Learning Math: Spiral vs. Mastery

As a math teacher, I am often asked whether mastery is better than spiral learning. My response is, “why do I have to choose one over the other?”  Let’s think about how you learned English. Did you, as a  mom, say, “oh, let’s only say one word all day and see if my child can say that word back and master it?”  And then say, “Great, he/she mastered it, so I never have to teach or use that word again.”  Math is like learning English; it is a building block. I cringe when I have parents say we are still doing fractions in the 7th grade because my child hasn’t mastered it. Let me inform you, they never will. Mastery is when you learn to apply what you learned. How boring would life be if we only did one thing and one thing very well? When I teach math, I bring previous knowledge into the new material. This way, they are doing fractions, but with equations, expressions, percentages, decimals, and the list goes on. This is spiral learning with a twist of mastery. They will always see fractions in math. A recipe has fractions, reading a clock, and gas prices (Next time you are at the pump, look). Many careers use fractions: a nurse or doctor; there are fractions in medicine. When looking for a math curriculum that fits your child, look for variety. The end of the book should be more challenging than the beginning of the book. When I homeschooled my children, selecting curricula was my most demanding job (although when I did it, I had less to choose from), but when you find the right fit, it is just as rewarding for you as it is for your child. Don’t give up! Don’t be afraid to ask God to direct you.

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