Horizons is a very popular curriculum that uses teacher-led, fast-paced lessons and colorful workbooks. They teach through the spiral format. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of spiral learning, it means the material is presented in a way that doesn't expect mastery before moving on. Concepts are introduced, and multiple concepts are continually practiced and reviewed. The concepts come up over and over, so that eventually the student sees it enough over a period of time in different ways to finally master it. I've always taught a mastery based program for math (only one topic is presented until it is completely understood and mastered) so I was definitely intrigued to see how I would do with teaching something so different. My little test subject is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy who has never used a formal math curriculum, so I was also interested to see how he would respond.
The Teacher's Guide
The Teacher's Guide is a large, phone book size manual with 578 pages. It's very detailed, but has a simple layout. The first section is the Introduction, which includes an overview of the program, a readiness evaluation, remedial exercises for students who might need them, a section on preparing the lesson, and of course a scope and sequence. There's also a chart with a list of manipulatives and their corresponding lessons, as well as some other helpful charts. Section Two includes the actual lessons, Section Three is the answer key to the lessons, Section Four includes the additional worksheets, and Section Five is the worksheet answer key.
There are 160 lessons, which allows for the traditional 180 day school year to have unexpected interruptions, extra days on lessons, or fun activities interspersed throughout the year. The manual suggests spending about 30 minutes per lesson. Tests are included in the student books but are not written into the lessons or time suggestion; answers are provided in the answer key though.
Each lesson in the Teacher's Manual is set up the same and includes:
- Concepts - First grade has 17 major concepts and this shows what is covered in the current lesson
- Objectives - list of measurable criteria to assess student performance
- Teaching Tips - Optional ideas that correspond to the activities or will help students who need additional practice
- Materials, Supplies, and Equipment - A list of additional items needed (or suggested) to help carry out the lesson, such as a hundreds chart, flash cards, crayons, number line, etc
- Activities - This is the bulk of the lesson, and it includes step by step instructions for teaching the lessons. It is not scripted, but it is thorough and complete. Whenever a student page corresponds to the activity, it is written in bold. There seem to typically be between 5 to 8 activities, but sometimes it just just using a number chart or drilling with flashcards, and do not have a corresponding activity in the workbook.
- Worksheets - If there is a corresponding worksheet, it is listed here for optional practice
The student portion consists of two workbooks, which makes the size very manageable for smaller hands. There are 180 pages in the first book, and 188 in the second. Each lesson is one page, front and back. The pages are colorful and fun. There are only a few exercises on each page early in the book so far, and it's fairly simple and clean looking, even with the variety of pictures and colors. Since this is a spiral program, there are a few different types of exercises presented, some are current material and some is review. I like that the exercises call for a variety of tasks--not just writing. Sometimes students are drawing, crossing things out, circling objects, matching and doing other things besides just writing numbers. I appreciate this, because I have a young student who can do the work, but tires quickly of writing. I think the variety on the pages helps keep it interesting and makes it look less overwhelming. The tests are included every tenth lesson. They are included in the lessons, and can be added to it, or done on separate days, and there is a grading rubric right on the test.
How Did We Use It
What I like to do is read through several lessons over the weekend, so I know what will be coming up in case I don't get a chance to review each morning. Before I sit down with my first grader, I ideally like to review his lessons, just so they're fresh in my mind when I teach. When I skim the math lesson, I grab any materials indicated in the Teacher's Guide, and then sit down with Emory. It's not scripted, but having the key points in mind already is helpful, then I don't have to spend as much time with my head in the guide during the lesson. Here I was demonstrating big and little with household items. (Another reason I like to look through the lessons ahead of time is so that I can get the materials I will need and put them in our basket for the week.)
For the purpose of the review, we were asked to use the program about three times a week. For the summer, that's been a good pace, but we will pick up the pace to up to 5 days a week for our now, and back to 4 when co-op starts. The website's description of fast-paced is accurate, and I find that sometimes my son gets overwhelmed with the amount of material presented in one lesson. It really is a lot of material in one day, and I find splitting the lesson in half helpful on those days. I've also found that we go a lot faster if I have him answer the questions orally and I write the answers. Not always, but I think allowing him a break occasionally to let his mind focus on the math and not on the fine motor tasks at hand helps relax him.
What Do We Think?
You absolutely need the Teacher's Guide to get the most out of this program. The student books give minimal instructions, but you can't really teach from them. The Guide has suggestions for making the program multi-sensory, when to review certain concepts, and how to present the lesson in a tangible and concrete way. It also provides additional worksheets for review and reinforcement. The workbooks alone are not a curriculum. The Teacher's Guide is the heart of the program.
Emory likes the workbooks for the most part, but I know he feels like the lessons are too long. I'm still not sure how I feel about presenting several mini-lessons within a lesson. I feel a little scattered when I do his math with him, because we're constantly changing gears. I also feel guilty moving on when I'm not 100% sure he grasps a concept, but I guess that's because I've only taught a mastery program before now. I have to constantly remind myself this program is different from what I'm used to, and he's not expected to master everything before moving on. I'm having a hard time trusting this process, but we aren't far enough into the program to really know how the spiral approach will truly work for him, so I don't feel like it's fair to discount it yet.
I really do think it's a strong program for the right family, but I just have decided if it's right for us. We are going to continue to use it for now, at Emory's request, so I'm interested to see how it will work for us in the long term!
Find Out More
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