Math on the Level™ (MOTL), a comprehensive math program for preschool through eighth grade, was written for homeschoolers by a homeschooling parent who also has many years of teaching experience in other school settings. The program's design is uniquely suitable for homeschooling. There are no grade-level designations. Instead, students work through a sequence of objectives in what is essentially one large course covering all levels (with preschool separated out in the new edition). Parents individualize the program for each child to teach and review exactly what they need. While parents have to make some choices and do direct teaching, this approach should be more effective and efficient than most other math programs. Students might be able to complete the entire program a year or two ahead of schedule.
MOTL is also great for students who struggle with math since it doesn't overwhelm them. Instead, it helps parents target the particular needs of each student. In addition, it incorporates hands-on learning, games, and real-life math applications, all of which address various learning-style needs and help children understand why they need to know math.
The program is very thorough! At the end of the program, students are working with exponents at an advanced level, solving for variables, graphing equations for lines and hyperbolas, and calculating the volumes of cylinders and prisms.
Since the program is unusual, the program's creator Carlita Boyles offers a free conference call to each purchaser to help them get started.
Classic Edition and Second Editions
Math on the Level began as a set of seven books that comprise a complete math program for preschool level through pre-algebra. MOTL is still available in this format (now called the Classic edition), and this one set can be used to teach all of your children through all of the levels. The seven non-consumable books, all of which are printed in color, include:
- an Overview and Record Keeping binder that explains how to use the program (including three key charts/forms used throughout the program)
- four teaching manuals titled Operations, Money & Decimals, Fractions, and Geometry & Measurements
- Math Adventures
- Math Resources
The publisher has rearranged the program for the second edition. The second edition of MOTL covers kindergarten through pre-algebra, and the content for pre-kindergarten has been separated out into a single, stand-alone course book titled Math on the Level Foundations.
The material in Foundations was taken from the Classic edition, and additional material was added to make it a comprehensive program for pre-kindergarten. Foundations, only available as an ebook, covers concepts such as beginning counting, recognizing and writing numbers, sequencing numbers, basic shapes, matching objects, half and whole, and identifying and counting money.
The second edition was designed to reduce costs for homeschooling families. The books are printed in black and white rather than color, and some resources are delivered digitally. But apart from separation of the pre-kindergarten portion, everything in the Classic edition is included, only at a much lower price.
The second (K-8) edition is presented in only two printed books, Combined Teaching Guide and Curriculum Resources, plus a third component called Online 5-A-Day Resources. The Combined Teaching Guide is divided into four sections (mirroring the four teaching manuals in the Classic edition): Operations, Geometry and Measurements, Money and Decimals, and Fractions. The Curriculum Resources book has a program overview, instructions on how to set up and operate the program, a section for each of the two Classic books: Math Adventures and Math Resources, and directions for using the latter two books.
Originally, parents needed to create problem pages for students and track when to teach which concepts on charts. Now, the sophisticated, online spreadsheet and worksheet generator in the Online 5-A-Day Resources make it easy to do both. While Online 5-A-Day Resources was introduced with the second edition, it can and should be used with the Classic edition as well, and both the Classic and the second editions come with a one-year subscription. (You will need to re-subscribe for subsequent years.)
The online resources include access to the 5-A-Day worksheet generator, the record-keeping spreadsheet, and digital downloads for all of the original manual record-keeping forms and problem sets. You will use the worksheet generator to create the daily problem sets and practice worksheets. The problem pages created through the program take the place of student workbooks that are used in most other math programs. The worksheet generator was a huge improvement for MOTL since it saves parents from having to select problems and lay out them out on a worksheet every day.
How It Works
The Concept Chart (found in the Classic edition's Overview and Record Keeping binder and in the second edition's Combined Teaching Guide) lists the program's 146 core objectives and references the teaching guide page where instruction for each topic is presented. For most objectives, the Concept Chart also has a reference to a page where practice problems for each topic are found. To make things easy, the Concept Chart is now incorporated into the online spreadsheet to automate much of the work of identifying topics to be learned and their associated practice problems.
The parent selects which objectives to cover although a suggested sequence is included within the program. Parents are encouraged to adapt to the needs and abilities of each student and to use real-life teaching methods (many examples are provided) to reinforce the learning two or three days per week.
