Life of Fred: Fractions
Category Description for Life of Fred Middle/High School Series
Even before we had a description of this math program on our website or in our catalog, we had many, many inquiries about it (and a goodly number of sales). Is it the name? Is it the concept of a small, pointy-nosed 5-year old teaching Calculus at Kittens University? Is it the outrageous storyline? Or are people desperate for another approach to math? Although I was the one who reviewed and decided to carry this program, I was initially skeptical about its scope. After all, much of the text was given over to following the Life of Fred, with all the strange humor and unlikely scenarios that go along with it. In fact, that’s part of the attraction for a student who really doesn’t enjoy math (yes, I have one of those). So, could the course possibly have the content that a more traditional text (like Saxon) has? Moreover, what type of person would actually use this course, as entertaining and whimsical as it is (if you can think whimsy and Calculus in one thought). Well, after using Life of Fred for Beginning Algebra and reading through most of the Fractions book, I think I can answer some of these questions.
First, Fred IS the unlikely mathematician in all of us. Despite his youth and other cards stacked against him (you’ll have to read the books to understand this), Fred is amazingly successful as a math professor. Why? It’s because he finds math so intriguing, entertaining, and downright USEFUL in everyday life (his life, the Life of Fred). Why, math is everywhere in the world of Fred – and no matter how things are going, he can always see the math in it.
Then, there’s the psychology of Fred. You want to help the little guy. I mean, he’s smart, but so innocent, kind, helpful, endearing – small, helpless, underweight (why, when he was erroneously inducted into the army, they had to use a little cup instead of a helmet for his uniform!). Clearly the underdog in many situations, Fred has ended up in the hospital in both books I’ve read – even though one injury was accidental. But I digress. You do get wrapped up in the Life of Fred. And because you’re rooting for him and concerned about him, you kind of get taken up in the math that pervades his thoughts. No matter how tough the Life of Fred gets, he always has time to explain the finer points of math to those needy souls around him. Don’t get me wrong, Fred has plenty of fun, too. He always makes the best of things and has some great student/friends at Kittens who also seem to need math in their everyday lives….
These are, indeed, the most unconventional full-program math texts I’ve ever seen. Maybe that’s why students who dislike traditional programs are so drawn to LOF. The books just seem more accessible and – well, friendly. Maybe it’s just the author’s personality or particular gift, but students who are turned off by traditional math seem to find refreshment and even inspiration in LOF. Although you may have read some debate on whether the series is too lightweight for a basal program, my two cents is that it is not. The math is all here – and then some. What is missing is repetition, redundancy, and a multitude of problems to work. These books are like my favorite college math text. When I first saw it, I thought it was too slim for a whole-semester course. Ha! Every word in that book was loaded. The text was so cunningly and concisely written that you actually had to study every word because nothing was repeated. While LOF isn’t quite that concise (it does have a complete storyline along with the math), Dr. Schmidt doesn’t waste words or your time. Every problem is almost like a brainteaser – just a little out of your reach unless you truly grasp the concepts. It gives you a chance to figure things out for yourself. There’s a whole lot of brain-stretching going on. Therefore, gifted math students are also drawn to these courses as they allow them to be challenged. Another good candidate for LOF is the remedial student who has already been through the course using another text. If it just didn’t click, I would try this one. Finally, a motivated or independent student would also appreciate using the course. It’s purposely addressed to the student and intended to be self-teaching. In fact, the author prefers that students use these with very little help from you so they can learn to study and understand on their own. Even the solutions are addressed to the student. In fact, there’s a lot of actual instruction in the solutions, which students should read after trying to solve problems on their own. In short, just about EVERY student could use this program. The only shortfall I have seen in the program is for students who really need a lot of constant repetition and reinforcement. In some sections there are just not enough problems, even using the Home Companion. I had this problem twice in Beginning Algebra as serious as it needs to be. I both made up some of my own problems and supplemented with problems from Saxon Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 (some of the material is actually more advanced than in that series). I have since run across several other supplemental products that I could have used as well.
