Titles: Fractions, Decimals and Percents, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics
Author: Stanley F. Schmidt
Publisher: Polka Dot Press
ISBNs: 9780970999597, 9780979107207, 9780979107221, 9780979107238
Alethea’s Review (at age 12)
Math. The bane of the average kid’s life, whether homeschooled or schooled. You’re tired of endless drills. You have no idea how to find inverse functions. Enter Fred Gauss. He’s a five year old math teacher at KITTENS University, Kansas. He teaches fractions, decimals, percents, algebra, and more to college-aged students.
One day with him and you will learn about KITTENS University’s football field, robots, the C.C. Coalback Toy Store, and—whaddya know—even the inverse functions you were stressing over five minutes ago.
Once you discover Fred, you will never be bored out of your wits in math class again. Each lesson contains a continuation of Fred’s story, a math concept woven into Fred’s everyday life, and a Your Turn to Play: basically questions for you to answer. The best part about the questions is that while there are enough to get you to understand the concept, some of the questions are completely unrelated to the math part, thus making even the Your Turn to Play great fun.
Here’s an example … ”A question for English majors: Suppose you wanted to say that the digit 9 followed by a decimal point is the same as a plain 9 without a decimal point. You write something like 9. is the same as 9. To my eye, that seems a bit strange. Or, once, when I was in high school, I wrote in an essay the sentence: Rocky owed Sylvia $2.. The first dot was for the decimal, and the second dot was the period. The teacher marked it wrong. Okay, English majors, here is your multiple-choice question: Is English harder than math? Here are your choices: ☐yes or ☐yes.”)
Sometimes, during the narrative or during the Your Turn to Play answers, Schmidt adds some complaints or comments from you, the reader, in bold. The exchanges are hilarious, and often serve to introduce a math concept.
(“Hey! Forget that nonsense about having to wait! I want it now. Now! Do you hear me?
But this is a pre-algebra book. No author ever presents Heron’s formula at this level. It would drive the readers crazy.
I’m already crazy. Give me Hero’s formula—or else!“)
Once every five-ish or ten-ish lessons, there is what Schmidt calls a Bridge—that is to say, ten questions which test whether you have been paying attention to what the lessons have been about so far. These are often as funny as the lessons themselves (“If a bowl of ice cream weighs 992.3 grams, and Billy Bug ate one-millionth of that, how much did he eat?”), but while doing them, you really need to know how the math works.
If you get nine or more questions right, you can pass the bridge. However, if you don’t, do not fear—Schmidt has kindly provided us with five tries for the Bridge, all with different questions. At the end, there is what is called the Final Bridge—like the Bridge, but with twenty questions instead of ten.
The first two books (Fractions and Decimals and Percents) deal with only math (and some random questions), but the two Pre-Algebra books are quite interesting. Instead of teaching just math in Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, Schmidt adds quite a bit of biology (in fact, there’s a whole chapter about eyelashes and jeans—I mean, genes). In Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics, Schmidt teaches about opportunity costs and minimum wage laws. This isn’t what you find in your typical math book, but then again, neither do you find a five-year-old professor who never gets hungry and who sells hot dogs. Interestingly, instead of boring me, the biology and economics actually made the book more interesting—it wasn’t just math and math drills.
How We Used This
We’ve used Life of Fred for one school year, and this is how we used it: If we felt that the book we were currently doing was below our level, we’d do two or more lessons per day. If not, we’d just do one. We usually treat the Bridge like a lesson. I think that’s a pretty good way to do it, because in this one school year, I’ve finished this entire series—that is, Fractions, Decimals and Percents, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, and Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics.
Do I like this course? Of course (no pun intended). Fred is, amazingly, amusing and educational at the same time—hard to achieve, I can imagine. Fred is a likeable hero, who knows a lot and still manages to get into laugh-inducing situations. Schmidt is a great writer and mathematician (though, if I’m not wrong, I did spot one or two typos). Fred’s life shows exactly how math is used in everyday situations—something which I admit I’d never really thought of. But you know what the best part of these books are? They’re written from a Christian point of view, and that is obvious throughout the book. Also, Schmidt does write for children, but he doesn’t write twaddle (which is nice, for a change).
Very recommended. For higher elementary and lower secondary students. (For lower elementary students, there’s another series or two.)
Warning: Though the third book may be a sorta biology book, don’t worry, parents. Fred’s very clean, and the only problems I can think of is Fred dropping a knife on his foot, in I forget which book, and a mention of Sigmund Fred in Pre-Algebra 2. As I’ve already said, it’s from a Christian point of view, so stop fretting.