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More on JUMP Math

imageWhy is this post called “MORE on JUMP Math?”  Because it's actually Part 2 of a screed on textbooks and math/science learning.  You may or may not be interested in reading Part 1, here.

So I am contemplating jumping ship on Miquon… well, okay, I actually went out today to buy the first two books in the JUMP Math series.

First: why I am not loving Miquon. Then, what I like (and dislike) about JUMP. EDITED TO ADD: Finally, a section about why I chose JUMP!

But before I go any further, be aware that there are TWO series of books called JUMP Math, put out by the same people. Confused yet? In both cases, JUMP stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies.

imageAt the top of the post is the real JUMP workbook. There’s a “lite” version called JUMP at home that might make a good curriculum supplement, but doesn’t contain the full program. Here’s what those books look like:

I was pretty committed to Miquon at the end of the year, and I still really like the thinking behind it. The idea of letting kids discover math through manipulatives and open-ended worksheets is very, VERY cool.

But with my aspy tendencies, its open-ended, free-for-all approach is also driving me a little nuts, despite having adjusted the way we approach it to make it more exciting for Naomi. I know from people who have used it that there are not gaps in its curriculum, and I still admire the way it introduces topics. But there are a lot of logical jumps that, it stands to reason, a child may or may not make on her own.

In fact, the creator of JUMP, John Mighton, has written – and now I’ve lost the link! – something to the effect that (please don’t think I’m quoting here; sure wish I had that link!) methods where the child “discovers” math (like Miquon and presumably Montessori) don’t work well for most kids, particularly in a classroom.

[p.s.  Ds16 just proofread this paragraph and suggested/implied that it is the most poorly written thing he has ever written.  I said I wasn’t going to change it – but I just did, a little.]

I think the gist of what he was saying is that some children will make discoveries, and this method may well be organic and low-pressure, but it’s not rigourous enough to ensure that “lowest-common-denominator” kids will excel.

Which does raises the question of whether the JUMP program panders to the lowest common denominator. This is a question I haven’t quite settled for myself, because Naomi seems fairly adept in math, and enjoys it very much – so we don’t have a “problem child,” I think we just have a nice, average, happy homeschool kid.

The JUMP workbooks are fairly sparse, black and white, and very, very straightforward. Each one builds carefully on the last until the kids are, in fairly short order, doing fairly complex math.

One thing I like about what I’ve seen so far (two short lessons!) is that it doesn’t assume kids using the first workbook can write. This has been a problem with Miquon – she can do the math, but sometimes, her writing is too illegible to record what she’s discovered.

In the first book, JUMP has the kids trace numerals, circle quantities, draw lines.

Actually, if I were to sum up this program in three words, I’d say they were: MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS.

The books don’t assume that kids read well, write well, or know which numbers are more or less. Every step is made explicit, which would probably drive some teachers crazy. But I can see how kids would love it and enjoy the praise they get for mastery of each step in turn.

The books and teachers’ materials – of which there are plenty; almost TOO much! – also introduce “math tricks,” which can be controversial. Counting on to add, for example, is often sneered at as a crutch when (with enough practice) kids should just somehow look at numbers and KNOW how they go together. In The Myth of Ability, Mighton teaches multiplication as a finger-counting trick – hold up one finger as you recite each multiple (“3, 6, 9, 12” – if you’re holding up four fingers, you’ve reached 3 x 4).

In the Myth of Ability, he defends the “tricks” and mechanical methods saying that even high-level math is often about learning technique first and only later absorbing the MEANING behind the technique. I can attest to this; I have never been a “natural” at math but have mastered it to a reasonably high level simply by doing it over and over and over.

(I had one mandatory university Calculus credit – so I took it over the summer so it would be highly condensed. Every single #$!^ day, I lived and breathed and ate and slept and dreamed calculus – and emerged with a very easy A.)

In any event, I have bought the books (Level 1 is divided into two workbooks – 1.1 and 1.2) and we’ve started using them. I have downloaded and printed the first set of many lesson plans. So I will read through it and muddle through it and try to make sense of it all.

One not-great thing about these workbooks: because of the thick spine, it’s hard to write on the reverse of the forward-facing pages. The pages are not perforated. So, just as I am doing with Explode the Code, I will tear out a couple of pages at a time as Naomi Rivka is ready for them. That way, she’s also not overwhelmed by seeing an ENTIRE book.

(in Explode the Code, we are now up to Page 59 of 98 – WAY more than halfway done!)

Actually, the ENTIRE book is the other not-great thing. Book 1.1 is a VERY big math workbook if you consider that it covers only half of the Grade 1 curriculum (though at least, at $10, it’s affordable!). The stages of teaching every single aspect of math are so very, VERY detailed that if you do every step – and Mighton seems pretty big on doing every step – at the rate of 4 workbook pages a week, it will take us the better part of the next year just getting through it.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not in a hurry, BUT… this seems like an awfully long time for some awfully rudimentary math operations, most of which she already understands and performs intuitively. I don’t want to race through the books… but I have no idea how a classroom teacher manages to smush in all this material over the course of a single year. :-o

ADDENDUM: Why I chose JUMP!

One parent mentioned in the comments section that I hadn' t really mentioned why I chose this program, just what I like and dislike about it. Fair enough! And my reply was too long for the comments section, so here it is....

That ties in a bit with my discussion of the Myth of Success in a previous post. I like the "make no assumptions" approach. He doesn't assume kids can count to 20, and even if kids can count by rote, he doesn't assume that they know what that MEANS, ie which numbers mean MORE or LESS than other numbers.

It seems heartbreakingly tedious to tear every assumption down into a dozen steps, and I can see how it might drive some parents crazy. But if you see it as laying a strong foundation, it becomes a very impressive endeavour. There is no twaddle and no busywork - there aren't 1000 problems on each page; at the Grade 1 level, there are maybe three or four problems on each page, but they are all well-thought-out and formative.

I have looked into a lot of math programs and heard from many homeschoolers. I haven't loved most of the mainstream options; that's why I went with Miquon.

Last week when I was at the bookstore, I picked up a copy of JUMP at home and was very impressed - what I saw there was clearly very different from what I'd seen elsewhere. Visit their site to see samples of all the levels.

I have to admit, one reason I became interested in JUMP is that it's a local product. Conceived at University of Toronto, my alma mater, and printed right here. The company putting it out are actually a non-profit organization that started out as just a bunch of volunteer math tutors. (The guy who started the program was a math failure until adulthood and is also a local playwright who appeared in the movie Good Will Hunting.)

I admire that story much better than I like the idea of some Big Publisher deciding to release a new edition of some 40-year-old text just so they can bill schools $50 or $100 for it. At $10 a book (2 books per year), this program is still affordable.

Ironically, perhaps, it also meets all Ontario curriculum guidelines, despite my sneer about curriculum-based programs. :-)

Hope this helps - maybe it should have gone into the post itself!! (and now it has)

So these are just my random disjointed thoughts after a week of pondering. Please join the discussion:

What works for you, math-wise? (or what doesn’t, or didn’t, so you ditched it?)

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