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Life of Fred books

Grades: 6-12      Polka Dot Publishing

Life of Fred books teach mathematics in a context of a story. They are meant to be humorous and delightful storybooks where the math teaching is woven into the actual story. The books are written by Dr. Stanley Schmidt, a retired math teacher who loves math and wants to share his enthusiasm with students.

The books contain enough mathematics content and more to match the typical contents of other math curricula. They are not consumable workbooks. Most lessons have 10 or fewer problems to work and the child must master these before moving on. Most people feel that they are not enough to really cement the concepts in students' minds.

The series starts with Life of Fred Fractions book, and then it has a book for Decimals and Percents, then Pre-algebra, beginning algebra (2 books), advanced algebra, geoemetry, trigonometry, calculus, statistics, and linear algebra. Prices vary about $16-$49 per book. Some of the books also have Fred's Home Companion books, which include full solutions to the problems.

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Reviews of Life of Fred math curriculum

Grades: Fractions-algebra

Time: 3 yrs

Your situation: We are homeschooling a 14 yr old and started LOF 3 yrs ago on the recommendation of a friend, veteran homeschooler and former Chemistry professor.

Why you liked/didn't like the curriculum: My daughter was bored and burned out of standard math drill books around age 11, so I begin to look for a new curriculum for her. LOF worked like magic for my daughter. It has been challenging for her and she has really pushed herself and worked hard...and had a few laughs along the way! We have had so many interesting conversations prompted by LOF! She has recently mentioned that she would like to minor in math in college (she is a violinist) and I think that speaks volumes! Because of that decision, we have also purchased The Great Courses Algebra I and II DVDs to get a bit more reinforcement as she goes along. As of now, she plans to go through Calculus. Thank you Life of Fred, for making my daughter love math!

Any other helpful hints: If you are on Facebook join the Life of Fred group to ask questions and to hear how it works for other families. Also, please read the website as it clearly states that the elementary curriculum needs to be supplemented with math facts (we are also using LOF for my middle school daughter and my elementary school daughter)

Review left June 10, 2014
This is a word of warning about the Life of Fred curriculum.

My family used Life of Fred math curriculum for about four years. My oldest daughter started with Fractions and worked all the way through Pre-Algebra with Economics independently. I began the elementary series with two of my children as a review and worked through it with them, it took a little over a year. Then they began Fractions.

The LOF curriculum makes five main claims in its marketing. I have reviewed the curriculum to see whether these claims can be substantiated after my children began having serious complications in their mathematical education while using this curriculum. The five main claims are: one, LOF is fun; two, it will teach students to think mathematically; three, it is not a "drill and kill" curriculum that relies on rote or memorization methods; four, it is clear and self-teaching; and five, it is comprehensive.

The first claim is easily substantiated by the many reviews online. Children enjoy the LOF books. Previously my daughter had scrawled, "I hate Math" memos. After a short time using LOF she wrote, "I love Math." My oldest daughter would quickly snatch the new arrival of an elementary book ordered for her siblings just to read through the story. Yes, LOF is fun for the children.

Does LOF teach children to think mathematically as it claims? Will they "understand how math works," and "why math works" as stated in their marketing? The elementary books begin by teaching the sums of seven. The next book teaches the sums of nine. The texts continue teaching the sums of the odd numbers through seventeen. Over halfway through book five of the series, Edgewood, the sums of ten are taught. Considering that we use a base ten system I find it strange that the sums of ten are not given emphasis as in other curriculums. The number ten is foundational. Children need to have a solid grasp of the addends of ten in order to successfully manipulate numbers when adding and subtracting with more than one digit. Yet, in LOF regarding the sums of tens this is written, "Write all the pairs that add to ten (Edgewood, pg.77)." That's it. This does not develop a child's number sense. Children need to know how to play with numbers, how to break them apart and combine them in different combinations. Other curriculums help children develop number sense through teaching different ideas or strategies that they can use when adding and subtracting, such as "adding one more than a sum of ten" or "adding one more than a double." These strategies are not just to help a child memorize their facts, but they serve to teach a child number sense, or how to think mathematically.

How does LOF teach children the addition facts? Mainly through memorization. I could quote numerous passages throughout the books but this one I think sums up Dr. Schmidt's pedagogical approach the best, "Here are the add-to 13 numbers. Study them. Say them aloud. (I had to correct a typo, the text actually says, ‘Stay them aloud.') Learn them now (emphasis not mine, it is actually double underlined in the book)... Please don't turn the page until you have them memorized. Please (Cats, pg.88)." The multiplication facts are taught in a similar manner. Rather than children being shown the patterns in multiplication or how the facts relate to one another the main emphasis is on memorization, which leads to the third claim.

To read the rest of this long review, please go to theparentsreview.wordpress.com

Carrie Cannon
Review left February 21, 2014
Your situation: Home Schooler. Why don't the schools take time to find real math books like this? So many children struggle, even drop out of school because "canned math" doesn't work and they think they are stupid. They only think and learn differently and with LOF they see the realness to math.

