Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Tour Through Our Math & Science Life

If there is one area of study that is usually pretty easy for us to manage, it is math and the math-y, logical sciences (NOT biology, oh how I dislike thee).  This year things going fairly smooth in those subjects, even with a rather unspectacular showing from the original science curriculum.

Earthquake proof building designs - only successful experiment from our original science curriculum.
Amber has previously attended two different Lutheran schools that both used Saxon Math for 1st - 8th grades, to my initial dismay. I had not heard good things about it from some teachers I trusted. Over time I came to understand Saxon better, to the point where we unreservedly continued its use after choosing to homeschool.  I know a lot of people have definite opinions on Saxon Math, and it really depends on your child as to how effective it can be for them.  For us, it is the only definite curriculum we have any semester.

Saxon Math is a spiral program that continues to work on topics well after the initial lesson. Each topic is cycled through the assignments every day for a short while after its introduction, and then less frequently for the remainder of the book. The daily assignments also indicate which lesson each problem is reinforcing.  This is helpful for the student when they need a reminder on a topic, and for the teacher to notice patterns of missed problems. The spiral nature of Saxon encourages mastery as opposed to quick memorization. 

Saxon tests are every 5 lessons and do not include the most recent 5 lessons to ensure the student has sufficient time to master a topic before testing.  I require a grade of 80% or better for Amber to move past the material on a test. Amber has never scored below an 80%, but the rule still stands. Additionally, missing more than 4 problems on a daily assignment earns Amber additional problems on the topic, unless they were all careless arithmetic errors.

Amber with her Saxon math.  (She thinks I'm crazy for wanting pictures of the math lesson)
The most valuable resource that I've found to understand and correctly use Saxon Math has been Art Reed's Saxon Homeschool Support website,, particularly the newsletters.  He gives great advice and explains the mastery concepts behind Saxon. He also lays out proper course paths for the middle school years based on student ability. 

Amber has always done well in math, and with two parents with math related degrees (and my additional minor in applied mathematics), we expected her to be fairly competent in math. Unfortunately, her small Lutheran schools had no ability to accommodate children with accelerated math abilities. Thus, Amber began tuning out math instruction because so much was an unneeded review. After finishing Saxon Math level 5/4 in the second semester of 4th grade, which was our first semester homeschooling, we decided to advance Amber to Saxon 7/6 for 5th grade. I agonized over this decision for months, but it has turned out to be a good choice for her.  

The spiral nature of Saxon and Amber's complete understanding of her 4th grade math topics made it possible for us to skip the mostly review year of Saxon 6/5. It's not something I would recommend to everyone. We still don't know which Saxon path she will take next year in 6th grade. It all depends on her understanding and scores for the last 20 lessons of the current level. She may take a slower approach to pre-algebra, going through Saxon 8/7, or may be able to go directly to Saxon Pre-algebra for 6th grade. Again, Art Reed's newsletters are invaluable to me in making math placement decisions for Amber. I highly recommend the website to anyone using Saxon Math. 

Science experiments are a weekly and much loved element for us.
In comparison to how organized we are with Saxon Math, fifth grade science has been all over the place. Our science topics for the majority of 5th grade are: Earth science, electricity and magnetism, chemistry, and astronomy.  All our favorites!  I chose a complete curriculum from BJU (6th grade science set) to use this year with the intention of leaving out the biology and life science portions. In hind sight, I wish I had been brave enough to design her science on my own this year. Seriously, you'd think I'd have been able to fore go the package curriculum, considering I was in physics.

The curriculum hasn't worked as I would have liked. We've spent the year devising better experiments and adding more information on topics of interest.  Thankfully, we have found a publisher that we love and intend to use for the future, when it isn't physics. :-)

Elemental Science uses the classical style of education and has full year curriculum programs for the grammar and logic stages. They also have lapbooking units or history of science units to use as supplements.  Amber had so much fun using their Lapbooking Through the Periodic Table in addition to the BJU chemistry unit.  We plan to include Elemental Science's upcoming Lapbooking Through the Solar System unit when we study astronomy.  I'm hoping that other Elemental Science products can rescue us during the biology phase, but those details are for a different post.

Lapbooking Through the Periodic Table
Rounding out our math / logic based subjects is a new addition this semester.  As we progress to a more classical style homeschool, we found the need for time specifically designated to logic study.   I can't tell you much about how logic is going, because it really isn't going yet.  The books are due to arrive any day, so there's not much to say.  I can tell you that I chose to use Critical Thinking, Book 1 from The Critical Thinking Company.  It is rated for grades 7 -12, but I managed to preview a copy and it seems much more Amber's speed than the 5-6th grade books.  If it is too difficult, we can go down a level and hold on to these.  If you are really interested in our thoughts on this curriculum once we get started, leave me a comment and I'll be sure to let you know in a few weeks.  Otherwise, maybe I'll write up a review eventually.

That sums up our math-y,science-y, no-where-near-biology curriculum for 5th grade. 

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds Virtual Curriculum Fair Button

This post is part of the January 2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair.  Please visit the other participants to see all of their Math, Logic and Science related curriculum plans and ideas.

Delight Directed Middle School Science? by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
The Hardest Part of Math by Kristi @ The Potter's Hand Academy
What Works for Us…Math by Piwi Mum @ Learning & Growing the Piwi Way
Math Art – Geometry by Julie @ Highhill Education
It's Math-magical by Missouri Mama @ Ozark Ramblings
Virtual Curriculum Fair: Fun and Games with Math by Tonia @ The Sunny Patch
Discovering Patterns by Lisa @ The Golden Grasses
Math for the Natural by Erin @ Delighting in His Richness
Virtual Curriculum Fair~ Discovering Patterns by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me
Too Many Math Programs or Not by Linda B @ Homeschooling6
Virtual Curriculum Fair:  Math and More!  by April @ Coffee, Cobwebs, and Curriculum
The post where I admit I was wrong by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset
High School Math - Beyond the Textbook by TechWife @ A Playground of Words
Discovering a World of Logic and Order by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair- Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science by Leah C @ As We Walk Along the Road
The Plans of Mice and Math (My Math in Focus review) by Chelli @ The Planted Trees
Rightstart Math is right for us! by Leann  @ Montessori Tidbits
Our Favorite Homeschool Math Curriculums by Wendy @ Homeschooling Blessings


  1. Thank you for sharing a look at how Saxon works so well for you...I'm checking out that newsletter. ;0)

    And thank you for participating in the Virtual Curriculum Fair!

  2. I had never heard of that website about using Saxon. That is extremely helpful.
    Thank you!~Erin

    1. Glad to help. I found it during my extensive research when deciding where to place Amber for math this year. Saxon makes so much more sense now.

  3. We're considering Saxon for Algebra 2 - it's been a long time since we used it. Thanks for the web site, it's a new one for me!

  4. Wow, I'd never heard of Elemental Science or the Saxon website, but they could be wonderful resources for us! Thanks so much for sharing them!