I received this question on Facebook this week, and I thought others might be interested in the answer. To the mom who submitted it: thanks for a good question, and for permission to post it! (Question has been lightly edited for clarity.)
My son is in 4th grade and I feel his strength is in math. For me, not so much. We started out in K with Singapore. By the end of 3rd grade, I switched to Math Mammoth. When he tested into Math Mammoth, he tested very well. I switched because I felt we were always behind, not realizing Singapore is like 1 whole year ahead. Also I thought buying all those books every year was adding up, and I was also looking for more independence on his part.
Fast forward to today, I love Math Mammoth’s scope and sequence and simple explanations, though at times I had to email her or use Singapore for further explanations. And I love her word problems because they build upon previous skills and not in a separate text like Singapore. The problem is I can’t quite discern when not to give him every problem. Also he is not doing too well on cumulative reviews. I didn’t have this problem with Singapore.
Lastly, I would love him to do Beast Academy, but I don’t feel I am equipped to make sure whatever Beast Academy doesn’t do, I must make sure he knows. Should I stick with Math Mammoth and if so what can I do to catch up? We are like 4 chapters behind right now. Should I go back to Singapore? Should I start Beast? I don’t want to hop around too much because I know math is sequential.
Since Math Mammoth sounds like it’s working well overall for you, I wouldn’t suggest changing it unless you feel that he’s truly not understanding the material. Singapore and Beast Academy are great programs, but so is Math Mammoth. You’re raising some really important issues about Math Mammoth, though, so let’s take them one at a time.
Problem 1: Not doing well on Math Mammoth cumulative reviews.
First, I’d encourage you to analyze the mistakes that your son’s making on the cumulative reviews. Are they all in one topic (for example, all fractions), or are they across all topics? Do the errors show a fundamental lack of understanding, or are they simple computation mistakes (or careless mistakes)? Do you feel he’s focused and doing his best when he’s working on the cumulative reviews?
Then, create an action plan based on your error analysis.
- If he’s having trouble with just one topic, go back and review that topic.
- If he’s making careless mistakes, think about what might help him focus better. Doing math at a different time of day? Using a timer? Providing a reward for better performance?
- If he’s making simple computation mistakes, do some math fact practice or computation drill to shore up those skills.
Problem 2: How many problems to assign in Math Mammoth?
This is a real challenge with Math Mammoth, since there’s no teacher’s guide or pacing guide. Plus, there are a LOT of problems on most pages, and there is a LOT of practice for each topic. For many kids, it’s more than they need, but this varies depending on the kid. Another complication is that the author builds each topic step-by-step, so it’s important not to skip essential problems.
In general, I’d suggest skipping about a third of the plain-number practice problems. Try to cross out the problems at the middle-level of difficulty in each section.
Here’s a couple examples of what I’d cross out on some pages from Math Mammoth 4A. In this first one, I’d skip some of the easy conversions, but keep the operations with conversions at the bottom since they provide some important regrouping practice. In the second one, I’d just skip the middle section in each since the problems seem to build in difficulty from left to right across each box, and I’d want to make sure kids got a few easy ones to warm-up and then were able to do the harder ones.
Skip the puzzle corners unless your son really likes them. Keep the word problems, and keep any problems that immediately follow an explanation box because they usually are helping the child understand and work through the explanation.
Unfortunately, there’s no one answer, and it takes a little trial and error. I personally struggle with it, too. I don’t want math to be boring drudgery, but I know how important practice is for helping kids become automatic and fluent with the basic skills.
Problem 3: Being behind in Math Mammoth.
Take a look at my post Do I Have to Finish the Math Curriculum? for some options for how to handle being behind in math. For Math Mammoth 4, some specific topics that you can probably skip without problems are: the last section of the long division chapter (from averages to the end); the section on time and temperature; the geometry chapter. The core work on multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals is much more important.