On my homeschooling message board, The Well-Trained Mind forums, there are a number of posters whose emotional investments in curriculum seem to go a little too far. Curriculum authors’ first names are household words for them. They order books they’re nowhere near ready to use and post exclamation point-laden updates about the projected delivery date. Some of them have particular lasting passions, and others swoon for every new program that comes along. I’ve always thought it was kind of silly.
Don’t get me wrong – I do get excited about the materials we use, especially when we start something new. I enjoy researching curricula and browsing through samples. I may or may not have downloaded and read the sample chapters of Susan Wise Bauer’s brand new Writing With Skill series even though Alex won’t be ready to use it for another four years. But I’ve never gotten into a tizzy about a curriculum, and had it make my heart beat faster.
Friends, I have become ludicrously enamored with Beast Academy, a new elementary math program put out by Art of Problem Solving. AoPS publishes the math books you use when your high schooler competes in math contests and hopes to go to MIT. Their reputation is just amazing. And now they’re coming out with a program for Alex’s age! Can you blame me for being excited?
Here’s what I know about Beast Academy: almost nothing. There are only a few skimpy sample pages on the webpage. I know that the text will be in the form of a comic book that tells the story of a group of “math beasts” exploring concepts and solving challenges. Then there’s a workbook with problems and exercises. The design (again, from the tiny bit I’ve seen) looks really inviting. Alex responds so well to narrative in math! A story-and-comic-based math textbook seems tailor made for her.
The first book they’re publishing is for 3rd grade, which works well for us because Alex is finishing up MEP 2b this week. They haven’t released a scope and sequence yet, however, so I don’t know what Beast Academy will assume that children have already learned. Alex has studied multiplication and division to 10×10, for example, and she’s learned to do 2-digit addition and subtraction using mental math techniques. But she hasn’t been taught the standard algorithm for adding and subtracting multi-digit numbers in columns, and she won’t hit that in MEP until the beginning of book 3b. I’m assuming that she’ll need to know that before she does Beast Academy? And then, will it cover multiplication all over again? It’s driving me crazy not to know.
A few people were lucky enough to receive sample chapters to review – here’s one blog post about it – but by the time I signed up for a sample they were all gone. Several people on the WTM forums did get the sample chapter, and they’ve been posting things like, “The problems were harder than those in Singapore 3B or 4A textbook and about the same as the 5A textbook or the 3B & 4A Intensive Practice books. A few of the BA problems were super-challenging and harder than anything even in the Singapore 5A IP book.” Or, in more detail:
The BA samples were very exciting. They taught the topic (in this case Area and Perimeter) in a depth that is unheard of for 3rd Grade, and did so in a very intriguing way.
Like the upper-grade level AoPS books, BA gives students just enough information for them to (hopefully) be able to solve a problem but leaves a mental challenge in place that requires real thinking. Then—after the student has been given a problem to ponder (and hopefully solve) they walk the student through the solution. And it is all in the form of a story-line.
I can’t do the sample justice, but it is a remarkably good approach for children who like math and who like to be challenged to *think* rather than simply being spoon-fed.
This is no “supplement.” If the rest of the materials are as good as the sample chapter the Beast Academy will fill a huge spot at the top of the most mathematically challenging programs available for elementary school aged children. This of course remains to be proven, but the reputation of AoPS combined with the very impressive sample chapter gives one good cause for hope.
All of this is driving me mad with curiosity and impatience and excitement. I so want to get my hands on these books! I’ve been haunting the Beast Academy website and their new Facebook page. The recent news that they’ll be releasing book 3a next month has driven me into a frenzy of curriculum love/want/need. It’s a little embarrassing. I’ve never felt this way about educational materials before.
Alex is excited too. She imagines it this way: “Mom, you’d say ‘stop reading that comic book and do your math!’ And I would say, ‘I AM doing my math!’” I am hoping that the generous use of narrative, color, and fantasy will boost her enthusiasm for math up to the level of her ability. She’s a very strong math student for her age, but she resists being asked to work hard. I think Beast Academy could be engaging enough that she’d be willing to push herself.
NEXT MONTH. How can I wait until next month?!