Spiral vs Mastery.
Saxon Math vs Horizons vs Singapore vs Math-U-See…
And so many more! If you have homeschooled or even considered it you’ve probably heard various people talking about any or all of the various math styles and curriculums.
But knowing a brand has a good reputation and understanding what to expect throughout a homeschool year or career are two very different things!! I’ve heard a lot of questions about this lately, so let’s spend a little time on getting this figured out.
Most of what you need to know hinges on what method the curriculum teaches. There are two basic schools of thought in math curricula.
Today we’ll look at the differences and why they matter by taking a look at:
A Note: It’s important to note that BOTH concepts aim for general mastery of all covered math concepts. Just because people use the term “mastery” and phrase it as “spiral VS mastery” does not mean your kid won’t “master” math concepts if they use a spiral curriculum! The spiral method is not going to leave your kid hanging!
Now, the definitions.
Spiral Method: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”
The spiral method focuses on the introduction of concepts in small, bite-size chunks. This is followed by continual review of the skills. Meanwhile, new information is introduced in similarly small pieces. Picture a penny in one of those science museum centripetal force exhibits. It starts slow and wide and gets faster and faster as it hits the sides of the container until it’s going very fast at the bottom.
With a spiral method your child gains math momentum as they hit concepts over and over and deepen their knowledge.
Mastery Method: “Keep at it till you’ve got it.”
The mastery method approaches concepts in a more sequential way. A student may work on one concept exclusively for days or weeks before proceeding. They’ll work on many similar problems and take tests to see if they have “mastered” the concept, then move on to the next.
Spiral vs Mastery continues to be a debate because there are good curriculums under each category. Obviously, I believe strongly in Saxon math, a spiral curriculum. One of the main reasons is that I believe the spiral method builds a strong foundation that isn’t easily forgotten. When concepts are repeatedly re-visited over the course of a year or years, it becomes deeply ingrained in the brain. It also minimizes gaps in learning.
However, those who find a lot of problems to be time-consuming or frustrating may balk at the number of problems that must be done to ensure repeated exposure.
Mastery method learning, however, is often popular with those who feel that constant repetition will be boring over time. Those who like to consider a concept completed (like checking a box) will like mastery-method math.
However, there are some who may not take to the frequent tests that help gauge mastery.
As with so many things in homeschooling, what’s right will be a combination of what helps your child learn, what a parent can handle teaching, and what supports a family’s lifestyle and their academic goals for their kids. Perhaps that’s a spiral method, with its deep foundation and slowly-over-time style. Or perhaps its mastery, with long periods of time devoted to one concept. You’ll figure it out, and hopefully, this Spiral vs Mastery primer will help.
Have more questions about spiral vs mastery? Drop them in the comments below!
Talk to you soon,
Nicole the Math Lady
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