Category Archives for "Teaching tips"

Why Homeschool Math Assignments Should Be Short

The number of resources available to homeschool families is dizzying. Make the best use of your time and money by ensuring homeschool math assignments are short before you buy. 

When problems are a problem  

Students need to practice math skills; there's no way around it. However, many math curriculums present their content to students, then follow the lesson with a long list of practice problems for parents and students to wade through. Completing 30 problems for most upper-level math courses is not only unreasonable, it's unnecessary. 

Homeschool math assignments should be less about driving the methods into students' heads and more about showing successful use of the processes presented. Practice sets can and should be short, around 8-15 problems. If the goal is to have an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they have mastered the skill, then that can be done in just a few problems. 

With that in mind, be on the lookout for math curriculums that provide assignments that are already pared down ahead of time. This will ensure you don't spend hours looking through every practice set and it will save time and printing costs if you are using digital curriculum.  

Add multiple levels, not more problems

Students need to see that they can be successful, but how do you do that when there are just 8-15 problems? Short assignments can run the risk of a student feeling like they're failing (when problems are too hard) or that they're just completing busy work (when problems are too easy). Either way, it can be frustrating and dramatically impact how a student feels about math. 

The solution is to choose a curriculum that provides you with multiple levels of homework problems. For example, MathLight includes THREE separate practice sets for EVERY Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 lesson (Algebra 2 practice sets will be completed by March 2023). 

Having an A, B and C level for every homeschool math assignment puts our parents at an advantage because they can easily choose the best level for their child. Level A is aimed at beginners, Level B at intermediate students and Level C is for your advanced/high performing students. 

See the 3 practice levels that accompany the Classifying Real Numbers lesson in our Integers Pre-Algebra Unit below.

Easily differentiate with 3 versions of practice sets!

Notice how the same basic information is being covered in the pages above. However, the depth of knowledge and response format increases in difficulty as you progress from Practice A to Practice C. Having these 3 levels at the ready gives you flexibility to plan and prepare for your homeschool math assignments with ease. 

Practice sets are just the first Try

Replicating and applying math processes is the true long-term goal of math education. Quizzes, tests and mixed practice sets provide follow-up opportunities for little Johnie to prove that he has retained the information. A child who completed a lesson's practice set successfully, then again completes those skills without mistakes on a test has shown he didn't need more problems in his homeschool math assignment. 

On the other hand, poor results on a quiz do not necessarily indicate that having a short homework set was the culprit. Look deeper at the quiz to see where the mistakes were coming from in the lesson content.

Here's how that might look in your home: Imagine your high-achieving student is given the Level C homework after lesson 1. She does well on the practice set (showing mastery) but does downright awful on the quiz covering lesson 1 material. In this case the issue was not for lack of problems (she did well earlier on the homework), it was a memory issue. Reteaching can now be focused on the specific skills that were forgotten rather than wasting a bunch of time (and good-will) on long daily assignments. 

Test it out for fREE?! 

MathLight founder Rick Scarfi has spent 30+ years educating students and has proven time and time again that quality instruction makes completing the math work easy. MathLight units provide your homeschool Rick's exemplary video teaching for every lesson, note sheets, manageable homework sets for every lesson, unit review, assessments and more! 

Score 300+ pages of homeschool math resources PLUS access to over 10 hours of video content for your homeschool at no cost to you! Just tell us where to send it! Get the totally FREE MathLight Introductory Super Bundle for Homeschoolers HERE 

Procedures to Implement for Self-Paced Math Success

Effectively trained procedures are vital to a smooth-running classroom, nowhere more-so than with your self-paced students. These students have a lot of flexibility with their time and so they rely on you to give them the structure and expectations from which they work. Below we share the top procedures that are worth your energy- and a couple things you shouldn't sweat. 

Be a stickler for procedures, not timing:

You only have so much time and energy to put into teaching. Intentionally build in procedures that will benefit your self-paced students (they have some very specific needs!). These procedures and expectations are an important part of making that experience a success for you as well as them.

