Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Life of Fred

Ever since elementary school, I’ve always struggled with math. Math just does not come easily to me. Most days I had trouble understanding what the teacher was talking about and a lot of times I wasn’t able to finish all of my work during class. I’d have to bring it home for homework, and that meant hours at the kitchen table with Mom explaining things again.

Since we began home school math has become a lot easier. At the beginning of sixth grade, my mom set me up on something called Teaching Textbooks. This is a program that you do completely on a computer. There are four disks of math that last for the whole year. The teacher teaches you the math lessons on the computer every day. You work out the problems in your notebook or on scratch paper and then enter the answers into the computer. The program automatically grades every answer that you put in, so you always know how many you’ve missed and you can either rework the problem or have the solution shown to you (but then you’re marked incorrect.) Every nine or ten lessons, there is a quiz. This is basically how Teaching Textbooks works. After most of the year on this math program, I felt like I had really learned a lot and made progress. My mom was happy with my grades, but not as happy with the program. She thought that we would get bored with math on the computer every year.

After much research, my mom found this new math program called “Life of Fred.”This is a math book about a five year old boy named Fred Gauss.  His last name rhymes with house.  (Friedrich Gauss was a mathematician back in the 1800's  He was also a child genius...just keep reading and you'll see why this is important.) Now, I know what you’re thinking “What does a math textbook have to do with a five year old boy?” Well, the “Life of Fred” books are much different than your average textbooks. These books teach math in a story. Let me explain.

Fred is a college professor. Yes, you heard me right; a five year old boy is a college professor. (Because he is a genius...ah!) He also lives in his office and eats most of his meals out of a vending machine, but that doesn't have anything to do with math. Throughout the story of Fred’s life, he comes across everyday situations where he needs to figure out some kind of math problem. So, while the author is telling you about Fred’s life, he also adds math to the story. You, the reader, have to figure out the answers at the end of each chapter before you can move on with the story. For example, during one part of the story, Fred dropped a large knife on his foot! He had to be rushed to the hospital and the doctor had to determine how much blood Fred had lost. The reader (you) then figured out how much blood an average five year old would have, how much Fred had lost, and how much he needs to have replaced in order to live. Sound exciting?
It is. 

After a few chapters, the reader comes to “The Bridge.” This is basically a nice way of saying “You will now take a quiz on what you’ve been learning.” You are given five attempts to pass over the bridge. Each attempt has ten questions. You have to get at least nine of them right to pass to the next chapter. Yes. You heard me right. You have to make a 90 to move on! Talk about pressure! If you don’t get a 90, you have to do attempt number two…another bridge, another ten questions! There are five tries, like I said. I have never had to do more than the first try so far, but if I did fail all five bridges, I would have to go back and redo all the chapters before that bridge to see what I missed.

The point of “Fred” books is to teach a kid to learn by reading on their own. Supposedly this is mostly how we will be learning once we get to college. So it’s a good idea to get used to it now.

“Life of Fred” books go from Fractions all the way up through two years of college Calculus. (My sister is going to be taking Calculus at college this year, and my mom will be ordering a “Fred” book for her as a back-up.) I find the “Life of Fred” books to be a fun and entertaining way to learn math. I will begin with the Pre-Algebra book for seventh grade. These books have definitely given me more of an interest in math and shown me ways that people actually use the math they have to learn. I would recommend these books to anyone whether you are home schooled or just needing a little extra help!