Living Math is a curriculum written by Julie Brennan, a professional CPA, a mom of four, and an obvious math lover. If you have heard of living math, you may think that this curriculum is full of hands-on games and puzzles with lots of living math books.
Actually it is more of a historical tour through time, looking at the mathematical developments of each period. Living books are the cornerstone of this curriculum although there are some puzzles and activities sprinkled among the readings.
For example, you study Thales, the Greek Mathematician who was fascinated by pyramids and then do a hands-on pyramid measuring activity. (But these activities are not enough for a thorough math curriculum. In addition to the historical perspective Julie offers, you will still need to add the study of math facts taught through a skills or games based learning option. From what I’ve read on the Living Math Yahoo Group, most families use Living Math as a supplement to their existing math programs and textbooks.) There is a deliberate focus on integrating math into other subjects, so Living Math often crosses over into art, history, and science.
You can purchase the electronic materials online via Paypal, and Julie sends you links where you can download all the PDF outlines and activity pages. The curriculum is broken into four $20 units which are offered at three levels – Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced.
This is the outline for the four chronological units available:
- Unit 1: Ancients and World Cultures
- Unit 2: The Alexandrians and Medieval Math
- Unit 3: Renaissance to Enlightenment
- Unit 4: The Modern Age of Mathematics
(Sometime in 2009 a second cycle is supposed to be released. )
For each ($20) unit, you get a series of eight loosely organized lessons with a plethora of reading selections. Julie believes in “strewing” resources to create a learning buffet. That tendency is evident in her outlines. There are so many reading choices that it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to know what is an essential book and which are supplementary books. It took me hours of poring over the book lists and studying Amazon.com to choose the best books. Because of the wealth of living books and emphasis on biographies, Living Math is a perfect fit for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. You can add the mathematicians to your timeline, use real world problems to recreate what they discovered, and document it in a math notebook .
The Living Math units are not “open and go” curriculum. There are no schedules or boxes to check. It is more of an outline. Specific pages or chapters in each suggested book are listed clearly but you will not find a day by day schedule. For a math-challenged mom who is totally new to this style of learning math, there is some advanced preparation. Personally, I have to read over the lesson and mark the resources that I have on hand, preview them, and then try to schedule them. I also discovered that many of the activities are much harder than I anticipated. These are problem solving activities, often not the clear-cut “right and wrong” types of math I did in school. For example, we built a tower from straws and tape. Some of the activities and books have no answer keys, so if you don’t solve the problem, it can be a bit frustrating. To cope with this ambiguity, I’ve learned to approach the activities more as a time of fun exploration rather than a problem to solve.
According to the lessons themselves, “the pacing of the course is completely up to you. Much of the material in each lesson plan can be covered in two weeks.” So estimating two weeks per lesson, a unit should last about 16 weeks. In my experience, I would agree that two weeks per lesson is about right.
So, to make it more concise, for $20 you are getting reading lists, teaching notes, and some activities/handouts that can be used to supplement your existing math curriculum for approximately 16 weeks. Living Math is not a complete math curriculum but a study of math history through the ages using living books (which you purchase or borrow on your own).
After using this material for about one semester, I do have some evaluations. If there were one or two unifying spines holding this curriculum together, I think Living Math would be more coherent. Because I don’t have the benefit of a strong math history foundation myself, I have to rely on the scattered chapters to do the teaching. In other words, I can’t draw up information from my own memory to teach about Pythagoras or Galileo. If the particular lesson relies on an out of print book that I don’t have, the lesson is weakened. Along those same lines, this curriculum works best for those who have access to a well stocked library. Purchasing all of the books listed is impossible, not just because of exorbitant cost but because many of the books are out of print.
Although I’ve shared some weaknesses in the program, I do strongly feel that for someone who does not understand the history of math (like me), Julie’s chronological outlines are immensely helpful as a starting point. So while we’re still using Unit 1, I have already purchased Unit 2 and plan to continue using her booklists and outlines.
If you are considering Living Math, I suggest you spend a few hours at The Living Math website. There is a wealth of free information that can point you in the right direction for your own studies. For example, the booklists for each level are free to download. With the booklists and an understanding of the philosophy, you could create your own math history unit. However, Julie’s outlines do relieve much of the planning burden. And if you’d like to read more about my own journey towards a more living approach to math, of which Living Math is part, visit Transitioning to Living Math. I also make some specific book recommendations there.
Written by Jimmie, Charlotte Mason flavored mom of one.