Dynamic 2 Moms Blog

Mastery vs. Spiral Progams - Math

Posted on August 12, 2009 at 11:46 AM

So what is the difference? Why is it important? As long as I have been homeschooling, this seems to be one of the most talked about topics, especially in terms of math.  I think too when it comes to math, and especially the older our kids get, the more important it becomes.


It seem like the mantra for mastery programs  is "If you don't truly understand the concept - you really don't understand", no matter how much you practice it. I tend to agree, even as non-math person.


So what does spiral and mastery mean, in "laymen's terms", my terms:tongue::


Spiral - Well, the explanation is much like the picture you vision of a spiral or coming back around. It means information is presented with the thought that if you don't get something the "first time around, you will get it the second time". So you expand on your knowledge or a skill. So  through continuing to review you will "get it".


Mastery - means that each incremental piece of information needs to be learned or "mastered" before you can build upon it. You can review at your pace OR just not move on to you have the concept down.


Even though I have been use to spiral programs most of my life in public school, I feel the superior value of mastery programs far outweighs a spiral program because a child is not repeating what they do know, truly understanding a concept of what they don't know and otherwise enjoying math a lot more instead of asking "what type of problem or operation" do I do here?


Yes, like I said, non-math person here--but I have learned to like it thanks to mastery programs like Math U See that gives you the tools to understand "why".


I guess I do feel differently about this approach at the early levels of learning  math just for the fact that I am not a "licensed math teacher"  and do want to be sure that my children have the basics down and felt that by "review and drill"   they did understand. I think this does have a place in learning some basic math facts.


I can say now that even though I followed that approach, spiral approach in the elementary years-- my oldest learns better by a "mastery approach". Was it because I did use a combination of approaches in the younger years? I think so....I think his development played a huge part in his learning. But because he did get a good foundation in basic math, he is prepared for mastery learning.


Here are some programs that fall into spiral and mastery and if you know of any others, please let me know and I will list them for other homeschool moms like me who always wanted to know more on this subject.


Spiral - Saxon, Abeka, Horizons, BJU, Calvert (but not too much review)

Mastery - Rod & Staff, Singapore, Life of Fred, Math U See, Video Text Algebra, Math Mammoth, Teaching Textbooks (claims mastery, but I feel it is more a nice spiral approach)

Uses Both - Rightstart





Categories: Math

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Reply Rose
3:21 PM on August 15, 2009 
Usefull info. In public school I was taught with a spiral approach. Did not work for me. I am trying Saxon Math withh my 6th grader this year. Even though it is said to be a spiral approach, I will not let her move on untill she understands the concept. Does this sound like a good approach? I can always get worksheets from other sources untill I feel she has caught it. Trying for the best of both worlds. :)
Reply ★ Owner
4:17 PM on August 17, 2009 
Hi Rose,

Okay I have tried on less than 2 times to post a reply to your comment, but I think this "web host" eats them...LOL

I think you have a good handle on it...you know as a non-math person who now likes math , I wish I would have realized sooner (although my kids seem to be doing fine) that math is a FOREIGN LANGUAGE.

Just like learning a foreign language we need pictures, dictionaries, and terms explained, math is the same way.

So no matter how "many worksheets you give her to do" if she does not understand the "language" she won't get it.

Too, realize that just because some programs are mastery, does not mean they don't have enough practice in them to help them understand the concept. I think that is the misconception I was under.

Rod and Staff ,Teaching Textbooks and Math U See are good examples of having lots of good practice to choose from.

Just remember you are teaching the "child" and NOT a curriculum--

I know now in all my 'drill and kill" of math facts that I could have gone on sooner in some topics as I did not pass on to my sons my math handicap. They all prefer the mastery method.

I have 2 math inclined and one who could care less, but they enjoy not having repeat something they caught.

So don't be afraid to "move on" if she has it and don't be afraid to "grow and change" and use other providers as you see fit.
Don't think you need to stay with one program "infinitely" but get the benefit from a lot of them.

I would be interested Rose in how she does...let me know.

Enjoyed your post and as I guess you can tell..I am a "talker"..lol

Reply Rose
6:24 PM on August 20, 2009 
Hi Tina,

I must have been really tired when I wrote that post.. I sound like I was babbling. :) I will keep you updated on how she does. I hope you girls know how much we appreciate your work, and the time you spend helping us out. This is a great place. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of it. If I can ever figure out how to make my own stuff, and put it on the computer, I will be happy to share....untill then, I will profit from yours. Thanks bunches!

Reply Amanda
11:29 PM on June 24, 2013 
Systemath is also a mastery program.