“Beginning Algebra…as serious as it needs to be”
This is what is printed on the cover of the Life of Fred Beginning Algebra textbook. It is definitely an indication of the unique approach of the Life of Fred math series.
Stanley Schmidt has created the character of a young prodigy, Fred, whose story and life experiences present the concepts of math. The story begins on the day before Fred’s sixth birthday. After twelve chapters of following the adventures of Fred, students will have covered all of beginning algebra.
Students will become engaged in the story of Fred and his real-life math problems. Every few pages, students will have the opportunity to play and practice with the new concepts taught with the “Your Turn to Play” section. The answers to the problems in this section are given immediately after the problems.
At the end of each chapter are six “Cities.” Each city is a problem set of about 9-10 problems, which should take the student 20-30 minutes to complete. The first two cities have the answers supplied, the second two have odd answers supplied, and the last none. This allows students to go over the first several cities either on their own or with a teacher for practice, then complete the remaining cities as homework.
For a closer look, there is a 15-page Sample available. An overview of Beginning Algebra along with what topics are covered for each of the twelve chapters is located here.
While at first glance the textbook does not seem as beefy as a traditional text, looking at the Table of Contents proves otherwise. I think the non-traditional approach throws some into worry that this is more a supplemental program, but that is not the case. Some students may be inclined to just read and enjoy the story and not stop to do the problems. However, with the “Your Turn to Play” throughout and the Cities at the end of each chapter, there are plenty of solid practice opportunities to really get the concepts. Though the higher level texts (Fractions and beyond) are meant for the student to work through independently, wise parents will make sure students utilize the practice sets to make the most of the curriculum. There is also a Home Companion, available as a separate purchase, which provides lesson plans and other teaching tips for those needing more structure.
I have heard secular users express concerns that the Life of Fred series may have objectionable religious content because the author is a Christian as is his character, Fred. While there are religious-oriented references, such as attending church, it is in a very non-preachy way and instead just incorporated into daily life. There are also no negative references to other religions.
I like the quirky humor used throughout the text, and I suspect many kids will too. I suppose quirky humor is a given when the main character is a six-year-old college professor! The story is a bit rambling, which could be positive or negative depending on the reader. There are many trails and side notes leading into other subjects or interesting facts. For example, full adult vocabulary is used, often with an explanation of the word meaning. In one example using animals, an ibex was among the choices. Curious students will want to look up an ibex! Some science was worked into the storyline when something upsetting flooded Fred’s system with adrenaline with the following sentences explaining what adrenaline is, the new name (epinephrine) and how your body to responds to an increase. I would think that non-mathy kids especially would like all the additional information integrated into their math learning.
Life of Fred Beginning Algebra is definitely not your average, dry math textbook. Math does not have to be boring or serious. If you are looking for a different approach to math, whether for elementary grades or advanced math, the Life of Fred series stands in a category of its own.