New concepts are taught with plenty of examples and practice problems, and those new concepts are reviewed daily at first. Each day's lesson also includes a review set of five problems based on previously taught concepts. These review problems are created by the 5-A-Day worksheet generator and then presented on a worksheet that you will print out. The program can print out both a problem sheet and the answer key (showing solutions) at the same time. While the five problems are generated by the program, parents can make different selections if they wish. However, parents should not give students more than five problems per worksheet.
The program has students review concepts in a spiral fashion to facilitate long-term retention. Review problems show up for daily review for a week or so, then every few days, gradually dropping down to every 3 weeks where they stay unless dropped or replaced by another concept that incorporates the lower-level skill. For example, the review of division with single-digit divisors is replaced by the topic of division with multiple-digit divisors. Note that beginning students do not have review problems until they have learned some concepts and the parent feels they are ready.
While parents can still use the "5-A-Day Record" chart from the Classic binder to manually organize and track the schedule for review problems, the Online 5-A-Day Resources program makes it so much easier that I definitely recommend using it along with either the Classic or second edition. Whether done manually or through the program, the 5-A-Day Record is key to ensuring that students really do master and retain all concepts and skills.
Lessons must be taught by the teacher although older students might be able to work through the lessons on their own once the parent selects those to be covered. The lesson presentation is not scripted in a step-by-step fashion. Instead, it offers strategies, examples, and directions for using hands-on and experiential activities. Parents choose which to use for each student. There are plenty of ideas for teaching a child who needs lots of hands-on activities, but a child who quickly grasps concepts need not be taught that way.
The Math Adventures book (or section in the second edition's Curriculum Resources book) helps parents teach math through everyday life experiences and games. It also shows how to incorporate math lessons directly into a unit study for those using that approach for other subject areas. Parents need to familiarize themselves with options in this book, then use one of them at least once or twice a week. There is plenty of explanation for how to incorporate games and activities as you teach various math topics. Generally, the games and activities can each be used with many of the lessons.
No particular type of manipulatives is required for this program. Real money, bundles of straws or sticks, blocks of any sort, and household objects are among the suggested items you might use as teaching aids. Many games—both purchased and homemade—are recommended in Math Adventures.
The Math Resources book (or section) covers the creation of charts and graphs, set theory, and word problems. It also has numerous ideas and instructions for helping children memorize math facts. The presentation of word problems in this book does not mean that word problems are missing from the rest of the program. Much of the teaching will be done using real-life situations that are expressed orally as word problems. This book adds templates to help parents create their own written word problems to teach various math concepts.
You might be wondering if children get enough practice with only five review problems a day, but remember they are also working problems as they learn each new concept, and parents are supposed to incorporate math into other life activities. In addition, lessons target exactly what each student needs to learn, so they do not waste time on previously mastered or excessively repetitious material as occurs with most programs.
MOTL is one of the easiest programs to transition into if a student has already begun work in another math program. The review process, which is an essential part of the program, covers all math concepts that should have been learned and makes it easy to identify gaps or weak areas before moving on to new concepts.
MOTL requires more work from parents than many other math programs, but this is usually offset by greater overall efficiency since children will learn more quickly and won't waste time on material they have already mastered. Parents need to do direct teaching for new concepts and direct hands-on learning, games, and real-life applications. They have to make selections within the system if they want to fine-tune the program to suit each child. For instance, if a student is struggling with a concept, parents need to select learning objectives that allow for more review rather than moving on to new objectives.
On the other hand, parents can sometimes consolidate teaching, selecting the same topic to teach to both older and younger children (e.g., equivalent fractions). They can teach two children simultaneously as much as possible, and then extend the lesson for the advanced student. Life activities, such as cooking, grocery shopping, and learning through playing games, can easily adapt to accommodate different skill levels. As time consuming as the program might sound, one parent reported that she was able to teach three students in less than 30 minutes a day.
In my opinion, an important factor to consider in evaluating this program is that students are likely to think of math as something useful, and maybe even fun, when it's taught in such a personal fashion. Also, MOTL allows students to learn as quickly or slowly as they are able--a real motivational advantage for all students. And the lack of grade-level labels means there's no stigma for those on the slow end of the learning curve.
Whichever version of Math on the Level you choose, they both use essentially the same methodology and content. All of the books and digital resources for both editions can be reused with more than one student. Even with only one student, that makes even the Classic edition a very affordable program if used over a number of years. If you have more than one student, the cost per student drops in half or more. The only additional cost in future years is for the yearly subscription to the Online 5-A-Day Resources.
All of this makes Math on the Level a great choice, not only for those with more time than money, but also for those who want to provide personally-individualized and family-oriented math instruction for each of their children.