Both as a part of Math Month and as an HEAV blogger, I was delighted to have an opportunity to interview Carlita Boyles, fellow Virginia Homeschool mom (about to graduate her youngest!) and creator of Math on the Level – the curriculum that has had the biggest impact on how we think about math instruction around here!
Math on the Level
Math on the Level is a truly unique math program. Instruction is not age-level based but based on a student’s maturation level. Instead of dividing math into grade-levels, it divides all of arithmetic learning into four branches:
- Money and Decimals
- Geometry and Measurement
The curriculum includes a book for each branch, complete with teaching strategies and practice exercises. Also included is a complete record-keeping system and other support resources. You can get a peek inside the curriculum here.
What I’m most looking forward to sharing with you here, however, is what I learned about Carlita and the work she did developing Math on the Level. This interview was informative, but it was also especially encouraging to hear the long-view perspective of an almost-veteran homeschool mom!
Also, don’t miss your opportunity at the end of the post to win one of 3 $15 coupons to use towards Math on the Level products or services!
1. Tell us a little about yourself as a home educator. What ages are your children currently? When did you begin homeschooling? What are some of the things that drew you to choose homeschooling for your family?
I began officially homeschooling in 1998, when my oldest was almost 5 and my youngest just a few months old. I can’t remember when I first learned about homeschooling, but even before I was married, I planned to homeschool my future children for the first few years, to “give them a good foundation.” Having been a teacher for many years, I did not want my little ones in the public school environment when they started out – but I had no intention of homeschooling past 3rd, or possibly 6th grade.
Once I started having children, I stopped working for the public school system and began enjoying motherhood. I think homeschooling actually begins at birth, and I loved reading to my little ones, playing with them, and helping them discover their world.
When we began homeschooling kindergarten under a Christian school’s homeschool umbrella program, I had my first real exposure to older homeschooled children. The more we were around the tweens and teens, the more astounded I was at their politeness, their kindness to my little ones, and their ease of conversing with adults.
My last teaching experience had been in an excellent public school 6th grade class, and I loved my students, but these homeschooled students had attitudes that were so respectful, and they were such delightful young people that I kept thinking, “I want my children to grow up like these children!” Through the years I have discovered many more benefits of homeschooling, and my reasons for homeschooling all the way through high school have deepened and expanded, but initially, I just wanted children who were as nice as those older homeschooled kids!
God is good, and He allowed me to have children who are every bit as nice as those were (from a very biased mom’s perspective). I have homeschooled all three of my children from preschool through high school. My oldest is 23 and after college graduation went straight into a full-time job that she enjoys. My second daughter is 21 and was married last summer to a wonderful young man. She has one more semester of college and is majoring in Accounting. My son is 18 and in his last semester of high school, so I’m just about done with the journey of homeschooling. I am so thankful for my incredible, supportive husband and for the privilege of being a homeschooling mom.
2. Did you begin homeschooling with a developmental math philosophy as in Math on the Level, or did you begin with more traditional textbooks (or some other approach)?
Actually, I thought homeschooling was just bringing school home. As a matter of fact, on the first day of school, I tried to get my poor sweet little girls, aged 3 and 4, to call me “Mrs. Boyles” because we were in school! They were so confused. I dropped that right away, but for a while, I still tried to use traditional textbook approaches.
I found, though, that I was able to teach much more effectively if I just taught what they were ready to learn. I was greatly influenced by a variety of educators, including Ruth Beechick, Charlotte Mason, and the Bluedorns.
One of my girls was very advanced in reading and writing, and the other was very advanced in math, so I wanted to provide opportunities for both of them to learn as much as they could in their areas of strength. I had a strong background in different teaching approaches from my Special Education background, but now I started to read a lot about different homeschool teaching approaches. After experimenting a bit, I found that since my girls were so different in their skills and their learning styles, I needed to be rather eclectic in my approach instead of trying to force them both into the same mold.
I also discovered that whereas in public school I had to do a lot of work to bring cooking and sewing and “real-life” experiences into the classroom, at home it was easy to teach academic skills while we were going through our day. My teaching approach moved more and more into unit studies, lots of reading aloud and discussions, and using as many opportunities as I could find to teach through the context of daily life. I used textbooks more as resources than for normal instruction.
Although I loved using unit studies, I found it frustrating that most of them included all subject areas except math. It seemed to me that math ought to be taught in context, so I started looking for ways to teach math in the unit studies.
I also modified a technique I had used in my Special Education classrooms so that I had my girls review their math concepts with 5 problems each day. I found that mixing up the review, but customizing it to each girl’s needs, was much more effective than using a page in a textbook. I didn’t start out intending to create a new way of teaching math; I just gradually developed an approach that worked really well for me
3. What lead you to develop Math on the Level as a curriculum? Did you originally plan to market it to other homeschoolers?
I was a part of a homeschool umbrella group, and since I have a background in Special Education, I was sometimes called on to work with other families or do presentations at our group meetings. Math was consistently an area of frustration for homeschooling moms.
I tried to encourage them to let go of grade level expectations when they weren’t appropriate (when the child needed to go faster or slower, for example), but most were afraid to move away from the math books. After one presentation, a group of moms came up to me and asked if I would be willing to write a math curriculum because they wanted to teach like I taught, but they were afraid to leave the structure of a textbook for fear they would miss something. My husband and I discussed it and prayed about it, and decided to give it a try.
