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Math: Mastery versus Spiral


Cabertmom
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I always thought that spiral was better (because the publishers said it was, LOL) until I started seeing what those who use mastery programs have to say on this forum as well as the recent reports about how few topics students in Asia learn in elementary math.

 

I would love to hear from people on both sides of this debate. If you think spiral is better, why? If you think mastery is better, why?

 

For those of you who use a mastery program, do you find that your children forget how to subtract when they have been working on multiplication for awhile?

 

For those of you who use spiral programs, do you find that your children are really getting the concepts?

 

How much of success in math has to do with spiral versus mastery, and how much of it just has to do with innate ability of the child and the parent/teacher?

 

For those of you who switched from a mastery program to spiral or vice-versa, are you happy with the change? What weakness in the other type of program made you decide to change?

 

I can't wait to hear what you all have to say.

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My oldest does well with "soft spiral" programs that focus on one topic at a time but review & add on from year to year. I would not use a true "mastery" program like MUS that focuses on one topic for the entire level. She has used Right Start and then Singapore.

 

My DS does better with "spiral" because he needs a lot more review. He is using MEP.

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I think which is better depends on the student.

 

My dd is totally frustrated by spirals. She wants to know everything about a topic and completely understand it before she moves on. Being able to do the problems on the page is not enough. If she doesn't understand exactly how and why it is happening (knowledge often gained in later lessons in a spiral) she feels lost and confused.

 

We use MUS and I would never subject my students to Saxon. The number of problems and variety of topics in a day is nothing but torture to them. Other kids do great with a spiral and bored to tears with a mastery approach. One of the best parts of homeschooling is picking the curriculum that fits your child.

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I think I'd have done SO much better with a mastery program that reviews older topics occassionally. All my students use PS and commercial texts so the program is spiral, but I often try and boost with a few mastery type supplements.

 

I'd like to point out that Mastery is easier to supplement with other things than Spiral is, because of how tightly the programs (that I've used anyway). So your student could do a Mastery program as the spine and occassionally do other things to help ease into the next step and review the others.

 

If MUS weren't so expensive, I'm sure I'd have bought the whole series from Alpha to Algebra.

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One is not better than the other. I agree that it is going to depend on the student, and I suspect that it may even depend on the specific time in the students learning career. Just like learning styles can change over time throughout adolescents, I believe that whether a spiral or mastery method would work best can change too. I have one that does beautifully with mastery, one that started out doing well with mastery but then had to be switched to a "soft spiral", as Crimson Wife put it, and one that I'm learning will probably need a complete spiral approach, and one I can't figure out. I wish there was a test for determining this ... trial and error is very expensive.

 

I myself would prefer to use mastery with review supplements. It's just how my brain works. I want to see the big picture...the whole forest. Learning about a concept in little bits makes me feel anxious; like someone is trying to keep something from me. :tongue_smilie:

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If you think spiral is better, why? If you think mastery is better, why? I think the math that you feel comfortable teaching, which gets done every day, is the one that's better.

 

For those of you who use a mastery program, do you find that your children forget how to subtract when they have been working on multiplication for awhile? No, they don't. We use Rod and Staff's math. Each chapter sticks with one topic until it's learned well, but there's a review section at the end of each lesson. The old concepts are kept fresh, while the new skills are continually going forward.

 

Not every mastery curriculum has good review sections though. MCP is one. The only review of old concepts in MCP is in the test at the end of each chapter.

 

For those of you who use spiral programs, do you find that your children are really getting the concepts? Well, I've had mixed experience with spirals. The first time we used a serious spiral math, Abeka, I had a kid who excelled in her math book, but couldn't apply the math she knew anywhere else. She had covered a broad range of math concepts, but she didn't know enough about them to have any confidence. The very same child, three years later, grabbed an Abeka book left on the shelf from her older brother and did fabulously with it. *shrug*

 

How much of success in math has to do with spiral versus mastery, and how much of it just has to do with innate ability of the child and the parent/teacher? IMO it has far more to do with the parent's ability, confidence, and willingness to tweak.

 

For those of you who switched from a mastery program to spiral or vice-versa, are you happy with the change? What weakness in the other type of program made you decide to change? I've gone both directions, actually, and may blend them next year for one kid. It wasn't so much a weakness in any other method as it was finding a good curriculum fit for my family. R&S math, mastery, for what it's worth, has been a great fit for for my mathy and not-so-mathy kids alike. I have no complaints about these books. I'd rather tweak it to suit my particular kids, than keep hunting until I find the perfect curriculum for each particular kid.

 

I have one kidlet who absolutely adores the jumping around to many topics, colorful Abeka/Horizons type lessons. R&S can't provide that. He's a very mathy kid, who seems to understand the concepts before we get to them in his book. He's always grabbing the odd math bits left from his older siblings in addition to his R&S lessons now anyway. For this particular kid, placing a Horizon's book on the shelf beside his R&S text won't increase my planning/teaching load whatsoever.

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Singapore is a nice "in the middle" choice for my DD. Saxon was "Why do I have to keep learning what I already know" because she felt like they never did anything new-the tight spiral had her focused on the repetition. I never tried MUS, but I suspect that after about a month of addition, she'd be ready to throw the book at me!

 

Singapore works well for her because it's rarely more than a week or two on a topic, and then you've got a new topic. And when it comes back (outside of reviews/tests), it's got an extra level added. Maybe last time you went to 100, and now you're going to 1000. Or last time you did 2, 5, and 10, and now you're adding 3, 4, and 6. The IP and CWP help because they let her practice the skills, but at a higher level.

 

I suspect her views might be different if she didn't grasp concepts quickly and easily, and if she needed the repetition to learn the concept. But in DD's case, she gets the concept and is able to make the conceptual leaps Singapore asks easily-and she gets the practice through the word problems and more involved problems.

 

I think it also makes a difference that Saxon was focused more on manipulation, and my DD is visual, not tactile. Singapore plays to that strength. It might be that she'd get along well with a spiral program if it looked like Singapore, with lots of pictures, and encouraged visual problem solving.

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Thanks, everyone. These are good comments. Here's our situation. With a few short-lived forays into other math curricula, we used Horizons through elementary to fairly good effect--better with my more mathy kids, but they all get it. It's spiral, but they do have a pretty big amount of practice with new concepts combined with smaller reviews of old concepts.

 

However, the more I see about mastery, the more I wonder if Math Mammoth (MM) might be a good option for my upcoming 1st grader. My 11-year-old just does mental math intuitively even though he's never learned it formally but none of the other kids can just run large numbers in their heads. I am wondering if the benefit of an easy-to-use Asian style program might be good, but I also have been there, done that with switching programs around, so I don't want to switch from Horizons unless I'm pretty confident we'll stick with it. I'd consider it for my 3rd grader too, but the sequence is considerably different than Horizon, so she'd have to go further back to be sure she didn't miss anything.

 

I keep looking at Singapore, but with 5 children and a part-time job, I just don't think I have time to figure it out. Right Start looks neat too, but we just can't afford it, and it looks complicated to implement as well. We do complicated writing (IEW) and lots of other neat stuff. I want math to be simple and effective. All that said, we just started using Life of Fred, and we're all delighted with it.

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