Hi Folks,

In the interest of sharing BTDT information, I'm starting this thread to provide parents with an amalgamated discussion of elementary level math curricula for our children. There are several old posts on the archive about Singapore, Life of Fred, Beast Academy, IXL, Dreambox, Redbird/EPGY, etc, so please do dig there if you need content.

My DS6 has been exposed to a variety of curricula, with different results. Here is our experience to date.

Singapore: 8/10.

We used the international standards edition texts for kindergarten and grade 1 math when we home schooled, exclusively. The method is mastery-based and provides limited spiraling, which is beneficial for a child who learns concepts quickly. We completed the books orally, and found they could be digested in a short period of time when DS was highly motivated to complete the work. For instance, we did the full KG book in about an hour (DS would have been early 3 then), and the grade 1 book in a weekend when he was late 4.

I supplemented the grade 1 book with the "Challenging Word Problems 1" text, and found DS only need to do one in five or one in ten questions to sufficiently master the topics.

Overall, the method lacks a proof basis, but does instruct well in number sense and foster good math intuition. DS has been enthusiastic about the curriculum and has been the one to drive the quick completion of the books, so I'd say it was well-received. The curriculum is inexpensive, evidence-based, and child-friendly; a good choice for early years. Reading prompts are limited, and so a child should be able to work independently at a grade 1 reading level easily.

Redbird/EPGY: 2/10.

I am highly unimpressed at this service, which is required for at-home practice at DS' school. The pacing is slow and pedantic, the interface is clumsy, and there isn't a clear structure in the teaching arc. I'd heard positive reviews of the EPGY math subscription before it was purchased by Redbird, but the new product seems poorly calibrated to a gifted learner. My DS is also resistant to computer-based math programs, because he finds the glare of the screen and clicking distracting. There are generally too many problems in a set for a given topic; the pacing needs to be about 4-5 times faster, and you should be able to select topics at will based on interest.

IXL: 5/10.

Again, this is (another) online practice program used by DS' school to build fluency and automaticity in basic calculations. The benefit of IXL over Redbird/EPGY is the ability to access a hyperlinked list of the scope and sequence of the curriculum, as well as the option to click through to higher grade levels at will if a given topic at grade level is too easy.

However, the program suffers from a challenge common to many online programs in that the amount of practice required for any given topic is excessive for a gifted student. As well, if you make a mistake, you'll be given 5-10 "corrective" problems to reinforce proper mechanics, which is overkill. It generally takes DS 2-3 minutes to complete a topic, and he is reasonably open to doing this, but the program isn't intrinsically motivating or exciting.

For $10, flash cards for basic math facts would achieve the same purpose at a fraction of the cost, and in a way that allows the child to pace "drills" appropriately. I see this program as an extremely time-limited solution to drills for families where parents can't spare 15 minutes of practice a few times a week. I'm skeptical that this program would be appropriate for a child on this site much older than my DS (6).

Beast Academy: 10/10.

Yes, I did give Beast Academy a 10/10 rating. For this stage of my DS' math "career", Beast Academy is an ideal fit. That's saying a lot, because we were quite satisfied with Singapore!

DS finds the graphic novel presentation of the topics lively and engaging, and loves reading the text book for pleasure. He will often revisit different topics in the text at bedtime several times, and this is cementing the concepts in a way that is motivating and delightful for him. I've heard "I love math" so many times since buying Beast Academy that I've lost count. The books are easily accessible to an independent grade-level reader.

The problem sets are challenging without belabouring the topics. Each problem set has a few more difficult problems, which require more creative problem solving skills than traditional algorithmic math curricula. A child who picks up topics quickly could easily do half the problems and skip to the challenges and not miss anything, but the problems are structured in such an engaging way as to feel like fun puzzles. In DS' case, he doesn't like to skip questions. What's more, DS regularly asks to do extra math outside his assigned work because he finds it so motivating and rewarding to crack the hard problems.

Perhaps one of the benefits I most appreciate about the method is its ability to force children out of their comfort zone early as problem solvers. (Singapore is probably the next best option, if you include the Challenging Word Problem books in your repertoire.) It's not uncommon for DS to attempt a difficult question, express a frustrated "hmm, this is hard", and soldier through after initial discouragement. He's learning persistence and self-reliance, and the intrinsic reward of making something that was formerly "hard" into an "easy" concept is fueling an organic love of math. To me, that is just as valuable as the well-structured approach to simple math laid out in the books.

For pacing, I think it really depends on the child. DS seems to be naturally math-minded, but it's not like he's deriving the binomial theorem or doing anything prodigious. We've taken a really step-wise approach to math instruction, with quantum DS-led leaps followed by long rests using Singapore in the past. Each Beast Academy grade level is divided into four sets of text/comics and practice books. We started at book 2A after a nearly year-and-a-half reprieve from finishing Singapore 1, and DS has been able to complete a chapter in about 2 hours. I set a target of about 15 minutes of math per day, with DS free to advocate for more if he is really enjoying himself.

Written output requirements are low. With 12 chapters per "year", you could probably run through 2-3 grade levels in a year without breaking a sweat (or the bank!), or take a really leisurely time playing at one grade level per year. With the Beast Academy release schedule as it is, I'm planning to have DS progress through grade 2 as soon as the books are released, but we may start doing the grade 3 books in parallel, as the topics aren't beyond reach and he adores his math "play".

The books are expensive relative to competitors--and shipping out of the US effectively doubles the cost--but I contend that it is money well spent.

Visually, I've heard critiques that the graphic novel format can be overwhelming, and I can see how that would be a concern for some students. The pages are busy, and the math content is integrated seamlessly into the pictures. If your child doesn't like a comic narrative, or finds the format visually distracting, you might be able to just read the texts yourself, offer quick instruction, and use the black and white workbooks for practice, as they're quite bare-bones.

Our next steps

For the foreseeable future, I plan to have DS continue through the Beast Academy series. We'll continue to work on automaticity in calculations with home-made index cards and mental math games; I don't see a need for external subscriptions. We may try the Beast Academy Online program, depending on how the format looks. Should DS still be warm to the more challenging structure in the Beast Academy Series, I'm going to have him progress to the AoPS programs next. I'm pleased with the products we've used, and I see good value for my money.

That's all from this member of the peanut gallery. I invite you all to share your feedback on the methods you've tried.

Last edited by aquinas; 01/30/18 09:41 AM. Reason: Downgraded EPGY from a 3 to a 2 after some thought