Why you liked/didn't like the book: We began with Fractions in grade 3, decimals and percents in grade 4 and then Beginning Algebra for grade 5. We completely love it. My children are readers. Grade 1 and 2 I use typical can math, then grade 3 onto LOF. I lay their foundation but by that point the repetition of canned math is done, like canned veggies there is no flavor after that. My youngest is a real number lover, so in third grade this year, for the summer we are doing a canned grade 6 math book, then for the school year we will begin LOF. Some children make it through a book in a few weeks others, it takes 1, 1/2 year to get through the Algebra Books, it really depends on the child. We go through the books more than once, until I am satisfied with the level of comprehension. Take Care and God Bless your Homeschooling Ministry.

Any other helpful hints: There are a lot of web sites to get extra problems if you have a child that needs it, or even make your own. Keep the basics honed with Equate and Math Wrap Ups. We do these 2 days per week, and the other 4 days are LOF.

Erika Reynolds
Review left April 8, 2010
Time: 1 year

My 7th grader has just finished Beginning Algebra and she is already asking for the next book! My 11th grader is asking to use Life of Fred next year! Fred has held my kids attention better than any other math curriculum we have used.

Why you liked/didn't like the book:
Life of Fred Algebra is very thorough and user friendly. The concepts are explained in context of a "real-life" situation in the imaginary life of Fred, so I didn't hear the "Why am I doing this?" question even once. Although I was skeptical about Mr. Schmidt's claim that if you don't understand a problem presented in a city, look back in the chapter and you'll find what you need, he was right! Whenever my daughter couldn't figure something out, she just needed to go back over the chapter to find the answer. It was nice to know that Mr. Schmidt was available to help her out, but she didn't need him.
I also appreciate that, with the addition of the companion book, there were more than enough practice problems. My daughter spent about a month in the chapter dealing with fractions (she hates fractions), yet I didn't need to look elsewhere to supplement.
Mr. Schmidt applied his creativity not only to Fred's story but to his teaching strategy. The problems in the cities at the end of each chapter include review problems as well as problems whose purpose is to make the student think. There are even a few "trick" questions!
The material is presented in a fun, often whimsical manner, but the math is certainly not "dumbed down". My daughter knows the difference between natural numbers, integers, and real numbers because Mr. Schmidt uses solid math terminology throughout the book.

Any other helpful hints:
This is a great curriculum for the math genius as well as the math challenged student. I recommend using the companion book not only for the answer key but for the practice problems also. I also recommend establishing a rule like "If you read the story, you must work the problems."

Review left April 8, 2010
Time: 2 years

Your situation: I have a Ph.D. in physics (Stanford) and have been staying home homeschooling our kids since they were born. I met "Life of Fred" author Stan Schmidt at a homeschooling conference several years ago and discussed the Fred books with him in great detail. Our kids started with the fractions and decimals books while we were still doing the final volumes of Singapore Math. I'm blogging at "The Homeschooling Physicist" about seriously homeschooling math and science and other homeschooling issues.

Why you liked/didn't like the book: Author Stan Schmidt has a Ph.D. in math and knows what students really need to grasp in order to move on to higher levels of mathematics. Our kids love the stories about Fred. The kids do sometimes get frustrated struggling with the problems, but that is part of really learning math: nobody is smart enough that all of math comes automatically -- you need problems that make you think and mull things over.

Any other helpful hints: Do not be fooled by the silly stories in the books about Fred: this is a *very* solid math curriculum, probably the most solid math curriculum I have seen below the college level. It is designed for families who are serious about their kids learning real math. Also check out the "Art of Problem Solving" series, which we use to supplement "Life of Fred."

David Miller
Review left March 23, 2010
Time: 15 months

I have 3 kids. I bought the Fractions book for my son just after his 12th birthday (6th grade). He had started in Singapore Math at age 5, and reached level 4A at age 8 before getting stuck. He does NOT want my input and he didn't want to use the text, which he viewed as doubling his workload. So he was doing "environmental math" for a few years. We found Math Mammoth and shored up the basics for a few weeks with that before starting him on the LOF Fractions book.

Why you liked/didn't like the book:
My son really liked this book: the sense of humor; "just enough" math--making sure he understood it, but not rehashing and forcing him to do lots of problems on concepts he'd already gotten. He was of two minds about calling Dr. Schmidt the one time he didn't get the concept: he said it made him feel stupid, but he's a perfectionist.

He very quickly zipped through Fractions (6 weeks) and Decimals and Percents (another 6 weeks), with a month or so break in between. And according to scope and sequence, that meant he was pretty much done with the usual middle school math by the end of his 6th grade year. He started on Beginning Algebra this year in October and got a third of the way through the book by Thanksgiving. We're also doing a Math History curriculum so it's ok that he's going a little slower with this one.

Any other helpful hints:
There is not a lot of drill in LOF, but there are all kinds of resources out there to give drill if your child needs it. If your child has ADHD, or has math talent, this is a very good pick. One of the strengths of LOF is that everything is taught within the story, so kids see immediately "what math is good for." Coming through Singapore, where there is a lot of mental math and many story problems, and Math Mammoth, which also has them, this is a very good next step. This is NOT a program that merely gives a set of directions that your child learns to follow without any understanding of why it works or how to apply it in real life. Neither is Math Mammoth. There are plenty of other programs that are; you may be coming from one of them so be prepared for complaints that your child is being forced to think!

Tracey Rollison
Review left January 4, 2010

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