For decades, Saxon Math has been the go-to curriculum for homeschool families. The level of instruction in these texts is very high, and students can complete lessons on their own without assistance (for the most part, anyway). Unfortunately, the K-3 books have always posed a problem: while Saxon Math 5/4 all the way through Calculus and Physics were written either by John Saxon or Stephen Hake (or by both of them together), the K-3 books were all written by a different team of authors and depart significantly from the established Saxon method.
This is particularly true in relation to the role of teachers. In 5/4 and beyond, teachers can expect to answer occasional questions and to grade written work, but not much else; in the K-3 books, teachers take a prominent role, presenting complete lessons from a large teacher's manual. The transition from these earlier texts and their teacher- and manipulatives-heavy format can be troubling and baffling for even the best students as they attempt to navigate the student-directed books for upper elementary. Fortunately, Stephen Hake now offers the Saxon Math Intermediate series specifically to aid this transition and make it as smooth as possible.
How Do These Work?
There are three Intermediate books, one each for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Saxon Intermediate 3 can be used either with students who've completed Saxon 2 or Saxon 3, and are looking to move on to Saxon 5/4 directly or by way of Saxon Intermediate 4, depending on ability. Intermediate 4 is intended as a lead-in for 5/4 from a program other than Saxon, and Intermediate 5 fulfills the same purpose for Saxon 6/5.
Each text is student-directed. In the homeschool kit, you'll receive a hardcover student textbook, a Power-Up Workbook, a test book, and a solutions manual which includes answers to all problems (except the Power-Up problems), and complete step-by-step solutions wherever applicable. The lesson format is the same in each book: every lesson begins with a Power-Up section designed to get kids thinking mathematically, to help them master mental math skills, and to develop problem solving skills. After the Power-Up, a new concept is introduced, followed by a brief lesson practice dealing with the new concept, and a Written Practice problem set based on previously-learned concepts.
A number of supplemental features allow teachers to tailor lessons to students' specific needs. A problem at the end of the Written Practice section offers a more difficult real life-related challenge for "early finishers" in Intermediate 3; Intermediate 4 and Intermediate 5 simply have longer problem sets. In all three books, periodic activities will require manipulatives to help students visualize and work out particular concepts, but these are always optional. Lessons are divided into sections in each book, and at the end of every section is an "Investigation" in which students apply what they've learned in a series of interpretive and analytic exercises based on the theme of the foregoing section.
At the beginning of each book, Hake introduces a number of problem-solving strategies to help students approach math in a way they can understand it and grapple with its difficulties. These include everything from making lists to drawing pictures to acting out or making a model based on the problem at hand. Hake is very clear at the outset that math isn't some ethereal realm apart from real life; rather, it's firmly based in the realm of logic and reality, and has proper applications across the entire range of human life and existence, and Hake tailors his instruction accordingly.
Like all Saxon Math books, cute pictures, color photographs, etc. are completely absent from these books. This isn't so that kids will yawn their way through math, but rather so that they'll be free to learn unhindered, and will grow to see the inherent beauty and order of mathematics. Kids who already have it in their heads that they hate math will probably groan over these texts, but simple studiousness and concentration will make these books accessible and their content interesting. Learning is enjoyable (even math!), and Hake proves here that it isn't glitz and games that make it so.
The pace of each volume is moderate. The proven Saxon model is incremental, so that kids are introduced to concepts a little at a time, revisiting them frequently and having them fleshed out gradually, until students have a firm and unshakable understanding of everything they've learned. This method is employed to perfection in the Saxon Intermediate series, as Hake reiterates concepts creatively again and again, cementing both the abstract and the practical knowledge of each topic firmly in students' minds. All that's necessary for success is patience and carefulness.
Our Honest Opinion
For older students (late elementary and above), you pretty much can't go wrong with Saxon Math. With the advent of the Intermediate series, that's also true of the younger grades. Of course, they don't cover K-2, but direct teacher-student interaction is crucial in those grades anyway, so the different approach offered at those levels is necessary. Now, however, you can move from the lower levels to more advanced math with much less difficulty. Hake has done everything possible to make the transition simple and smooth, both for teachers and their students.
The homeschool editions of this series are essentially just the public school versions without the teacher CD-ROMs. Teacher support is really unnecessary; the Power-Up workpages can be corrected without help, and the solutions manual contains answers and solutions for all problems. Since the course is designed to get kids working on their own, instruction is thorough and needs no supplement. For those looking to move from the K-3 Saxon program to the upper grades, or to Saxon from another course, should most certainly invest in one or two of these texts (you won't need all three under any circumstances) and rest assured that your kids will learn to succeed in math using the Saxon textbooks.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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