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January 2020

DO MATH SUPPLEMENTS REALLY HELP STRUGGLING STUDENTS?
- or -
CAN YOU TEACH A DROWNING CHILD HOW TO SWIM WHILE HE IS DROWNING?

Before addressing that question directly, let me first relate a story about a man walking across a bridge spanning a river.  As he looked down at the water, he noticed a boy who had fallen into the swift current.  It was apparent from the boy’s struggle that he could not swim.  The man realized he had only two alternatives.  He could shout instructions to the boy on how to overcome the swift current and perhaps enable him to dog paddle to safety on the shore, or he could dive into the water and rescue him.  Without hesitating, the man dived into the water and immediately swam to the side of the struggling boy.  Now the man had to face another dilemma.  Should he pull the struggling boy to safety or should he immediately try to teach him how to swim?

Everyone would agree that when people are drowning, that is not the time to try to teach them how to swim.  All one can do at that time is try to get them to a place of safety where they can overcome the swift current of the river.  So it is with mathematics.  In any of John Saxon’s math textbooks from Math 54 through Calculus, if student’s begin struggling before reaching lesson thirty or sooner, it is a sign that they will drown in the later lessons of the book unless they are taken to a place of safety where they can better manage and learn the concepts that they are now unfamiliar with. Concepts that are dragging them into deep water!  It should become apparent that they are not prepared for the book they are in, and no amount of supplemental material or expensive tutors will overcome those shortcomings.

Mathematics is like the swift current that challenged the drowning boy.  Like the river, upper level mathematics is challenging and can easily become unforgiving.  Looking for a slower moving or shallower river may create a temporary solution, but eventually that water will again become swifter and deeper and unless one is prepared, all the advice and assistance given at the time of the struggle will come too late.

While it is a noble goal for students to strive towards taking a calculus course in their senior year of high school, it is critical that they first master the algebra.  The calculus is easy! It is the challenge of the algebra and to a lesser degree the trigonometry that causes students to fail calculus.  Any student with a solid algebra background, entering any college or university, will pass that school’s math entrance exam and will be successful in a calculus course should they choose to do so.

When classroom teachers or home school educators take shortcuts with one of John Saxon’s math books, they are not adequately preparing the student for the deeper water ahead.  More than a quarter of a century of experience with Saxon Math textbooks has shown me that classroom teachers and parents who take shortcuts with his curriculum (instead of going slowly and deliberately through as John intended) cause students to “flounder” as they encounter the “deeper” water.  At this point, they find it easier to blame the book – and they look to switch to an easier math course!

The classroom instructions contained within my DVD “video” tutorial series – as well as the online lessons – are not math supplements.  They contain actual classroom instruction on each concept in the book.  Like the book, the classroom instruction is designed for the homeschool student who is in the appropriate level math book. The instruction enhances the written word they have already read from the textbook.  Many of the lessons present a different explanation by an experienced Saxon math teacher that helps the student through the difficult reading of the lesson.

However, regardless of who creates them, neither the CD white-board presentations nor my DVD classroom tutorials – or online lessons – will help students who are taking a course they are ill prepared for.  They will eventually find themselves frustrated and floundering in the “deeper water” of a math course they are not prepared for!

Have a Blessed and Happy New Year

 




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