Life of Fred is a series of 12 courses. Two of these are Fractions and Decimals & Percents. The author recommends waiting to start these until your child is old enough to work on his/her own (about 5th grade). Each of these courses should take less than a quarter of a year to complete. The new LOF Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology is formatted like the previous books, with BRIDGES rather than CITIES. It would fit in a teaching sequence between Fractions and Decimals & Percents and Beginning Algebra. You can get a good idea of what is taught in the course and the proportion of biology to algebra by checking out the table of contents on our website. Literally a “dream come true”, Fred is every bit as entertaining while teaching biology as he is when teaching math! While this course will not replace high school biology, it will replace much of the biology instruction in a general science course. Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics completes the pre-algebra instruction, this time delving into topics such as interest rates, competition, opportunity costs, supply and demand. Following the same format as the Fractions, Decimals & Percents and Pre-Algebra 1 and 2, Dr. Schmidt has released Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics (formerly Elementary Physics). This book fits nicely into the Life of Fred sequence between Decimals & Percents and Pre-Algebra 1. Dr. Schmidt feels that too much time is lost before presenting physics in high school and this book is designed as an introduction to fill that gap. Algebra and Advanced Algebra should each take a little more than half a year. While Geometry takes place during one day in the Life of Fred (a Thursday after his sixth birthday), it is definitely a full year course. Trigonometry can be completed in half of a year and Calculus (although covering two full years of calculus) will take one year. According to Mr. Schmidt, after this progression “you will be ready to declare as a math major at a university at the upper division level and take third-year (junior-level) mathematics courses”. For even more Life of Fred, there is also a Statistics course which “has much more material than is normally covered in a beginning university statistics course”. It’s been years since my required course as a business major at a university – I may just take this one myself. Partly to test the author’s assertion and partly because life is full of decisions and, as the author says, “Success in life is 90% making the right decisions in the first place” (the other 10% is carrying them out). Also new is Linear Algebra (as serious as it needs to be). Scanning through the book, it looks a lot like an upper-level course called Finite Math that I took in college. It covers: solving systems of equations with one solution (includes Gauss-Jordan elimination, Gaussian elimination), many solutions, and no solution (includes data fitting); matrices; vector spaces; inner product spaces (including Fourier series and Gram-Schmidt orthogonalization process); linear transformations; and systems of equations into the future (including eigenvalues, stochastic matrices, Markov chains, Fibonacci numbers) It is described by Dr. Schmidt as a math course required by most colleges for math majors and should be taught after Calculus As far as progression, Dr. Schmidt has placed it at the very end of his other courses, after Statistics. Like other upper-level courses, this one has “Your Turn to Play” sections separating textual chunks. Each chapter ends with six CITIES. There is a separate answer key for answers not included in the text.
Organization and format of the books is similar; of course, they all have a captivating storyline centering on Fred Gauss, a very young university math professor. The author, Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D., is a witty guy, a good storyteller, and he also loves math. Unlike many programs, the text is not written at a 6th grade level. If anything, the text is imbued with a little “extra” knowledge in different areas – especially vocabulary. Dr. Schmidt also appears to be a Christian man. Although his books aren’t preachy and in places tend toward gritty realism, you will find a strong plug for goodness here, along with a main character who says his prayers every night. Fractions, Decimals and Percents, and the Pre-Algebra books are structured a little differently than the upper-level books. Chapters in these are short (as are the books), ending with a Your Turn to Play problem set, followed by complete solutions with explanation. Generally, after every five chapters, there’s a BRIDGE taking you from the culmination of the preceding chapters to the new material. Actually, there are five BRIDGES – your student has five tries to make it across the BRIDGE. These contain a ten-question review of everything learned to that point. Mr. Schmidt recommends that students get at least nine out of ten right to move on. Answers to these are in the back of the book. The final BRIDGE has 15 questions (20 in Decimals) and, again, five tries to pass. This gives a student ample opportunity to go back, study the material, and try again without feeling like they’ve failed. It is built-in remediation, rather than just failing and still going on (isn’t this also the way we train our children? If they don’t get it right, they need to correct and do it again). Starting in Beginning Algebra, chapters are longer. For courses with the Home Companion available (Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry), this book breaks the chapters into bite-sized lessons. Natural breaks occur when the student encounters a Your Turn to Play (series of problems with completely-worked solutions following), but the Companions also provide sets of problems for each lesson in between. There are 108 lessons as laid out in the Fred’s Home Companion Beginning Algebra study guide, but many of these are short; most students would combine some of them. By comparison, Saxon has 120 lessons, but this does not include testing whereas LOF’s lesson count does. At the end of each chapter there are six CITIES (which all have names so you can assign a student to do Palmetto and Radcliffe for homework). Actually, I’m not sure why they have names – but, as with BRIDGEs, these determine whether to move forward. They have some review material from previous chapters, but are largely chapter recaps. They take roughly 20-30 minutes to complete and, again, give your student a chance to test, review, and test again (or you might work the first two cities together, assign the next two, and use the final two as tests). The first two CITIES have all answers provided; the next two have only odd answers shown; the last two have none. All answers not in the text are in the Home Companion or Answer Key. The back of each upper-level book (except Calculus) has an A.R.T. section (All Reorganized Together) containing definitions, formulae, theorems postulates – all the stuff you’d like summarized in one handy place together for easy reference. The Life of Fred actually begins in the Calculus as serious as it needs to be book (in which Fred is born), the first written (in 2001). Unlike the other volumes, it has all the Your Turn to Play questions and answers in the back and a Further Ado section containing even more rigorous material for you to include at your discretion. Possibly because this volume was originally written for college students, the material is edgier in this first book (Fred’s dad drinks, his family is somewhat dysfunctional, and there are other allusions to drugs, alcohol and "hanky panky"). You may wish to skim ahead of your student and "edit" anything unsatisfactory.
So far, I’m giving a thumbs up to this unique (and slightly eccentric) math program. It has made math more palatable (and interesting) for my daughter. It has some unusual and novel approaches to problem solving (like a simple, foolproof method for factoring trinomials where the squared term has a coefficient > 1 instead of the guess and check approach employed in other books). It incorporates critical thinking and a discovery approach to math by its very nature. It integrates the value of learning in other curricular areas. It teaches math in the context of real life – okay, real life uses for math in a kind of surreal life. And, who wouldn’t like a math book that begins, “Hi! This is going to be fun,” then follows through on that promise? Visit www.stanleyschmidt.com for other Raves from Readers or to find out more about the content of the books – or even to contact the author directly. (You can even read some of Mr. Schmidt’s 8:30 prayers). I’m not sure how Dr. Schmidt can include his home phone number on his website and encourage people to email and phone him with questions, but I have read several testimonies to his responsiveness. For a full scope and sequence, visit our website and take a peek at the table of contents for each level.
As a teacher, I have obviously enjoyed this course. But my daughter, Janine, has never had the innate appreciation for math that I do. Let’s ask her what she thought (or thinks – we still have 14 lessons to go!). Here are her comments on Life of Fred Beginning Algebra as serious as it needs to be:
“I love Life of Fred because of, well, Fred! But also because this is the most creative math course I’ve ever seen. When I first looked at the math course, the thing that made me excited (besides the story) was not seeing millions of problems. Just a few, thought-provoking and even funny ones. In the lesson book, you’ll only have one small page, then you can be done. The Cities don’t even have that many problems. But they are all worth your time and un-repetitive, and most inspire a challenge or are a little puzzle. Mom didn’t think it would be a full-fledged math course. But the more we’ve worked through it, I’ve seen that it’s quite a bit harder and requires more thinking. No wonder it’s been put on some “gifted” lists. Moving along…..the writing is HILARIOUS! It’s almost like Stanley Schmidt and I have the same sense of humor sometimes. I’ve read Fractions and most of Begininng Algebra and enjoyed both immensely. It’s a ridiculous, bizarre little series, which makes me love it all the more! My brother likes it so much he showed it to his college friends….and of course they all laughed. The characters are amazing, and the illustrations (especially of Fred) are priceless. Stanley even has a little fun subtly (and not so subtly) teasing movies, doctors, math books and a whole myriad of things, and he has never failed at amusing me. Math was my most hated subject. And while I can’t say that I had a complete turnaround and wake up every morning saying “YAY! I get to do math today! Wheeeeee!” I can say that Life of Fred has taken all the dullness out, keeps me captivated, and injected a lot of fun. I’d call it an art piece, if a math book can be an art piece. An amazing, amazing series, even more so considering we’re talking about a math course.”
