Saxon mathematics is perhaps the most popular series for homeschoolers. And it is used in many public schools as well. Saxon mathematics is famous for its emphasis on review and introduction of new skills in small increments. To see how they do this, go to Saxon Math site. But is it the best choice? Here is my short answer:
Yes, for grades K-6. Maybe or maybe not for grades 7-12.
Grades K-6 . . . Yes!
For grades K-6, the constant review is fantastic. At these grade levels, the students are practicing skills and picking up number facts. Saxon does an outstanding job in accomplishing both these objectives. For example, in my daughter’s Math 4/5 book, Lesson 35 deals only with multiples of 0,1,2 and 5. Of the exercises in the lesson, only 4 exercises address this new skill with the majority of the exercises covering review skills. If the child has a difficult time initially with a skill, they eventually catch on because the skill is included as a review exercise again, and again, and again! So if the child has a hard time long dividing, don’t worry, you can work on it some more in the review exercises that will follow in future lessons. The Saxon books incorporate handy number concepts that help the student to proficiently perform arithmetic operations. For example, they not only teach multiplication, they teach multiplication patterns.
Not only is my daughter using Saxon, my three older sons used it as well, with great results. Another nice feature of Saxon for homeschoolers at grades K-6 is that if they are falling behind, you simply slow down and cover only half the book one year and cover the second half the next, or start again in the next year at the halfway point of the book moving at half the pace. The constant review insures that you will always review skills from the first half of the book. My daughter will be spending another year to finish the Math 54 book.
Grades 7-12 . . . Maybe, Maybe Not
For grades 7-12, the K-6 model simply does not work as well. The reason for this is that at the higher levels of math, the Saxon model does not allow sufficient time to develop more complex concepts.
Let’s look at a typical 8th grade topic: Positive and Negative Signed Numbers. The student will need to spend some time learning the rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing positive and negative numbers. This is typically accomplished with an entire chapter in a traditional 7th or 8th grade pre-algebra math text. Yet Saxon briefly introduces it in Lesson 64 of Saxon 8/7 and does not address it again until Lesson 73 with some topics in Geometry in the lessons in between! And with respect to reviewing this concept, positive and negative numbers will be used in virtually every unit that follows, up through advanced calculus! So there is review already built in, in a natural way and there is no need for the Saxon model! The same idea applies to most other topics covered in the algebra and pre-calculus series; topics and skills learned will be repeated again and again. That is how traditional mathematics works - new topics, skills, and concepts are built upon previous topics, skills, and concepts. And this deductive building of ideas becomes more pronounced and complex as students get to the calculus level and beyond.
I am not alone in this assessment of Saxon used in the higher grades: According to a blogger at Homeschool Math Blog, Saxon Math jumps around in topics tremendously. According to Rocky Mountain News, Saxon Math does not logically unify the way they state mathematics should. And Paula’s Archives cite several references that state that Saxon Math is not good prep for higher math and engineering.
Personally, I do not believe a child is doomed if they use Saxon Math at grades 7-12, but rather, I am stating that for a student with average or better than average ability, a traditional curriculum may be a better choice. And, for the student (or homeschool parent) that really struggles with math, Saxon may be the best choice. In fact, I will probably have my oldest daughter use Saxon in the higher grades.
What are Good Alternatives to Saxon?
You can obtain an entire precalculus curriculum, at no cost, by stopping at your local community college. They have old editions that they no longer use or desk copies that they no longer use - they will be more than happy to give them to you as these copies accumulate in their offices. Obtain a traditional curriculum that includes DVD lessons, teacher’s edition, and solution manual and you will have the resources needed to help both you the teacher and your student get through the higher algebra courses. See my previous blog post on Teaching Homeschool Math for more details.