Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Review of Saxon Math

I made a huge change in our homeschool about a month into our current school year; I completely changed our math curriculum. This is a scary thing to do and I know this because I've done it before.

We have used Math-U-See from the start but we did dapple with a couple of other programs along the way. I think MUS is wonderful and I know it works well for many students. (If I had to do over again I'm sure I would still use it in the early years.)

Tyler is a child who hates math with a passion but he can do the work just fine. I worried it was the program and perhaps a different approach would work for him. I switched him over to Saxon first. 

Tyler disliked watching the DVD lessons in MUS, so Saxon was a hit right off with him. He went a whole month not saying a word about hating math after switching to Saxon. Then one day he remembered he was suppose to hate math and started saying that again, but this time I didn't believe him. He wasn't convincing enough! ; )

Tyler sees math as a challenge and he gladly accepts the challenge and expects to win every time. He usually does! I put him in Saxon 5/4 since the MUS scope and sequence is very different from other programs and I knew he would have some gaps to fill. Saxon 5/4 started off easy for him but we have found gaps and I'm glad we started in this level. 

To determine where he needed to start in the 5/4 level, I had him take the lesson test. One test a day until he ran into problems. I then had him do a couple of lessons that we discovered he needed to do and then he jumped ahead to where he needed to be in the book. I think he started around lesson twenty-something.

Caleb became very interested in Saxon once Tyler started using it. I was extremely worried about Caleb in math and knew he wouldn't be ready for Algebra I by ninth grade even working through the summer. He just couldn't seem to get ahead in MUS. He was struggling with the explanations and not mastering any of the lessons. I was having to reteach the review worksheets each week too. He just kept getting farther behind.

I happened to purchase an old Saxon Pre-Algebra book because I was curious and the price was right. I immediately saw that Caleb could start that book that day and not struggle as much as he had been. We had thought he was "behind" in math for years and it turned out we were just using the wrong approach to math and he was testing poorly in math.

I handed this book to Caleb and asked him to look at it and tell me what he thought. It wasn't very long before I could see him smiling! He knew he could do that book! After a little research online, I ordered him the Saxon 8/7 book. I told him once he finished this book he would be ready for Algebra I. 

Caleb will still be doing math over summer break, but if we had stuck with MUS he would have been doing the Pre-Algebra book instead of Algebra I next fall.

Caleb was much inspired realizing that he wasn't really years behind in math like we thought. He is seeing success at almost every lesson now and this is boosting his confidence in math. He is actively working hard and learning instead of just trying to get the lesson done and thinking he will never understand math.

I avoided Saxon because I was told that is was too spiral, too procedural and not conceptual, and that it has too many practice problems. Honestly, this book teaches the conceptual and Caleb understood it better than MUS. This was the main reason I avoided Saxon! I was rather disappointed in myself afterwards for not taking a better look at the program earlier. I disagree with the program being too spiral or incremental. (You haven't seen incremental until you've looked at Math Mammoth!) Of course, if you have a child who can do one lesson and remember how to do it forever afterwards, then Saxon isn't for that child. There is lots of review in each lesson.

I do agree that there are too many problems! Caleb would need to spend two hours per day on math to complete a lesson. You need to complete a lesson a day to complete a level in a year. We had to make some changes to make Saxon work time wise. In my research, it seemed nine out of ten Saxon users said to do every single problem for the program to work. The company clearly states to do EVERY problem for the program to work. If we did this we would have to take two days to do a lesson which would result in taking two years to do a book. This is unreasonable. I also think it's unreasonable for a child in 1-8 grades to be doing math for an hour or more a day. This is my only complaint for the program!

This is a big complaint too! I've talked to a few other homeschooler about our switch to Saxon and many said they used that program too, but it was taking all day to do math. This is why I wouldn't use this program in the early years (I'm assuming the work load is set up the same as the levels we are currently doing). This is also a complaint for most math programs (except Life of Fred) so my advice is just do the amount of problems per lesson that your child needs.

Caleb spends 45 minutes on Saxon each day and Tyler spends 35 minutes. We have chosen to do half the mixed practice problems for Tyler. Caleb rarely gets half of the problems done. We also does either the Mental Math or the Fact Practice but not both each day.

If I start to see problems (lessons not mastered) we spend two days on a lesson to complete all the problems. There is a test after every 5 lessons and we use these for review to see if we need to spend more time on certain lessons.

I really just wanted to let you know how math was going for us this year. I've been very pleased with Saxon and we are looking forward to using it again next year.


  1. Thanks for this thorough review, Cassie. It is really helpful. I think some kids just get lost in the concepts in more "conceptual" programs and need things laid out straightforwardly, in a linear way. My older son had exactly zero patience with Life of Fred, for instance. He just wanted some straightforward instructions, then problems to do -- cut the nonsense! My younger son loved Fred, and he did actually learn quite a bit, but he could never do the "Your Turn to Play" independently, which bothered me. He does MEP well, and reasonably independently, though he tends to get frustrated with the puzzle/problem-solving/math-reasoning aspect of it -- which actually is its greatest strength, I think, but over the long haul we need math people will actually *do.* My youngest daughter just zoned out during Fred time, but does really well with MEP. I'm going to give her at least one more year in it (she'll be a 6th grader), then see where we are. But I am thinking Saxon is a very viable choice for next year.

    My other thought is Teaching Textbooks, which appeals to me in a way -- we've used them before, and based on our experience, what I'd do if I used them again would be this:

    7th: Pre-Algebra
    8th: Alg 1
    9th: Alg 2

    These two years in TT would basically constitute one big Alg 1 year.

    10th: Geometry
    11th: College Algebra (aaaaand this would be Algebra 2, basically)
    12th: Trig or whatever

    I'd probably try to slot people into College Algebra anyway, but I'd sure like to think that I didn't *have* to, to cover Algebra 2 . . . Therein lies the great appeal of Saxon. :)

    Anyway, again, thanks for the review. Lovely blog!

    1. Your welcome! And thanks for the compliment!
      We have LOF and my youngest reads them but I don't think he is getting any math from it. It says he likes the story. He does it independent because I dislike the story. A local homeschool mom buys them from me when we are done and because of that I don't mind buying them even though I don't think any math is happening. My oldest couldn't make heads or tails out of them!


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