Overview: Homeschooling high school math doesn’t have to be scary when you know everything about it! Read for all the details so you can be confident. Note: There are referral links present.
Math is everyone’s favorite subject! Um, NOT.
It’s been years since you had to do anything more math-y than figure out how much you’ll save with a 20% discount off the price of that cute sweater on the clearance rack. Now your teen is entering high school, and things are about to get real.
How can you teach your kid what you don’t remember? How can you make sure they are learning it? What do you need to know to get through this high school math thing in one piece?
That’s where I come in. Not only have I homeschooled five kids through high school math, but I used to be a math teacher in a public school back in the day. In this article my goal is to give you ALL the information you need (or to tell you where to find it!) to feel confident about homeschooling high school math with your teen.
As with everything else homeschooling high school, it’s really not as scary as you think it will be. Grab your favorite warm beverage and be prepared to de-stress!
Here’s what we will discuss today:
- The High School Math Sequence
- When Your Teen is Behind in Math
- Daily Math Procedures
- Grading High School Math
- Math for College Entrance Exams
- Math Curriculum Choices (with links to my reviews)
So let’s get going!
It all starts with the high school math sequence.
There are certain math courses that are considered high school level, and these are what colleges are looking for. That doesn’t mean your teen can’t do other math during high school, but be aware that colleges won’t count those other courses as meeting admissions requirements. Let’s talk about the traditional pattern first, then we’ll get into variations.
The first math course that colleges consider as worthy of high school credit is Algebra 1. This is usually taken in 9th grade but a couple of my kids were able to handle it in 8th grade.
The thing to remember about Algebra is that it’s the first math course that requires abstract thought, and kids aren’t always ready for that. The abstract part of their brain is newly developing right around ages 13-15 or so, and many kids who can do great at all the math that comes before Algebra still struggle with Algebra itself.
If your kid is on the young side of this age range, then your best solution if they are struggling is to put the Algebra away and bring the general math back out for a year or two, then try again. Most likely it will go better when they are a little older.
Not every kid has to take Pre-Algebra, but it can be a great fit for many kids who are in this inbetween stage and need something to tide them over until they are ready for Algebra. Colleges will not count pre-Algebra towards their admissions requirements, but that doesn’t mean you can’t count it for your own graduation requirements.
Want to know what colleges require? See this post: How to KNOW What Your Teen NEEDS to Get into College.
Want to know what you “should” require for graduation? See this post: What You Need to Know about Homeschool Graduation Requirements.
After Algebra 1, you can choose between Geometry or Algebra 2 as the next course — and then whichever one you didn’t do second is what you will do third.
Many colleges expect three credits of high school math, so once you’ve done these, you’re generally gucci. (But do your own research on that based on where your kid wants to go — especially if they are planning on majoring in something STEM or are Ivy League bound. My kids were all more ordinary and definitely NON-stem, LOL, so we looked at average schools.)
My recommendation: I personally suggest doing Geometry first, then Algebra 2. The main reason is that Geometry only uses Algebra 1 level concepts, so your teen might forget a bunch of Algebra 2 while doing Geometry if they’ve done Algebra 2 first. Yet the college entrance exams like the ACT, SAT, and CLT all include Algebra 2, so you’ll want that fresh in your kid’s mind when they go to take those tests.
After Algebra 2 comes Pre-Calculus and then Calculus. Most kids don’t get this far. Save it for your kid who wants to go into math or science or be an engineer. And even then they will take Calculus in college, so don’t feel pressured to get it done in high school.
Here is a listing (and mini reviews) of the curriculum that we used with my older kids: Our Homeschool Math Curriculum Sequence from K-12.
Can your kid take a personal finance course and get math credit? Sure, but again, it might not be counted towards college admissions requirements. Here is one example of a great option for a personal finance curriculum: Personal Finance Illustrated®.
What if you are behind the traditional high school math sequence?
