Thursday, 5 March 2015

Using the Block Work Method - Math's Week

This week has been "Maths Week" for us.  Today I thought I'd talk a little about subject blocking, as that's how we work. 

You see we do our school work in blocks / chunks / large periods of time / exclusively single subject areas for long periods, rather than many subjects a day. So rather than a little Maths at a time, we do a whole lot all at once. Sometimes a whole day, this week we were on a roll so it's been the whole week so far.  I don't mean we spend the week glued to the desk, hours upon hours at a time.  Keep reading and you will get what I mean.

My son learns so much more this way.  It means he can remember what we learnt the day before rather than the week before, and while it's fresh in his memory he can practice a lot and cement it in his brain.  The transition from short term memory to long term memory can be really hard for many kids, especially those with learning disabilities. This is the case for my son. Repetition helps but trying repetition using a short learning period spaced too far apart means you are basically starting over from scratch each time, which is a complete waste of time and energy. It also usually results in frustration, tears and Autism meltdowns in our case.  Something you try to avoid where possible. 

You see doing lots of short bursts in a day (no we don't sit at a desk for hours at a time ALL day long) being 15 minutes or 30 minutes at a time, means we get the short term memory covered, we practice over and over with only short periods in between so the repetition is there, and we get great results converting into long term memory - just that it takes less time than it would in a classroom.  In our case however, it wouldn't happen in the classroom at all. The breaks between the learning bursts are anywhere from 5-10 minutes to half an hour for a snack break, or an hour or so for lunch and play.  But that time is less than going a day or days or a week or more between repetition.

It's a bit like riding a bike.  If you only spent 5 minutes practising once a day or every few days, it could take you weeks or more to get the hang of it.  Most times you'd come across a hurdle or issue within your 5 minutes and it means you didn't even get a full 5 minutes to practice.  But if you had a whole week, maybe on the school holidays, with Mum or Dad there to help you, and you had hours each day to practise, you get it, get it well - and it's in the long term memory bank and something you "never" forget. Well that's how we tackle learning school work. Each subject gets a large allocated chunk of time.  It might be one whole day is it's a short topic, or a whole week (usually the case for Maths and Science), or it could be a fortnight or longer (for English Literature Units or History Units). 

For Maths/Math/Mathematics (whatever you call it in your country), we use a workbook from Oxford University Press, called Maths Plus.  The work books are separated into 4 sections (for the school terms) and have a diagnostic test at the end of each quarter. They have answers at the back and a dictionary of terms, as well as extension work. All the things that make my life as a homeschool mum that little bit easier.  

As of today we have finished off Unit 7, hopefully get some more done tomorrow and if that means we finished Unit 8 & 9 then we are up to the 'Term 1 Diagnostic Test". I usually leave the test and do it a few weeks after our work, just to ensure the work learnt is in his long term memory.  It's a better indicator to me that he has grasped that level and we can move on.  

The workbooks I use have multiple concepts in each unit and it's a spiral tiered program. Other programs (like MathUSee) concentrate on one concept at a time and you learn it in its entirety before moving on. While it is a great program for many children, it didn't work for my son despite the fact it was repetition based. Why? Mainly the fact my son has ADHD as well as all his other issues. This means he gets bored very easily. He needs to learn something and then go onto something new for a while and then come back. Little steps at a time from many different things - even if they are all Maths based. We found Math's Plus catered better to the ADHD. It covered three main areas of Mathematics: 
  • Number & Algebra
  • Measurement & Geometry
  • Statistics & Probability

Each of these three areas are colour coded (in fact the entire book is very colourful and is able to hold the attention of my son much better than a black and white book) and each Unit has work from the three areas in it. So it's got lots of change per unit to cater to his ADHD needs, enough repetition in each unit to allow for memory retention, and enough progression throughout the terms worth of work to be able to take that noticeable step up from term to term (especially when you compare the levels in the diagnostic tests). So yes I am a huge fan of the Math's Plus workbooks and while this post didn't start out as a planned review of the product I guess you got one anyway! 

Back to the topic of block work. Many find the concept strange or hard to manage. I think many of us are so used to the mainstream model of learning which has multiple subjects a day and in a week. But the reason for that model is not because it's the best way for your child to learn. The multiple model as I call it, is used because out of a class of 20-30 children, you WILL have a child absent from class at least once a day (either sick at home, or on a bathroom break, or taking a note to the office, or late to school etc). It means that for that child, they will only have missed a small amount of work and they can pick it up next lesson. If a child has a week off school sick, then they will only miss a little from each subject. If a school ran with the 'block method' then a week off school means you've missed an entire Math's concept and the child will find it hard to catch up. It's not practical in a school environment. However, at home, you don't have those issues. You can pick back up with your child whenever you need to, there is no 'getting left behind'. So block work CAN be done easily at home. 

I would LOVE to hear if you use the Block Work method too and how you've found it. I'd also be happy to answer questions if anyone has them.  Just post a comment below!

I have lots more to talk about with the Block Work Method in relation to other subjects so pop back here tomorrow for the next instalment! 

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