See the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
When I heard about the Life of Fred series, I decided to start by reviewing the Geometry text since the homeschool market has a bigger lack of practical options in this area than in any other area of math.
Two features immediately make this appealing to many families: low cost and a course design suitable for independent study. But there's much more to the Life of Fred books! The books are written by Dr. Stanley Schmidt, a retired math teacher who loves math and wants to share his enthusiasm with students. Part of his strategy is to build his math books around the adventures of Fred, a very young (six years old in the Geometry text) genius who is a math teacher at KITTENS University. The stories shift from silly to serious, outlandish to edgy, and they are likely to be very appealing to learners who prefer something more than "dry" math. Fred's adventures are the jumping off point for math lessons (e.g. Fred plays with his food and creates a polygon), or Fred might be pondering something mathematical, or teaching, or discussing a math topic with friends or students....
The page illustration from the book (above) shows [an] example. In addition, Dr. Schmidt digresses into side comments, footnotes, and "conversations" such as one concerning Harry S Truman and the fact that his name is frequently misspelled with a period after the "S" in official government usage. All of this makes the text much more user-friendly than most others. It also adds a bit to the size of the book—542 pages for the Geometry text.
Surprisingly, the story line and discursions are not used to dumb down the course. The geometry content is actually quite traditional, even though the presentation is not. The content is high level and challenging with proofs introduced in chapter one. Chapter eleven teaches constructions using a compass and a straight edge. There are six "extra" chapters (chapters 5 1/2, 7 1/2, 8 1/2, 11 1/2, 12 1/2, and 13 1/2) that can be skipped or included depending upon the student's ability and rate of progress.
Each lesson teaches a concept, albeit sometimes in a roundabout fashion through the story. Then there's a "Your Turn to Play"—practice problems with complete solutions. Students should work through every one of these problems rather than just jumping ahead to the solutions. There are a number of lessons with practice problems within each chapter.
At the end of each chapter are six sets of problems, each set labeled with the name of a city. Students should complete the first two "cities" (for which all the solutions/answers are available in the student text). They should also complete the odd-numbered problems in the next two cities for which solutions/answers are also supplied. The remaining problems can be used for tests. A separate, very inexpensive answer key is available for the remaining problems. This allows students to work independently for the most part, but still provides a practical way to ensure they are actually studying and learning the material. And if students get stuck and parents can't help, you are welcome to call the author!....
At least a few references to the Bible and churches indicate that the author likely has a Christian worldview, but there aren't actually any directly religious statements that I spotted....
It is difficult to convey the full "flavor" of this text in a review, but Dr. Schmidt does a marvelous job of helping students see the real value and applications of math.
After reviewing Geometry, I liked the series enough to follow up with reviews of the other Life of Fred texts as they've been published. Middle school students who have already completed Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents should continue with Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology and Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics.
These three texts treat physics, biology and economics just as they treat math, jumping from topic to topic with unusual connections to the storyline about Fred. Pre-algebra is covered in a scattered fashion along with a few more advanced concepts such as functions, calculating the molecular weight of sucrose, and balancing chemical equations. The Biology text touches on topics such as seed germination, life cycles, teeth brushing, photosynthesis, eyes and vision, the circulatory system, breathing, bones and calcium, dermis and epidermis, chromosomes, DNA, genes, and alleles. In Economics, Dr. Schmidt teaches some basic concepts along with some "conservative" ideas. He discusses the need for sufficient capital when starting a business, the value of tools in increasing production, the law of comparative advantage, demand curves, and other topics of basic economics....
Beginning Algebra obviously follows these texts. Beginning and Advanced Algebra serve as first and second year Algebra courses and cover traditional content at a relatively high level. Both of these texts and the Trigonometry text have an optional Fred's Home Companion book that I highly recommend. Fred's Home Companion outlines lesson plans for the core text, including which "cities" of questions students should do, making it easier for students to pace themselves if they are working independently. The core text has answers to some of the "cities" problems, and Fred's Home Companion provides solutions to the rest of them. In addition, there are extra problems (with their solutions) for students to solve.
Parents have urged Dr. Schmidt to create more problem solving practice for algebra, so he has produced supplements titled Zillions of Practice Problems for Beginning Algebra and Zillions of Practice Problems: Advanced Algebra.
Beginning Algebra allows but does not require the use of a basic calculator. For Advanced Algebra through Statistics, students will need a scientific calculator but not a graphing calculator.
Trigonometry should be taken between Geometry and Calculus, serving to some extent as a Precalculus course.
The Statistics course really is college level. However, it is so engagingly written that it actually makes me want to study statistics. It might be possible for a high school student to work through this text, then test for college credit, but I haven't investigated those possibilities. This text might be unique in that it includes a chapter (Chapter 4 1/2) on moral guidelines for the use of statistics and statistical devices.
There is also a new Elementary Physics course written for students to use before tackling high school math. It might be used as early as sixth grade. (I have not yet reviewed it.)
The story of Fred is very much a part of all the courses and the teaching method is pretty much the same from Fractions through Statistics. Most students should be able to work through all the books independently.
All the Life of Fred texts are hardcover books, printed in black-and-white. There are no separate teacher guides or answer keys to purchase although you might want the Fred's Home Companion for those courses where it is available....
Throughout the series, Dr. Schmidt tries to teach for conceptual understanding rather than mere memorization of formulas and strategies. Students often see the practical application of a math concept before they learn how to solve the problem. Students are likely to begin thinking about math more like solving puzzles or critical thinking exercises than lists of problems to solve. The story of Fred is an important part of this approach. The story does take up significant space within in each text. And while it sometimes meanders into "entertainment" unrelated to the math topic at hand, most of the time it stimulates students to consider how math might be used to deal with a real life situation.
One other factor important to many families is the low cost of these texts. Texts range in cost from $19 to $49. Home Companions are $14 each. There are no other teacher manuals, answer keys, or anything else to buy. In addition, the texts are non-consumable and might be used for a number of students.
Sample pages are available at the publisher's website, so you can check out this unusual math series to see if it's right for your students.