At New Park Street Christian School, I often use curriculums developed by individuals out of frustration with what was available in the curriculum world. These curriculums were not developed by committees. Instead, through hard work and sacrifice, the authors were able to provide a product designed to better assist students in the learning of the particular subject.
Saxon math is one of those curriculums developed with much work and devotion.
What makes Saxon so different? There is no one part of the Saxon system that makes it or breaks it. It is the system as a whole that works together to consistently create confident and skilled math students with few exceptions.
The student begins each lesson with mental math, where the student mentally solves 8-10 problems he tells his teachers the answers to. Next, the student reads from the book the new skill to be learned. From this reading, the student will have to explain to the teacher his understanding of the material while referencing the examples. Then once the student shows his teacher understanding, 8-12 practice problems are provided to show if the student has a good understanding of the new skill.
After the practice problems have shown the student has a good understanding of the new skill, there are 30 problems that review the previous skills learned. These 30 problems will include 2-4 problems from the day’s new lesson. For our purposes, if a student missed more than four problems the thirty problems had to be repeated. The tests occur usually every five lessons and cover all earlier learned skills up to the five previous lessons. Our students would have to repeat the previous five lessons if more than four of the twenty test questions were missed.
Way, way back in my twelfth year of teaching in the public schools, I was granted my request of beginning a multi-grade classroom in the large public school district I worked for at the time. This allowed me to teach a multi-grade class of fourth through sixth-grade students with special education students integrated into the class. Wanting to individualize the math program and not being convinced the math program the district was using was the best to individualize with, I found copies of two other math publishers in district storage. I spent the summer picking and choosing the best each book had to offer in teaching the different concepts of math to be taught that year for each grade. Then I created a checklist for the year for students to progress through.
Everything was charted out by concept, page and book. Reviews and tests were added. Each student would bring one of the three math books with their check-sheet that had what the student had to read from the book and prove to me he understood the concept. Then the student would perform practice problems on the new concept. Once it was shown the concept was understood, then problems from another book would be used to review past material learned. If a student did not pass the test over the material taught at 80% or better, then the previous lessons would be completed again.
I worked this way with my students, all 30 of them, for one year. Then towards the end of the year, a colleague heard what I was doing with the different textbooks. He asked if I heard about a math program called Saxon math. He heard it was similar to what I was doing, but with only one textbook.
Later, I left the multi-grade position to begin my own private school. That school was very different; individualized instruction, no lecture, integrated non-labeled special education, multi-grade, with basic Christianity taught. And Saxon Math was used in grades four through twelve. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our small private school of fourth through eighth-grade students would consistently take 12% to 18% of the awards given at the yearly regional math competition representing approximately 30,000 students in the Rocky Mountain region. Our last five years, the high school students earned regional awards for Algebra 1 and usually one other area of math. The school math ACT scores were an average of 26 or more for each of those years.
And no, we did not have attending the best and the brightest dwelling in the Valley of the Sun. We quickly had a wait list of families who had already been through the public and charter schools and felt their kids needed more. Kids who were not successful and who had parents desperate for help.
Though a lot of our success in math goes to the students’ hard work, the teachers’ persistence, the parent’s support, and the individualized daily instruction, Saxon math provided the keystone to our success.
Saxon Math was developed by John Saxon. He has been called the ‘George Patton’ of the math wars. Who knew there were math wars? He rejected the direction modern math was going. With $80,000 raised from savings, a mortgage, and other sources, he developed his first textbook, Algebra 1, in 1981. From there he developed math books from Calculus to fourth grade.
John Saxon developed his unique textbooks because he believed the new math programs of his time would greatly hurt American math education. In his unique books, he believed breaking instruction down into smaller parts would make the math concepts easier to understand.
The four reasons I like Saxon Math are:
1) It provides a great system of review of the previous skills learned. The present systems used in most schools of teach and move on is not nearly as effective.
2) The text is easy enough for most students to read and understand. From the lesson reading, my students have to prove to the teacher their understanding.
3) The mental math aspect supports the student’s basic skills and confidence in performing math.
4) The tests are close enough to each other to provide a good system of accountability for learning.
5) For the past twenty-nine years, Saxon math has been a great support in teaching my students from third through twelfth grades.
There are parts of Saxon I do not use. I have found over time that some sections only slowed down my students' math progress or I could better support my students using a different method. I will address those section exceptions in future blogs.
Saxon Math provides a sound and proven curriculum for the students of New Park Street Christian Academy, used with the individualized instructional methods, gives my students excellent opportunities to succeed in improving their math skills.
I am Tim Ihms, the founder, head master, instructor, book keeper, and part time custodian at New Park Street Christian Academy. The blogs on this page are written for the parents of New Park Street students and for those who may be interested in sending their child to the school some day.