First let’s get clear what “behind” means for homeschoolers. There is really only one time that a teen can be “behind,” and that is if they haven’t completed college admissions requirements by the time they graduate. That means, if the college requires three credits of high school math, and the teen has only completed two or less — and they want to go to college — then we can legitimately say they are “behind.”
This doesn’t actually apply to many kids. Usually if a teen is struggling with math to the point of not completing enough high school credits, then often they don’t want to go to college anyway. If they aren’t trying to go to college, then they aren’t behind!
One of the beauties of homeschooling is we can tailor the education to the individual child. If your teen has serious math struggles and has no desire to continue their education after high school, then YOU can decide what level they need to get to, and it can be whatever is the best they can do. (As long as they do complete whatever your state homeschool law says to do, which in most states doesn’t specify a minimum level of attainment.)
But if your teen wants to go to college and doesn’t have the requirements done, there is still hope. Here are some options:
a) If it’s just a matter of squeezing the coursework in, then take Geometry and Algebra 2 simultaneously for senior year. They don’t depend on each other, so this is doable — if your teen can stand that much math at one time.
b) If courses were started but not completed, try Learn Math Fast as a way to finish quickly. Use code ANNIE for 10% off!
c) Start at community college; get the high school math courses there at the same time as taking college level Gen Ed requirements, then transfer to a four-year.
d) If math is the only subject that they are behind getting the requirements, try applying to the four-year college anyway. Perhaps the college will grant admittance as long as remedial math is taken freshman year.
One thing I would like to point out here is that in my opinion, often the math frustration can be addressed with one simple fix, which I detail in this article: Why Your Kid Hates Math (no matter which age or grade). I think this applies to MANY kids, and while there are exceptions, it’s worth trying my idea.
Also, here is some great encouragement about being “behind” in high school: When You Fear that Your Homeschooled Teen is Behind.
More help specifically about math difficulties here: Episode 57 – What to Do about High School Math Struggles.
How to handle high school math on the daily
I have two major tips for getting through the everyday slog of high school math:
1) Don’t grade daily work — because that is when they are still learning and practicing. It would be like grading them on their driving practice, when they are still trying to figure out how to use the turn signal and the brakes. Practice should be practice, with no threat of a bad grade hanging over their head.
2) Math is a great subject for them to start to learn independently. Have them read (or view) the lesson, do the daily problems, then check those daily problems for themselves. Then it is also their job to figure out why they got anything wrong, and to redo if necessary.
Those are my two main tips, but I have more here: Sanity-Saving Homeschool High School Math Tips.
What does get graded? Their chapter tests. These they hand over to you, and you check them and mark things wrong — and if you’re the type of parent who likes to give them a second chance, then you hand the test back for correction — and then you give them a grade on that test.
Not grading daily work, and having your kid work independently until it’s time to grade the test — these practices make math go much more smoothly for everyone. YOU don’t have to spend time every day correcting practice problems; THEY can proceed at their own pace, and they are actually learning BETTER because they are handling it on their own.
And this solves the whole problem of you having to remember what you learned in math class 20+ years ago. All you need is the answer key — no math knowledge required!
If you’d like to LISTEN to me discussing high school math logistics, you can do so here: Episode 56 – How to Homeschool High School Math with Less Stress.
More details about grading high school math
One topic that comes up when it comes to grading high school math tests is that of whether or not to give partial credit. Sometimes your kid makes a silly mistake on a multiplication fact early in the problem, and then that snowballs the whole rest of the way, so their answer is wrong. They knew HOW to do the problem, but because of that small error early on, their answer doesn’t match the one in the answer key.
If your teacher’s manual includes a solutions guide, or if you are a mathy person, you can certainly decide to try to determine if the reason for their wrong answer is a small error or a larger one. Did they miss something tiny, like a negative sign, or a math fact, or a decimal point — or did they really not know how to do the problem at all?
If the problem was executed with the correct procedure but there is a small mistake which affects the answer, then it is definitely nice to not count the problem completely wrong, but maybe to take off only a small portion of the points. For instance, if the problem is worth five points on the test, you might only take one point off for that multiplication mistake.