Procedures for self-paced success:

  • Students keep track of their progress on a pacing guide. Whether printed or online, a clear and simple pacing guide is vital because it lets you quickly hold students accountable for their progress. Everyone can point directly to what needs done next and you don't waste a lot of time asking "What do you need to be working on?" MathLight has a Self-Paced Student Checklist to help you with this exact thing. Get your free copy HERE.
  • Follow-up Tip: Consider a sticker chart as an option if your whole class is self-paced. It may sound somewhat elementary, but you'd be surprised how well high schoolers are inspired to take ownership when gold stars are put beside their names.  
  • Require completion of a minimum daily requirement. The way you check for this can be as varied as you want, but you should require some level of check-in each day with each self-paced student. No matter how responsible a student is, he or she is still prone to slip ups and it is your responsibility to keep them on track.
  • Require completion of a minimum daily requirement. The way you check for this can be as varied as you want, but you should require some level of check-in each day with each self-paced student. No matter how responsible a student is, he or she is still prone to slip ups and it is your responsibility to keep them on track.
  • Students must show their work. Some students will resist showing work more than others, but this expectation is key! Showing work helps your students understand that it's the "thinking," not the answer, that proves they learned the math. Building in early the expectation that they will show work is also essential to avoid drawn-out help sessions, and I would even go so far as to suggest you require students to have work shown before they ask a question. Remember, you can diagnose errors much quicker if the mistake is there in front of you instead of in their head. 
  • Leave phones and devices in a separate location. It goes without saying but these students will often have access to answer keys. Keeping phones away lessens the opportunity for bright but lazy students to use solver apps, or take photos of answer keys when you are distracted with their classmates.
  • Have students keep track of scores- neatly. Ultimately you need to provide parents and administration with proof that content was learned and this often comes in the form of grades. Develop a procedure early on for how you want your self-paced student to record and share grades with you. Consider completion grades for homework as opposed to "percentage correct" to avoid the lure to cheat. MathLight has a self-paced student checklist that includes a score sheet. Check it out and request your copy here.
  • Expect students to adjust their plan as needed. This is a hard one for students who have grown to relish their independence, but talk about a real-world skill. If there is a day you want everyone working together, then require your self-paced student's participation. Consider planning in a few "interruptions" early in the student's self-pacing experience and be strict on correcting their attitude. 

A few things you can probably relax on:

  • Requiring specific math methods. Self-paced math students rely heavily on video content to teach them. You're likely also encouraging these students to be resourceful, watching secondary videos when the ones you provided were not enough. If a student can explain the math embedded in their method then count it as a win, even if it's not the specific one you like best. Reward the student's agency and move on.
  • An off day. Students can and will have days when they surge ahead, essentially building in their own "free time." Teach them how to use that wiggle room by creating a plan of how to use it wisely. Make them prove they are ahead of target and give a specific (productive) task they can do instead. Think: Work on English project. Not: Video games.

Getting set up so your self-paced students are ready to go takes a little bit of work. But it is doable when you choose the right curriculum and implement smart procedures. Find out more of why we think MathLight is the best curriculum for you to use with your self-paced students! Check out everything that is included in our amazing math units now!

Ensure Homeschool Math Success With These Tips

Homeschool math gets tricky when you get into the upper levels! Gone are the days of simple arithmetic. Now you're moving on to graphing, solving complex equations. PLUS, what's this about there being new ways of doing things?!

MathLight Video Lessons make teaching- and learning- so much easier!

We combine tried-and-true best practices with updated methods to ensure your homeschooled student gets the best of both worlds.

How does this freebie sound? You can getting 300+pages of homeschool math resources PLUS access to over 10 hours of video content at no cost to you! Just tell us where to send it! Get the totally FREE MathLight Introductory Super Bundle for Homeschoolers HERE 

Still, you might be wondering if you're leaving any valuable learning opportunities on the table even after your MathLight homeschool math lessons are up and running. That's why today we're bringing you our top tips to ensure MathLight video lessons bring math success for your homeschoolers.  

Tips to Ensure Homeschool Math Success With MathLight Video Lessons:

  • Print the note sheets. Your student will need access to the day's note sheet for every lesson. Print those pages ahead of time and have them easily accessible to your child. Consider keeping a notebook and 3-hole punch handy! Not sure about hand writing notes? There are lots of benefits to your student's math retention!  You can read more about those benefits HERE.
  • Make sure you (and your student) can access the videos. Follow the steps outlined in the "Video Access and Unit Contents" document found inside the unit folder you downloaded. Email us at [email protected] if you have any problems getting up and running. 
  • Require students complete the note sheets while watching the video. The note sheets make it easy for your student to follow along since they match what is used in the videos. Plus, videos can be easily paused or replayed from any point to catch details that may have been missed. Bonus: when he shows you a completed notes sheet you know your student has watched the entire video! 
  • Give plenty of time to practice. MathLight provides 3 levels of practice sets for its Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 units. Level A is for beginners, B matches an intermediate understanding, and C is for in-depth/advanced students. We suggest having your child complete two of these. Choose from either practice set A/B directly following the day's notes. Then, complete the second set (choose from level B/C) as a warm-up before learning the next day's instruction. Research shows there are many benefits to "forgetting" and being forced to recall prior information. Therefore, completing a second practice set is one way you can solidify content knowledge. Read more about MathLight differentiated practice sets in this blog post.
  • Make checking answers a time for learning. Our kids can learn so much from their mistakes. Yet, it often requires clear and intentional direction from nearby adults to make these learning opportunities a habit. With that in mind, we suggest having your student check his/her own work against the answer key. Then, don't allow Savannah to move on until she can explain WHY it was wrong. Was a negative sign forgotten? Did numbers get added incorrectly? Identifying the mistake clearly really helps make the learning stick.
  • Use quizzes as a chance to see if the learning "stuck". You can minimize quiz stress and help your student see quizzes for what they are - a chance to see if the learning "stuck." In order to do this, however, your attitude toward quiz scores may need to change. Remember, good scores reveal the content was mastered and poor scores simply mean a little more practice is required. Live that reality out. 
  • Quick Review Videos give a chance for extra practice. Watching Quick Review videos are the perfect thing after a poor quiz grade. Instruct your student to pause the videos as Rick works through the examples. Then, have him/her work the problem out on their own. Finally, press play to watch as Rick's work is revealed. Remember, sometimes the steps may be slightly different (your student moves the variables to the left of the equal sign and Rick moves them to right). However, your child should still wind up with the answer  shown in the video as long as his/her steps were all mathematically correct. 
  • Put students in the driver seat at review time. Every MathLight unit includes a review page. Over time your student will own their final grade if they know ultimately that they are responsible for the time spent reviewing. It may require a few times of falling flat, but the end reward is worth it!
  • Tests sometimes require retakes. Even the best student can have an off day. Create your own retake simply by pulling questions off unused practice sets (make sure you match the format of the test!) to create your own retake test. As a result, you still have the problems worked out since every practice set has an answer key! 

It may take a little time to get your student into these habits, but the rewards are SO worth it! Let us know what you think! 

Easily Differentiate Using MathLight Practice Sets

Students need to practice math skills; there's no way around it. Yet, as a teacher this can be one of the trickiest parts of supporting your students because everyone seems to be at a different level. If you too have felt this struggle then you're not alone wondering, "How do I easily differentiate to meet all my students' needs?"

MathLight lessons have differentiated practice sets

Did you know that MathLight includes THREE separate practice sets for EVERY Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 lesson? (Algebra 2 practice sets will be completed by March 2023.) 

Having an A, B and C level for every MathLight lesson puts our teachers at an advantage because they can easily differentiate for their students. Level A is aimed at beginners, Level B at intermediate students and Level C is for your advanced/high performing students. 

See the 3 practice levels that accompany the Classifying Real Numbers lesson in our Integers Pre-Algebra Unit below.

Easily differentiate with 3 versions of practice sets!

Notice how the same basic information is being covered in the pages above. However, the depth of knowledge and  response format increases in difficulty as you progress from Practice A to Practice C. 

Having these 3 levels at the ready gives you flexibility to plan and be prepared for your students. But with all of these options, what are some tried-and-true methods used for implementing the practice sets?

Ways to easily differentiate with MathLight's Practice Sets: 

  • OPTION 1: Everyone completes level B- then wait and see. Level B practices are designed for the average student thus teachers using this method make Level B available to all students. Teachers then monitor student progress and implement the following as needed:
    • Transfer students to Level A if they are not ready. Teachers cannot always predict the areas where students may struggle or have gaps in their prior knowledge. In this option teachers plan to have a few sheets of the easier Practice A ready so students can still practice the skills but at a more appropriate level.
    • Use practice set C for early finishers. Have a few copies of Practice Set C ready for those early-finishing students. Try giving them a challenge instead of relying on them to be peer tutors!
  • OPTION 2: Teachers plan student levels ahead of time. Option 2 has the teacher determine how far to push each student. For example, maybe Jonah gets set A, Priya gets level C, and everyone else gets level B. Students work at the same time but on different practice sets according to prior performance or as needed based on IEPs.
  • OPTION 3: Students work through all sets but at various times during the unitOne customer explains how she successfully used all of the practice levels in her classroom: "[Students] worked through Practice A together. I was then able to use Practice B for their assignment and Practice C for a review." 
  • OPTION 4: Students choose their practice set based on their level of readiness. Students in this class setting build skills of self-reflection and agency as they choose their own level of difficulty. If Taya feels ready for level C she can choose that. Other students, however, may be confused over this particular lesson and need to build confidence with level A. Students are able to move freely among the levels from day-to-day and challenge themselves at any point. Just watch out for those students who intentionally choose the easiest when capable of more! 