Well, there you have it – from teacher and student. Who says math can’t be entertaining?
My son has struggled and struggled with math the last several years and absolutely hated anything to do with math. Everyday was a fight to get him to do his math. He would sit for hours and hours just staring at his math book and cry when I tried to sit down with him to work on it. I've tried several different curriculums with him and nothing worked. I decided that this year something needed to change with his math. After searching for a math curriculum that he would enjoy and understand I consulted a curriculum specialist here at Rainbow Resource. I explained my dilemma and the specialist asked, "Does your son like to read?" I told her he does and then she recommended The Life of Fred math books. This has been the best math book I have ever seen or tried to do with my son! It has a great story line (Yes! It teaches in story form!), that captivates my son and he doesn't want to stop doing his math now! He does several chapters everyday and his math is the first thing he pulls off the book shelf every morning. He is grasping the fraction skills so easily (because they are explained so simply), which is something that he's never been able to do before. I am also finding my other children reading the books just for the story! If you have a child who is struggling in math, or if your child could just do with a different twist to math, these are the books for your child! I highly recommend them to anyone!
Everybody loves Fred!! Yep, even the 3 year old! We purchased Fred after a very frustrating search for upper grade math. From experience, some of the more "popular" math courses are just not the best for everyone. Too much reading, instruction, repetition, just too much of everything. We have a child who struggles with reading, he tires easily and frustrates quickly. Math, however was his strength. Of the two math courses we tried, one was heavy on reading and the other had NO instruction. Where to find the balance? The computer math courses were a little too pricey for us. When my new Rainbow catalog arrived, I happened to flip open tho the page presenting The Life of Fred. Hmmm...Interesting. After some internet research we plunged in, buying the whole set. My son is happily plugging through the first book. Challenging yet not overwhelming. My oldest daughter used the Fractions and Percents & Decimals for review and said they were fantastic. She also noted they were a great follow up to Saxon 7/6. She is currently in Basic Algebra and really enjoys it. Sometimes, at night, I find her reading to her little brothers out of Fred. They giggle at the pictures and repeat the stories to people in conversation. As far as difficulty or depth or adequate coverage of topics? We shall see. Right now, it's nice to have a child excited about math, relaxed in his learning, and enjoying a good challenge. Fred forces you to think. The questions stretch you. There aren't that many questions in each chapter, however, they are LOADED! One more note on the depth of coverage. Our uncle was visiting and he is literally a rocket scientist. He was looking over Fred, smiling at the kids' excitement. He nodded and said, "This is nice, very nice. Challenging and thorough, yet very engaging." He wrote down the title so he could pass it on to a friend who home schools. There you go, approval from a rocket scientist. Good enough for me.
Wow!!! I cannot begin to express how excited I am about this math program. I ordered Life of Fred Fractions as an experiment. I received the book on Friday and gave it to my daughter just to look over. She started to READ and after a few minutes she came to me and asked for a piece of paper. I watched in awe! By Sunday morning I had to pry the book out of her hands and demand that she put her math book away for a while. She had completed half the book on her own. My daughter had previously finished the first half of Singapore 4 which covered fractions; however, she just as easily mastered new concepts as well as math concepts she had been taught previously. When I would pass her room I could hear her laughing out loud at the stories!!! I have since recommended it to everyone I know. It is a unique book that tests whether the student truly understands math concepts. My daughter self checks all the problems until she reaches a "bridge" and she brings the problems to me to check (answers are in back). If anything is missed, I can tell immediately which concept needs to be reviewed. "Chapters" are short (as little as one page), but teach an incredible amount of information. I believe this would be an excellent series to prepare a student for the SAT.
My 12 year old son tired of the same old math drills year after year, and I knew he needed something more to spice up his enthusiasm. He loves math, and we typically use two curriculums for it, but it got dull. Fred is amazing! It is self-taught, which my son thought was fabulous, and it is so engaging! My son was hooked once he opened the book. We ordered fractions to review, but really just so we could start at the beginning of Fred's journey, it's that good. It's the first subject that my son does everyday. This curriculum is very easy to use and you need only the text. It is a very worthwhile investment. I have to say that this is a one of a kind type of math program and I have no negative thoughts about it. We have used A Beka, Singapore, and Math-U-See for elementary math. For secondary math, I have to say Life of Fred is my top choice.
