my crutch.

We set a timer to 40 minutes for every Math lesson. When the timer goes off, the Math book is closed and we move on to a different subject.

Saxon actually suggests this to avoid getting to the point where the child is overwhelmed and is not retaining anything he or she is doing.

We will go back to Math later in the day. If necessary, Math is finished in the evening as homework.

To sum it up.

(pardon the pun)

While math was not my favorite subject in school, I can say that it is my favorite subject to teach. It is great to see the light bulbs go off in my kids when they grasp a difficult concept.

We have had success along the way, but it has not been a perfect path. We have hit speed bumps and obstacles.

For those times when I am beating my head against the wall (how can you not understand that +1 means count up just one number?!) it is best to know when to put the book away, laugh, and go run around outside!

About Gina Berrios

Gina Berrios
I am a homeschooling mom to six fantastic kids. We live on the beautiful Gulf Coast and enjoy road tripping whenever possible!

Header photo © carballo / Dollar Photo Club

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