Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community.
Recent studies have highlighted an interesting pattern in the homeschooling universe: a 'math gap.' This term refers to the tendency for homeschooled students, on average, to score a bit lower in mathematics on various standardized tests compared to their traditionally schooled peers.
We’ve seen this trend at Prisma. We have a mix of learners who have switched to our virtual school from a traditional in-person school, and learners who have been homeschooled for their educational careers. We often find that homeschoolers excel in reading, but score a few years behind their actual grade level in math, or are missing key math concepts.
At Prisma, we don’t believe standardized tests are the most important measure of learning, or that the knowledge they assess is necessarily relevant to real life. However, we do believe the ability to solve math problems is an important skill for future academic success, access to in-demand STEM careers, and increased critical thinking.
Now, before you worry, remember this: every homeschool journey is unique, and averages don't tell the whole story. Some homeschooled students excel in math! But these findings give us an opportunity to consider how we can make our math lessons even more effective.
We can make some informed predictions about why homeschooled students might struggle more with math compared to other subjects:
So, what does this all mean for homeschool parents as they plan math curriculum? It's a rallying cry to make math as engaging, enjoyable, and effective as possible in our homeschooling journey. We live in an era where STEM skills are becoming increasingly important, so let's embrace this challenge head-on.
In this post, we’ll explore different ways to teach math and learn math at different grade levels, keeping the needs of your learners at the forefront.
Remember, the flexibility of homeschooling allows for adjustments as you discover more about your child's evolving needs and interests. Don't be afraid to experiment to find the best fit.
However, keep in mind that since math is cumulative, switching curriculum choices frequently could leave your child with math skills gaps.
The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) introduced not just a new list of mathematical concepts and skills that students are expected to learn, but also a different philosophy about how math should be taught and understood.
Traditional math instruction, which we’re familiar with from our own schooling, often involved the rote memorization of math facts, formulas, and procedures, and generally prioritized getting the correct answer.
In contrast, the philosophy behind Common Core math emphasizes deep understanding of math concepts, problem-solving, and analytical thinking. It's about teaching kids to understand why math works the way it does, not just how to execute procedures or apply formulas.
For example, instead of just memorizing that 5 x 3 = 15 using flash cards, a student learning with Common Core-aligned methods might use visual aids and manipulatives to understand that this multiplication fact is equivalent to adding five groups of three together.
While this approach is designed to give students a more solid foundation in math and better prepare them for real-world problem solving, it can sometimes look unfamiliar to parents who learned math in a more traditional way. Parents might see diagrams, drawings, and explanations where they would expect to see straightforward calculations. It's not uncommon for parents to feel a bit puzzled by Common Core math methods.
When deciding whether to choose a Common Core-aligned math curriculum for your homeschool, consider the following:
Cost: $129-$199 per year
Grade Levels: 6-12
Approach: ALEKS is a personalized learning platform that adapts to each student's individual needs. It uses a mastery-based approach, which means that students only move on to the next level once they have mastered the current level.
Pros: ALEKS has been proven through research to be highly effective at helping students learn math. It also provides excellent data and insight into progress.
Cons: ALEKS is expensive, and can also be a little dry compared to more engaging platforms. It is also not available for younger students.
Cost: $199-$399 per year
Grade Level: 2-12
Approach: The Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) is a rigorous math program that focuses on problem solving. It is designed for students who are interested in math competitions and who want to challenge themselves. There are also live math courses available that align to the curriculum.
Pros: AoPS is an excellent program for students who are interested in math competitions. It is also very effective at helping students develop their problem-solving skills.
Cons: AoPS is a very challenging program. It is not suitable for all students.
Cost: $199 per year
Grade Level: K-5
Approach: Beast Academy is a creative and engaging math program that uses games, puzzles, and comic-book style stories to teach math concepts. It is designed to be fun and motivating for young learners.
Pros: Beast Academy is a great way to introduce young children to math. It is fun, engaging, and effective. Prisma parents have often told us that Beast Academy is their child’s favorite math program.
Cons: Beast Academy is not as rigorous as some other math programs. It also doesn’t provide as excellent data on what your child may be learning on the back end as some other programs do.
Cost: $129-$199 per year
Grade Levels: K-8
Approach: Dreambox is an adaptive learning program that uses a game-based approach to teach math. It is designed to be fun and engaging for students of all ages. It also uses a mastery approach, and will make learners repeat concepts and practice math skills until they’re second nature.
Pros: Dreambox is a great way to help students learn math at their own pace. It is also very engaging and motivating. Prisma learners have enjoyed the fun math games incorporated into Dreambox.
Cons: Dreambox doesn’t incorporate as much math instruction as other online math programs. Some Prisma learners reported that the games felt repetitive and that they progressed too slowly, due to the mastery learning approach.
Cost: $12-$19 per month
Grade Levels: K-12
Approach: IXL is an online math practice program that provides personalized instruction and feedback. It is designed to help students learn math at their own pace.
Pros: IXL is very affordable, offers great practice, and allows parents to track standard by standard which math skills their learners have mastered.
Cons: IXL can be repetitive. It is not as engaging as some other math programs.
