Do you feel like you need a magic decoder ring to help you kids do their math homework? If so, you are not alone. With the advent of Common Core standards, many schools switched to a Singapore-based style of mathematics. While this way of doing math has tremendous merit, it also comes with a lot of caveats that make it unsuitable for public education in the United States. For this reason, among others, Freedom Classical Academy has chosen to use Saxon Math as its math curriculum.
Saxon Math was created by John Saxon, a former Air Force pilot and instructor, several decades ago. After leaving the military, Saxon began teaching at a local community college where he became frustrated with students' inability to do math. Even more frustrating to Saxon was the complete absence of good text books. So, Saxon went to work creating his own text book. Soon, his students began to excel and others began asking for his textbook. From that inauspicious beginning the Saxon Math program was born.
Saxon based his math program off of three main principles: incremental learning, continual review, and measurable results. We will consider each of these principles below.
It is no secret that math is continually one of students' least favorite subjects at school, especially in the United States. Part of the problem is that as math students, we are often briefly taught a new concept and then immediately expected to complete thirty or more problems on the principle we have yet to understand. This leads to frustration that when experienced repeatedly results in students feeling like they "just aren't good at math." The real problem, however, is not a lack in mathematical aptitude but in a teaching methodology that neglects human development principles.
At the turn of the 20th century, a Russian psychologist by the name of Lev Vygotsky developed a learning model that he called the Zone of Proximal Development. This model proposed that there is a limit to how much a child can learn based on their current learning levels. As the child learns more, what they are capable of doing expands. Within the model, there are three stages: what the child can do unaided, what the child can do with support, and what the child cannot do. For example, the average kindergarten student will not be able to solve calculus problems no matter how much support he/she is given. They can, however, form letters independently and write simple words and sentences with a teacher's help.
In order to help students avoid frustration and remain in the Zone of Proximal Development, Saxon organized his lessons so that no more than 15% of the lesson would be new material. While thirty problems on a new concept can be daunting, five is usually doable. The remaining problems are all review of concepts they have already been taught, which brings us to our next concept.
One of the biggest problems with mathematics is retaining skills and knowledge. Students often have to learn concepts over and over again before they are finally retained. Unfortunately, many concepts are never fully retained and are completely forgotten within weeks of being first learned.
To combat this problem, Saxon Math uses continual review. As stated above, only fifteen percent of each lesson is new content. That leaves the other eighty-five percent of the lesson to review previous concepts. That means that students are going to see concepts several times during the year in order to facilitate retention and also avoid the frustration described above.
Focus on Results
The Singapore-style mathematics being used in schools today puts process over result. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the real world does not work that way. In the real world results are everything. Saxon understood this long before Singapore-style math was a blip on the radar. Saxon was a pragmatic guy who recognized results as paramount to any mathematics program. This led Saxon to become a vocal critic of the progressive mathematics programs being utilized at the time. It also led Saxon to develop a program that was very focused on achieving results. Saxon was even quoted once as saying he didn't care if a teacher had to stand on her head as long as the students learned the concepts.
Saxon Math has been used in many schools around the world and is a program that gets results. At Freedom Classical Academy, we are pleased to utilize Saxon Math.