But this is NOT necessary. If you are unable to dive down into this level of detail, then no worries. Just count the whole thing wrong and move on. One great result from this method is it might teach your teen to pay better attention to the little things!
In any classroom, the teacher decides how grading happens. If they want to grant partial credit, they do. If they don’t want to, for any reason, they don’t have to. Guess what? You get the same privilege of choice.
One way to avoid the whole grading hassle is to use an online math curriculum, so the grading is done for you. This can be an amazing thing! My thoughts about doing online math here: Using an Online Math Curriculum.
What about the ACT, SAT, or CLT?
As mentioned earlier, all of these exams include math content up through Algebra 2. So the further your teen is in the math sequence, the better they will do on the exams, theoretically. YRMV, of course, LOL.
But two caveats here:
1) Don’t make them wait until they are in the midst of Algebra 2 to start taking these. I recommend they take the test (whichever one they are focusing on) as many times as reasonable, starting at about spring of sophomore year. Most kids will not even have finished Geometry by that point.
Part of getting a good score on the test is being confident taking the test, and that happens in large measure through repetition. As they gain math knowledge, they will be able to attempt more of the problems — but in the beginning, just get used to the idea that they won’t know how to do them all. That’s OK, because the practice taking the test is important, and the score will hopefully increase as they get further along in their math coursework.
2) Not all of their math score will depend on how much content they have covered. A large part of taking these tests is knowing the tips and tricks of moving quickly, narrowing down possible answers, knowing shortcuts for certain types of problems, and in general being well-versed in test-taking strategies.
This requires additional instruction, and I recommend making sure test prep is part of their homeschool schedule. This can be math-focused, as is the case with Mr. D’s SAT/ACT Prep courses, or it can be more generalized, like College Prep Genius.
Since these tests can determine scholarships for college, it’s definitely a good idea to take them seriously and prepare as much as possible.
One great way to tell if your teen is progressing sufficiently in high school math is to take the CLT10, which is a free test for sophomores that can be taken online in the comfort of your own home. More info here: High School Assessment.
If your teen is headed to community college (or not headed to college at all), then you might decide not to take any of these tests. I frankly still do advise taking one at least once — but you gotta do what is best for YOUR teen.
Finally, here are the math curriculum options I am familiar with (with more being added all the time!)
Since I used to be a math teacher, I still have a soft spot for math; so I’ve set a goal of reviewing literally every homeschool high school math curriculum out there. I haven’t accomplished it yet, but I’ve looked at quite a few! Click on the curriculum name to be taken to their website (if there is one); click on “Review” to read my review.
NOTE: For more information about the pros/cons of the different types of curriculum, with additional blurbs about the curriculum options mentioned here, read: How to Choose the BEST Homeschool Math Curriculum for Your Teen.
Online (not live) Curriculum:
Jacobs Algebra and Geometry (Review)
Lial Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus (Review)
Phew! I honestly have word-barfed basically everything I have to say about high school math onto this page (and/or the links I direct you to from here). If you have a question I haven’t answered, then please leave a comment so I can not only answer it but also add it to this content!
Do you feel better? You don’t have to teach high school math, nor even grade high school math, if you don’t want to. Hopefully all the information in this article will help you decide what is the best way to do math for YOUR teen!
Remember, you don’t have to follow a list of “shoulds” given to you by so-called experts. You have the freedom to determine what requirements you think are important, depending on your specific goals. No one can tell you what those are — only you know what is best for YOUR kid. Use the information on this page to do just that. I have confidence in YOU!
Don’t ever forget: it may not always be easy to homeschool high school, but it doesn’t have to be THAT hard! HUGS!
- Episode 91: Unschooling Teens — My Experience and Advice (with Julie Polanco) - November 18, 2022
- Episode 90: Are You Giving Grace to Your Teen? - November 4, 2022
- Episode 89: Kristin Moon’s Homeschool Experience — Do’s and Don’ts for High School - October 21, 2022