He is an electrical engineer, and very quickly took over the graphics, design, and editing of the curriculum. We found that our skills blended really well. Even then, if I had known how much work it would be to write Math on the Level, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to start it. God gave us what we needed as we needed it, and looking back, I’m constantly in awe of how He guided and provided.
I also don’t think it occurred to me that we would eventually have to market the curriculum. In the back of my mind, I knew we were writing it to share with others, but I was so focused on getting it written that I didn’t really think past that. Marketing has been a stretch for me, but I’ve had some amazing experiences and gotten to know so many wonderful people!
4. Once students have finished working through Math on the Level, what do you consider an appropriate next step in math study?
We get this question a lot, and it’s very difficult because Math on the Level is such an individualized approach to math. We have some people who use Math on the Level because their children are struggling and they want to slow things down and put more emphasis on real-life. We have others who use it because their children are advanced in math and want to be able to go quickly through the concepts without being hindered with unnecessary busywork. Still others want their children to learn math in context, so that it makes sense and they know how to use what they learn when they encounter math in life.
We have unschoolers using Math on the Level and Classical Educators using Math on the Level and everything in between. When we look at algebra, then, the next step really depends on the interests, strengths and learning style of each student.
5. Tell us some about the brand new 5-A-Day Online Program! How did you decide to create that product? Tell us a bit about the development process. What advantages does this offer to families?
We are so excited about the new 5-A-Day Online service! One feature of Math on the Level has always been our daily 5-A-Day review that allows every concept learned to be reviewed, but reviewed at the child’s pace so that concepts they find easy are reviewed less frequently and newer or more difficult concepts are reviewed more often. Our Scheduling Spreadsheets allow parents to easily modify the review schedule of each concept and see what problems are to be reviewed each day. Up until now, however, the parent had to copy problems from the back of the Teaching Guide onto the child’s 5-A-Day paper.
Almost from its introduction, we have had feedback that parents would prefer some other way of producing the 5-A-Day papers, but that required development skills that neither John nor I had. John developed a spreadsheet that automates and greatly simplifies the scheduling of 5-A-Days, but it was too big a job for a spreadsheet to create the actual 5-A-Day papers. Therefore, John developed a software requirements specification for an online service which would do just that.
It took some time before we were able to free up funds and locate someone that we trusted to work with us. Last year, God provided both the funds and an amazing young man with exactly the right skills to develop our 5-A-Day Online program.
So now we finally have a great new option! The new 5-A-Day Online service allows parents to print the 5-A-Day papers by entering concepts to be reviewed onto a chart on the 5-A-Day Quick Print page. We also modified the spreadsheet, so the child’s “Today’s 5-A-Days” can be imported by a single operation. From there, parents can also generate practice worksheets if they want to have more problems available when teaching a new concept. We worked hard to make it complete and easy to use.
Another exciting aspect of the 5-A-Day Online is that parents can use this even with children who are using a different math curriculum. For students who are learning well with a textbook approach but who are overwhelmed with the daily practice, or for parents who want to take advantage of learning over time (which research is showing to be more effective), the 5-A-Day Online allows parents to create daily 5-A-Day review papers to be used instead of the daily assignments in other math books. The 5-A-Day Online service is available for $5 per month or $35 per year for the entire family.
6. I’m excited that Math on the Level will be in the Vendor Hall at the HEAV Convention this year. What can visitors look forward to seeing at your booth?
One of my favorite parts of a convention is meeting people. For anyone who already owns and uses Math on the Level, we would love to have them stop by, chat with us, and sign our Autograph Book! It’s so much fun to hear the math stories and adventures of families who are enjoying our books!
For those who are interested in learning more about Math on the Level, we will have places available to sit and look through the curriculum. We will also have computers available to demonstrate the Scheduling Spreadsheets and the Online 5-A-Day programs.
You will also have a chance to meet my talented and creative son, who is the reason we will be at HEAV this year. When we first developed Math on the Level, we started attending homeschool conventions across the country, and of course, our children came with us. You may not know it, but it’s not unusual for little ones to be parked under the tables in a convention hall. We kept ours supplied with pillows, books and toys for when the kids needed a break.
It was a valuable experience, but once they got into high school, it became really hard on them to pull them away from all the end-of-the-year activities, as our travel kept us away from home between March and June. We tried a year or two where I did most of the travel on my own, flying to various conventions and sometimes taking one of the children with me, but I found out pretty quickly that I couldn’t keep up with convention travel and still do a good job of homeschooling my own children.
So we decided to stop almost all convention travel, and for the last few years, I have only attended a few conventions where I was invited to be a major speaker. My son, however, decided that he really wanted to attend one more convention before he graduated, and since HEAV fit into our schedule and he has fond memories of attending HEAV in the past, we chose to attend HEAV this year. He’s actually looking forward to talking about Math on the Level and maybe even handing out a few brochures! (If anyone remembers him from years ago when he would hand out our brochures, let me warn you that he’s a lot taller than he used to be!)
You can find out more about Math on the Level here. Three winners of the giveaway will each revieve a $15 coupons for use with any Math on the Level products or services. You could use it towards …
- $15 off the purchase price of the complete Math on the Level curriculum
- $15 off the support package if you purchased a used copy of Math on the Level
- One of the “9s Down” Math Facts Sets
- 3 months of access to the 5-A-Day Online Essentials, or $15 off an annual subscription