How do you easily differentiate for your students? We'd love to hear! Email us at [email protected]!

Purchasing a MathLight unit or complete curriculum so you can take advantage of the built-in differentiation! Click the button below to check out all MathLight currently offers and purchase your units!

Finally! A Simple Solution to the Pencil Problem

Have you been stumped by the "pencil dilemma"? You know - trying to figure out how on earth to ensure your students have pencils without spending half your salary supplying them?

Be stumped no more. We've found an amazing (and simple) solution. And Linda shares it in this video from our sister site here:

You can grab a pack of golf pencils here.

p.s. Did you know that our unit reviews help students succeed in a variety of ways?

First, we provide quick review videos, which allow students to refresh any topic they need in only about 2-3 minutes.

Next, students have a chance to practice each type of problem to build their skills and work out any confusion.

Finally, our guided review builds study skills by providing a checklist of important terms and concepts. Students can mark off concepts they already know and work through the checklist until they're fully prepared and confident.

Check out the guided review in our FREE integers unit here.

The complete guided review is included in each of our pre-algebra & Algebra 1 units - or save even more with the full curriculum!

Grab more MathLight units here.

unit review for mathlight - study skills for algebra

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How to Find & Correct Students’ Misconceptions

math teacher tips: find & correct student misconceptions

Every math teacher has scratched their heads and wondered, "where on earth did they come up with that answer?"

But that's actually a super important question, right? If we can figure out why they arrived at the wrong answer, we can help correct their misconceptions and get them to the right one.

But how exactly do we do that?

 We share a few ideas in this video here:

Here at MathLight, we try to point out common misconceptions as often as possible in our pre-algebra and Algebra 1 videos. And we reinforce the correct methods with our accompanying student notes.

Our teaching videos and notes can help in a variety of ways - from flipping your classroom to easy sub plans to helping catch up absent or struggling students and more!

You can grab video lessons individually - or save with units or the full curriculum.

Grab video lessons with notes here.

Want to Hear More Students Say “I Get It Now”?

math teachers - how to hear your students say

Recently, a pre-algebra student came up to me and said, "Wow, that really helped! I get it now." 

Music to any math teacher's ears, right?

What helped him finally understand? I explain here:

I absolutely love these quick review videos - and I know you will, too. They make it so easy to review concepts - whether as a group or for students to use individually.

All of our pre-algebra quick review videos are currently available for FREE on our site. Click here to get access to all our pre-algebra quick review videos.

They're also a key part of our full pre-algebra curriculum and are included in all of our pre-algebra units

The Algebra 1 collection is almost complete as well. Get all the quick review videos in our full Algebra 1 curriculum, or grab individual Algebra 1 units. 

Don’t Let Your Students Make This Common Mistake with PEMDAS

common mistake PEMDAS order of operations

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a great way to help students remember the order of operations.

However, it has one big flaw. A flaw that, if we're not careful, can result in quite a few mistakes - and a whole mess of confusion & frustrated students.

The good news is that all the confusion can be easily avoided with a simple explanation, which we explain in this video:

The confusion comes when students assume that since M comes before D in PEMDAS, then multiplication must come before division in order of operations (same thing with addition and subtraction).

To combat this, we must emphasize to them that multiplication & division go together in the same step. So do addition & subtraction.

With this simple tweak, our students should be able to use PEMDAS to remember the order of operations without any problems!

p.s. We have a great FREE order of operations activity for you to try out with your students!

It's a group activity where students first use order of operations to solve problems individually. Those answers reveal clues to the group's logic puzzle which they then work together to solve. 

Download your FREE Order of Operations Logic Puzzle Activity

The Question Great Math Teachers Ask

great math teachers ask this question

Do you ever feel stuck as a math teacher? Not quite sure how to get your students to understand a certain concept or frustrated about various classroom issues?

In this video, we share a simple question that can help reframe all of these challenges and put you on the path toward workable solutions - solutions that will benefit both you & your students!

Because we all know that our greatest goal is to see our students succeed - and asking this simple question will help you do just that.

Check it out here:

p.s. Have you tried out our FREE bell ringers yet? Grab them here:

5 Reasons to ❤️ Video Math Lessons

Video lessons can not only make your life as a teacher so much easier - they can also be a tremendous help to your students.

Check out this quick 30-second video to discover five simple ways video lessons can make your math class even more amazing:


The best news? Right now you can try out some of our best videos for FREE!

Click here to get FREE pre-algebra video lessons.

You can also grab individual video lessons with accompanying guided notes OR save even more money with our unit bundles.

Click here to grab individual video lessons or unit bundles.

video lessons with notes for pre-algebra and Algebra 1