Life of Fred Review
Life of Fred Fractions (This is the first book in the "Life of Fred" series).
Life of Fred is a great concept. It's math that reads like a story. It's the story of "one day in Fred's life." Fred is "five years old, but he does some things that many fifty-five-year-olds have never done." All of the math in the book arises out of Fred's life. Each chapter of the book is a lesson (there are 32 lessons), and at the end of each chapter is a "Your Turn To Play" section, which gives your child the chance to work with the material presented in the chapter. Some of these questions include review from previous topics.
"At the end of every four or five chapters is The Bridge, ten questions reviewing everything learned up to that point. If students want to get on to the next chapter, they need to show mastery of what has been covered so far." (They do this by answering nine out of ten questions correctly. If they don't succeed though, there are other chances for them to try with other sets of ten questions. There are five tries offered for each Bridge.) "At the end of the book is The Final Bridge, fifteen questions. Again, there are five tries offered." (Once the student crosses "The Final Bridge" upon finishing the book, there's even a "Fractions Diploma" which you can photocopy and write your child's name on. It's signed by Fred.
The answers to all bridge tests are given in the back of the book.
The text is cute. It's humorous and engaging, which makes it a fun way to learn math. There are funny lines, enjoyable graphics, interesting and/or humorous footnotes, and even some vocabulary thrown in for good measure.
""In your lecture, you said that Meddie really wanted a bicycle or she would die. Did she really want a bicycle that much?"
Fred thought for a moment and then answered, "Of course, Meddie is only four years old. Just a child. Kids that age tend to use a lot of hyperbole."*"
The footnote then says:
"Hyperbole (high PURR bow lee). Exaggeration. Mothers use it when they say, "I've told you a million times to clean up your room!" Darlene would be using hyperbole if she tells Joe, "It takes you forever to write your class notes.""
So what does this have to do with math? Well, that's the point! Again, it reads like a story...it keeps going through Fred's life, but each chapter DOES tie into a math lesson.
At the end of this particular chapter it says:
"So I make $6,000 per year. Is that enough money to buy a bike? I don't know. I've never bought a bike before."
Betty smiled. "It depends on what kind of bike you want to buy. Some cost a lot, and some are pretty cheap. But what you earn is not the same as what you save. At the end of a year, you won't have $6,000. What are your expenses each month?"
The chapter/lesson then ends with the "Your Turn To Play" section, which says:
"1. Fred told Betty that each month he spent $6 for clothes, $0 for housing, $26 for food, $50 for Sunday school offering, $30 for book purchases, and $2 for miscellaneous things. What was the total amount Fred was spending each month?
2. If Fred makes $500 per month, how much does he save each month. (You'll need the answer to problem 1, above, to figure out how much he saves.)
3. What is half of $500?
4. Does Fred save more or less than half his income?
5. From the previous problems, you know how much Fred saves each month. How much does he save each year?
6. If Fred's income and expenses were to stay the same each year, how much would Fred save in 10 years?
7. How much would he save in 100 years?"
The answers provided do demonstrate how the answers were arrived at.
Which brings me to one of the things I DON'T like about this book: Many of the "Your Turn To Play" sections show the answers right there in plain sight. Assuming the student is reading this text to herself (which she very well can be and I'm assuming probably would be), she's going to get to these "Your Turn To Play" section, where she's supposed to read the questions and then answer them on a sheet of notebook paper. But the answers are listed right there directly under the questions, way too easy to just glance at before the student even has a chance to try to figure out the answer on her own. Sometimes just a few of the answers are shown and then it continues on the back of the page, other times all of the answers are shown right there on the same page as the questions.
It would have been much better if they'd put all answers at the back of the book, or at least on the back of a given page. Even a perfectly "trustworthy" student is going to have a hard time covering up the answers before starting to read the questions while simultaneously trying not to notice and/or memorize the answers. The best solution is for you to go through the book covering up the answers with sticky notes before giving the book to your child, I suppose.
You might be wondering:
What age/grade level is this appropriate for? Prior to starting the first book in the series (Fractions), a child should know: the addition tables, the multiplication tables, and long division. On the author's website, he says: "There is no hurry to begin the series. As a parent, you have ten or eleven years to gradually introduce addition, multiplication and long division. By the time your child is in, say, the fifth grade, the addition and multiplication facts will be memorized if it is gradually taught over the years."
I bought the first two Life of Fred books ("Fractions" and "Decimals and Percents") midway through my daughter's 5th grade year. I bought them used for a good price, spent some time looking through them, and decided that I would have my daughter start them in conjunction with Teaching Textbooks 6, when she starts 6th grade in the fall of 2011, shortly before her 11th birthday. I think that's a good age/grade/time for it though you may feel your younger child is ready for it (and even older children may enjoy and benefit from it. Heck- it engaged my interest while I was looking through it). :)
Is it secular? For the most part, yes. There are a few religious references, but nothing that puts me (as a non-Christian, secular homeschooler) off from using it, and I wouldn't call it "a religious curriculum."
For example, there's a page at the front of the book that is like a dedication type page which reads: "for Goodness' sake. Or as J.S. Bach- who was never noted for his plain English- often expressed it: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (to the greater glory of God)."
On one of the pages in the "A Note To Parents" section, there's a joking comment that says: "Things changed after Gutenberg." There's then an asterisk and a note at the bottom of the page commenting that "Johannes Gutenberg figured out how to use movable type to print books. In 1455 he printed the Bible."
