My older children all learnt maths in a formal manner, using a text book course. All three started the advanced maths course and all three dropped out partway through, complaining they hated it and were no good at maths.
“When are we ever going to use all this maths, Mum?”
“But you have to do maths!” I insisted. Isn’t it an essential of education?
As a compromise, my children agreed to do the general maths or maths in society course instead. So they learnt all that useful stuff like how to work out interest on a home loan. But even though this kind of maths was more relevant to their everyday lives, not one of my older children finished the course.
Imogen was different. She decided for herself that she wanted to do the advanced maths course. “I want to go to university, Mum and I think I may need maths.” There was also another big incentive; “I’m going to be the first Elvis child to complete this course!” When you are 4th in line, there are not many things left that haven’t already been achieved by someone older.
Imogen started with a text book and then we discovered an online course, Maths Online. She liked the video lessons, the summaries of essential skills, the concise worksheets and the records that showed her at a glance how far she’d progressed through the course and what grades she was achieving. All went well for a time and then she came to a section that we felt wasn’t adequately explained by the video lessons. I could see Imogen’s confidence falling. Any time now I thought, she’s going to say, “I don’t want to do this anymore. When am I ever going to need all this maths?”
So for a few weeks I spent extra time searching the Internet for more information and trying to work through the examples with Imogen. It was all very time consuming and it meant taking time away from the activities I was doing with the other girls. There had to be a better way.
One day I discovered that a friend in our parish was a high school maths tutor. Instantly I could see the maths problem disappearing. Would John tutor Imogen? Yes. He was more than happy to give her a weekly 2 hour lesson, complete with practical and lunch thrown in by his dear wife for… free. John drove Imogen home again after the lesson too. He was a real answer to a prayer.
After three terms with John, Imogen completed the advanced maths course at the age of 16. John set the tone from day one. Imogen appeared after the first class with a broad smile on her face. “John said that if I were in school I’d be in the top few percent of my class. He thinks I am very capable.” Full of confidence she tackled the course her siblings had hated and failed to complete. John’s lessons ended up being one of the big highlights of her week.
So Imogen no longer learns maths. She has completed the course and moved onto other things. My only high school maths student at the moment is Charlotte, aged nearly 14.
Charlotte is also working through the Maths Online course. She starts the day with a lesson and is achieving at a high level. She never complains she hates maths. She does the work willingly. Imogen told John, “If you think I was capable at maths, wait until you see Charlotte!” And we are hoping that when Charlotte gets further along the course, John will be willing to tutor her for the final year. That is, if Charlotte wants to complete the advanced maths course.
I think children need to see a reason why they should learn something in order to be successful. They might simply enjoy what they are learning or they could decide the subject is worth learning: it may prove useful. I don’t feel that the higher levels of maths are necessarily essential for a chid to learn. I think back to my own maths days. I did advanced maths and I used some of it at university because I studied a Bachelor of Science. But most of it I have forgotten. I just don’t need that level of skill. Was it a waste of time learning so much maths? For me, I think the answer is no. I enjoyed learning maths. That reason alone justified me doing the course.
My three older children have not suffered because they dropped out of their maths courses. They all went on to study at university level and none of them are disadvantaged.
Imogen was successful in completing her goal because she wanted to do the course. She decided for herself she needed advanced maths, and she actually enjoyed working with John who made maths interesting for her.
I have been contemplating unschooling primary maths with my younger girls. Would we do the same with our high school student?
It really depends on Charlotte. What if she comes to me and says, “Mum, I hate doing this!” I think I would ask a few questions. Does she just not understand what she is trying to learn? Is there a better way to approach the subject? Should I ask John to tutor her?
Or is it a question of “Mum, when will I ever use all this?” Perhaps I’d be willing to let her drop the subject. Her books or online course could sit there quietly awaiting a possible day when Charlotte might decide for herself that she needs to learn more. And if that day never appears, I will assume she knows adequate maths.
I will trust she has learnt what she needs to know.