Our daughter has dyscalculia and other math curricula caused volcanic eruptions of tears. If you hadn't reviewed LIFE of FRED in such detail, I wouldn't have contacted the books' author, and my daughter probably wouldn't be smiling and laughing her way through her math today! Thanks again!
LOF Fractions is the book that turned Math around for my son. I read about Life of Fred(LOF) on a homeschooling board and knew that I had to at least try it. The story of Fred is engaging(I even enjoy reading the stories!) and at the same time weaves mathematical concepts into the lesson. The problems in the book are presented in a fun and easy setting but are still challenging enough that students learn Math and the whys and wherefores behind the concepts. The book is beneficial to those students whose strengths lie in verbal and language abilities. It puts Math in 'their language'. The LOF series has given my son a confidence in Math that I had not seen before and has taught him to work independently. Another plus for this series is cost. LOF is one of the least expensive Math programs available for homeschoolers. My son is now in high-school and we will continue to use the LOF series for his Math credits.
I have seven children, ages 22 down to 3, and NO other curriculum has been as helpful or enjoyable as Life of Fred Math. We've used all the books from Apples (1st grade) to Calculus with the various ages of children. My kids who were older when we started using the books learned more math to mastery in one year than they had in all the years before put together. My three oldest (In 11th, 9th, and 7th grade at the time) had pretty much given up hope of ever understanding math but after using Life of Fred: Fractions (the book they all started with), they not only "get" math, they LIKE math! Plus, they learn it all on their own, just like they should.
YEAH for Life of Fred!!! I ordered the Fractions and Decimals books for my reluctant son. Now the first thing he does in the mornings after reading his devotional is say, "Mom, may I do my math FIRST?" I have told him repeatedly you do not have to ask!!! Before, math was … well, not pleasant for any involved! I also want to note that I have not seen a more economical math program (any program really other than Apologia elementary science books) for the price! It is an unbelievable deal. These books can be used again and again. I love the size, and so does my son. He too wants to do more than one lesson a day. When I told him I would be asking him to start the Decimals and Percents book (and use it throughout the summer) after he finishes the Fractions book, his face just lit up! I don't know if the books will work for my 2nd grade son, but he is already reading over his older brother's shoulder so I may just let him try it one day. He is already multiplying and dividing so we'll see. My son, who is using LOF, is 11 and in 5th grade. Hope this helps another reluctant math student to learn to LOVE math again and to see how useful it truly is b/c Fred is great at teaching that concept as well.
With a degree in mathematics, I was very skeptical about this program. But I got it to use as a supplement to Saxon for my dyslexic son. I was hoping that his fondness of math would help improve his reading. In 6 months and only three books, his reading improved three grade levels. His success with LOF has made it possible to now use Saxon as the supplement. (If he can't pass the Saxon test, he must complete the necessary lessons in Saxon; this has only happened once.) His standardized test scores for the year also show significant improvement. The improvement in his reading has begun to translate to every other subject as well. Oddly, spelling and grammar showed almost immediate improvement. LOF has been a very affordable fix to several problems and all I had to do was read the lesson before hand and listen as he read so I could correct his reading.
Our family is crazy about LOF. I purchased Fractions, because my son was struggling with fractions using Math-U-See. Three months later, he is a fraction whiz and asking when the decimal book will be in. There is little teacher prep: pre-reading the entertaining lessons and grading the Bridges. Most of the lessons are self-taught. Children are encouraged to be independent and not rely on the instructor or parent in order to learn. Of all the money I have spent on math curriculums, LOF has been the BEST investment.
We've started with Pre-Algebra 1 and are continuing with Pre-Algebra 2, and we have Beginning Algebra. These books are wonderfully motivating to use, although it's easy for my girl to get lost in the story and ignore the math. Fortunately, he wakes her up with the Bridge sections. I believe that if you've used the previous books, mathematically you don't need both pre-algebra books.