In the first chapter/lesson, while telling the student to get out a sheet of paper to do some writing on, it jokes that the "rule for writing in books- and elsewhere- could be very complicated: Don't write in books with hard covers. Don't write on the walls. Don't write in hymnals at church. Don't write in library books. Don't write on the TV screen. Don't write on your baby brother's tummy."
In Chapter four, Fred is a math teacher. People like the way he teaches math and call it "The Fred Way." It says, "The Fred Way was new, but it was also as old as the Greeks and the Bible. Fred would tell stories. Everyone likes to hear a good story, and the math would just be a natural part of the story."
In Chapter five, in the "Your Turn to Play" section, it lists Fred's expenses for each month, which includes "$50 for Sunday school offering" (among other things).
In chapter fifteen, in the "Your Turn to Play" section, one of the questions says: "Fractions only make sense for certain things. In math, we use different numbers for different things. It makes sense to talk about a one-quarter pound of rice but not to talk about one-half of a baby. (King Solomon knew about that in the Old Testament.)"
In Chapter nineteen, it says in the context of the story: "Sometimes in the life of a five-year-old, things don't seem to make sense.*" The footnote then reads: "This is also sometimes true for people who are 8. Or 11. Or 14. Or 18. Or 26. Or 35. Or 44. Or 48. Or 59. Or 60. Or 74. Or 81. Things sometimes just don't make sense. When God told Abram (also known as Abraham) that he was going to be a daddy when he was 100 years old, he had a little trouble making sense of that. He did what many people would do in that situation: he fell down and laughed (Genesis 17:17). And four chapters later, along comes his newborn son whom they named Giggles. In the original language, the son was called Isaac, which can be translated as he laughs."
I've skimmed through the whole book looking for religious references (as mine is mostly a secular blog and a secular curriculum) and those were the only ones I found. If I missed any, I'm sure they continued to be far and few in between and along the lines of the things I've already mentioned.
This review has been written upon my receipt and review of the Life of Fred Fractions book. It has been written BEFORE we actually used it. I don't intend to use it until our next school year, and once we do, I will return here to update as to how my daughter liked it, how effective it seemed to be, etc. All I can say for now is that a lot of people on my homeschool forum rave about it, and it looks engaging and fun. Again, I love the concept. We'll have to see how it goes! If it goes well, and if it doesn't seem overly time-consuming to continue with Teaching Textbooks AND do Life of Fred, we could continue with Life of Fred Decimals and Percents in 7th grade, Life of Fred Beginning Algebra in 8th grade, Life of Fred Advanced Algebra in 9th grade, Life of Fred Geometry in 10th grade, Life of Fred Trigonometry in 11th grade and Life of Fred Calculus in 12th. The "Note to Students" says that after that, "you can transfer to any university as a junior and declare a major in mathematics."
Life of Fred Decimals and Percents (This is the second book in the "Life of Fred" series).
I do already own Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, too, as I bought that one used, along with Fractions, from the same person, at the same time. I've flipped through that, too, albeit with less attention to detail as it will be a while before I use it, and I can tell you that it has the same story-telling approach, the same silly humor (I don't mean silly in a bad way, it's fun!), the same interesting and humorous footnotes, the same set up with the "Your Turn To Play" and "Bridge" lessons and so on. There are 33 chapters/lessons in this particular book.
Fred is still a 5 1/2 year old genius, this book just continues his story.
The graphics continue to be enjoyable.
The religious references continue to be far and few in between from what I can tell and aren't the main emphasis of the book or the story within the book. They are along the lines of: "Of doesn't always mean multiply. When we sing, "My Country 'Tis of Thee," we don't multiply Country by God." and "I would like to put a photograph of Heron in this book, but I couldn't find one since Heron lived either at the same time as Christ or within about forty years after his death." and "there is nothing that delighted Fred more than to curl up in his office and read. He reads math (of course), and history, and Shakespeare, and the Bible, and poetry.")
The answers to "Your Turn To Play" questions (unfortunately) continue to be right out in plain sight. But attacking your book with a pile of sticky notes seems a pretty small price to pay for such NON-dry, NON-boring math. :)
I look forward to seeing how my daughter does with these books.
***UPDATE*** We have started using Life of Fred Fractions and while we are only several lessons in, I do have a few observations. First, is that my daughter really enjoys the story aspect of things- I knew she would. But second is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of actual math instruction and I do not think this curriculum (at this stage anyway, which is all I can speak for) can stand alone. It's a good supplement which reinforces things she's already learned in a creative, engaging way and from a different angle, but I cannot envision it actually teaching her these things if she didn't already know them- there's not enough actual instruction and she does much better with the "show, tell/explain" angle Teaching Textbooks comes from. Therefore, Teaching Textbooks will continue to be our main math curriculum, and we will continue with Life of Fred Fractions for now as long as it remains engaging and fun.
Other than that, I do also want to note that I saw somebody on a message board say that the later books DO have more religion in them, and I've also seen a few parents complain about the elementary series that came out recently, specifically that one of them is a little dark for younger kids, including a few chapters that has dogs at an animal shelter being euthanized. So, while I already have Life of Fred Fractions and Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, I do not think that I personally will buy any other Life of Fred books unless my daughter finishes both of these books and begs for more. I'm not sure that will happen, but I'll update again at some point down the road. Meanwhile:
For more information on the Life of Fred books, please see:
***UPDATE*** We did not end up continuing with Life of Fred. I found that my daughter would enjoy the story, would do fine with the individual lessons, but as soon as she got to a "bridge," she would fall apart almost every single time, and have to take multiple tests, sometimes even cycling back to having to take the first one over again, before she'd finally be able to move on. During that time she'd become very frustrated and upset. There just wasn't enough instruction or retention, it was too abstract for her.
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