Grade Levels: Pre-K-12
Approach: Khan Academy offers many subjects, including math. The math program provides interactive lessons and practice problems. It is designed to be accessible to all students, regardless of their background.
Pros: Khan Academy is free, comprehensive, and engaging. Its embedded instructional resources and videos are some of the best around. With the new AI tutor, Khanmigo, learners can benefit from even more guided support.
Cons: Khan Academy can be overwhelming. It is not as personalized as some other math programs, nor is there great insight provided on where your learner is struggling.
Cost: $9.99-$12.99 per month
Grade Level: K-8
Approach: Zearn is an online math program that uses games and activities to teach math concepts. It is designed to be fun and engaging for young learners. It is one of the most popular math programs used in schools for good reason. It’s also a tool used by the middle school learners at Prisma.
Pros: Zearn is a great way to introduce young children to math. It is fun, engaging, and effective, and provides great assurance that kids are progressing through all concepts they need to understand due to its adaptive, mastery-based approach.
Cons: Zearn may feel repetitive for some learners, and can feel immature to some older students.
Cost: The complete set costs around $102 for each grade level.
Grade Level: K-8th grade
Approach: This is not aligned to Common Core Math. Uses a spiral-method that introduces, reviews, and reinforces concepts progressively through memorization and drills. Note: This is part of a whole curriculum that takes a Christian approach.
What's Included: A complete set includes an instructor’s guide and student workbooks, priced separately.
Pros: Concepts are introduced and then reviewed and reinforced over time. The worksheets are colorful and designed to move quickly through concepts for children who are easily bored.
Cons: May not be ideal for students who prefer less structure and more experiential learning. May also be more challenging for homeschool parents who are less confident in math, since they will need to lead the lesson plans themselves, which are not scripted.
Cost: About $20 per book. Learners should complete two books per year, if they are below the pre-algebra level.
Grade Level: 1-12
Approach: A complete math program that relies on the self-teaching learning style with lessons structured around the humorous and unlikely adventures of Fred Gauss, a six-year-old math professor at Kittens University. It aims to engage students in a fun narrative while instilling a solid understanding of the math concepts without an abundance of repetitive drills
What's Included: Hardcover, non-consumable textbooks with answers included in the text for most texts. For geometry and college-level courses, selected answers are in the texts with answer keys that are sold separately.
Pros: Engaging and fun narrative, self-teaching approach, comprehensive coverage from primary mathematics to pre-calculus
Cons: Not aligned to Common Core. May not suit students who need more structured instruction or prefer a more traditional approach to math.
Cost: About $40 per grade level
Grade Level: 2-5th grade
Approach: This curriculum is Common Core-aligned, mastery-oriented and emphasizes conceptual understanding, mental math, and number sense. It is nearly self-teaching and requires little teacher preparation ("open-and-go").
What's Included: The curriculum is available both as digital and print versions.
Pros: One of the most affordable options aligned to Common Core and that requires little support from the homeschool parent
Cons: There are no manipulatives included as part of this curriculum, which are supported by research to help develop higher level mathematical understanding and problem solving skills
Cost: About $140 per grade level
Grade Level: K-12. Math-U-See organizes learning math by level rather than by grade. Learning starts at Pre-K and moves all the way up to advanced topics like trigonometry.
Approach: Hands-on, multi-sensory, and full of manipulatives. Kids also are expected to mastery concepts before moving on, due to the approach where kids pass levels rather than simply learning the content for their grade.
What's Included: Instructional video lessons, placement tests, and manipulatives.
Pros: The mastery learning approach is excellent for ensuring your child doesn’t have any math gaps.
Cons: Although it’s very effective, the mastery learning approach can feel frustrating for kids who learn more slowly or struggle in math.
Cost: About $110 per set
Grade Level: K-12.
Approach: Hands-on, interactive, and full of math games rather than traditional worksheets and teaching textbooks.
What's Included: Manipulatives, paper and printable materials, and the AL Abacus which helps learners simulate and experiment with math problems and solutions
Cons: Requires high parental involvement and supervision to guide your learner through the activities. At higher levels, this form of math learning may feel less natural and helpful.
Cost: About $100 per grade level
Grade Level: K-12.
Approach: Aligns to Common Core and uses a spiral method that includes drills and lots of repetition.
What's Included: Manipulatives (for elementary levels and below), workbooks, teaching textbooks, and CDs.
Pros: Great for learners who may struggle with math, since it can move more slowly and help fill in gaps with the spiral approach.
Cons: The spiral method can feel repetitive or not as engaging for some learners.
Cost: About $50 per set
Grade Level: PreK-8th grade
Approach: Aims to bring the approach to teaching math in Singapore to non-Singapore audiences. Singapore students excel in math! Has one version that aligns with Common Core.
What's Included: Instructor’s guide, teaching textbooks, and workbooks/worksheets.
Pros: Great for learners who excel in math, and parents who are comfortable supporting their learner in math.
Cons: Some may find this math program to be too fast-paced and challenging.
We’re fans of online learning, but it depends how it’s done. Here’s some pros and cons of different kinds of online homeschooling resources to consider, plus links to a variety of options.
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