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Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra
Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra
Fred's Home Companion Books
Life of Fred: Geometry

by Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra ($29), Fred's Home Companion: Beginning Algebra ($14), Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra ($29), Fred's Home Companion: Advanced Algebra ($14), Life of Fred: Geometry ($39) with paper answer key ($6). Available from the publisher, Polka Dot Publishing.

Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra

Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra continues Fred's adventures that began in the Fractions and Decimals and Percents books. Author Stanley Schmidt has woven math concepts and problems into a compelling adventure of six-year-old college professor Fred who is mistakenly inducted into the Army.

Beginning Algebra is a self-teaching text. The author explains concepts in a narrative style with occasional questions or comments from the "reader" shown in a different font. Examples from Fred's life provide the teaching material, and practice problems and quizzes test knowledge. Sometimes additional material is introduced in the "homework."

The book has twelve chapters. "Your Turn to Play" problems appear after each concept introduced, with answers immediately following. Six sets of exercises with six to ten problems each are at the end of each chapter. The first two sets have the answers immediately following them, while the third and fourth sets have only the odd answers. The final two sets do not show answers. (Answers are available in the Companion reviewed below.) The sets are named for random cities and could be used for a geography lesson just for fun.

Fred encounters all of the concepts standard to a first year high school algebra text. In fact, with only 319 pages, Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra deals with virtually every subject covered in the 876 pages of Elementary Algebra by Harold R. Jacobs. (Some of the material covered in Mr. Jacobs' text was already covered in Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents.) In the final pages, a summary of the key points of Beginning Algebra called A.R.T. (All Reorganized Together) appears for quick reference.

The text is illustrated with black-and-white drawings and diagrams. Fewer illustrations and more narrative appear in Beginning Algebra than were in Fractions and Decimals and Percentages.

As in Fractions and Decimals and Percents, topics beyond math appear. Unusual vocabulary words, the aesthetics of window treatments, and roses in literature and music are just a few of the subjects mentioned.

A subtle Christian undercurrent runs through this book. Fred says his prayers before bed, but the Army chaplain really adds to the Christian feeling. He comments that he "studied Greek in seminary, since it's the language of the New Testament," and Fred recalls that he "hadn't learned that in Sunday School." The chaplain appears periodically in the story and when he is finally able to help Fred with his dilemma, he makes note of "the passage, 'He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien.'"*

Fred's Home Companion: Beginning Algebra

Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D., wrote the Companion to answer demand for a more structured approach to Beginning Algebra. The material is broken into one hundred eight daily lessons. Each lesson refers to the pages in the text and either assigns "Your Turn to Play" or provides additional questions with their answers. The problem sets are spread over three days and called "End of the Chapter-Review & Testing." The even answers for sets three and four and all answers for sets five and six are in the Companion.

Recommendation: Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra will enchant your math student with its amusing story. The clear and simple explanations will allow him to learn algebra in a pleasant way, and the reasonable price will thrill every homeschooling parent.

Fred's Home Companion will be helpful to families who need help pacing the material or who have certain attendance days required by their state or umbrella school. The extra problems will also be beneficial to those who may need some extra reinforcement, and of course, having the answers to all the problems will make the homeschooling parent's job much easier!

*From Deuteronomy 10:18. Being a widow, the reviewer was happy to see this verse. Jeremiah 49:11 is her favorite on the topic.

Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra

Advanced Algebra continues the story of Fred as he takes a long and rather bizarre bus ride back to Kittens University. Though it has almost the same amount of pages, this book spends more time on math than the Beginning Algebra program. It has ten chapters of new material that covers everything found in a standard Algebra II course such as Foerster's. Trigonometry is not included, but instead is covered in the next book in the Fred series.

Five "half" chapters, each entitled "Looking Back," review material from Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra. The story line is suspended in these chapters while the author provides a concise summary of fundamental concepts.

Advanced Algebra is laid out in the same format as Beginning Algebra with "city" exercises, "Your Turn to Play" questions, and the A.R.T. summary at the end of the book. Some answers are provided in the text, but others may be found in the Home Companion.

Fred's Home Companion: Advanced Algebra

Fred's Home Companion: Advanced Algebra breaks the course into one hundred one daily lessons with more problems and explanations. The author provides additional information and tips in the "Intermission" sections.

Recommendation: Advanced Algebra covers a tremendous amount of material in its 318 pages! The story line is not as fun and interesting as in the previous volumes, but that actually highlights how good the math is. Dr. Schmidt explains concepts in a very different way from standard texts, and students will gain an understanding rather than just the drilled memorization of problems.

The Home Companion takes the effort of planning completely off the backs of homeschooling parents. Using it, the student can become an independent learner.

Life of Fred: Geometry

Life of Fred Geometry follows Advanced Algebra in the Life of Fred math series. The format remains the same with a story line of Fred, a pint-sized math professor at KITTENS University, having sometimes bizarre adventures while running into many geometry applications. In this book, Fred encounters llamas, love, and lost relations, pirates, prison camps, and police officers.

The story line is enjoyable, but the geometry is amazing. Dr. Schmidt covers Euclidian geometry in depth with the majority of the book devoted to proofs. He also introduces non-Euclidian geometry -- solid geometry, coordinate geometry, and "Other Worlds," geometry thought of since Euclid's time. In the final chapter, the author opens a world that high school students are never exposed to, the world of pure theoretical mathematics. Dr. Schmidt represents this world as a fun place without the massive number crunching like engineers have to do, but rather a place where the mathematician can create a work of art.

Answers to some problems are in the back of the book. All other answers are in a comb-bound answer booklet.

Recommendation: Life of Fred Geometry truly qualifies as a "living book." While the story line is silly in places, it illustrates the author's points well. An amazing amount of material is covered, but the best part is the way that Dr. Schmidt inspires the students to consider going farther with mathematics. He shows how interesting and stimulating the study of math can be.

Life of Fred Geometry is an exception in today's textbooks. Few high school geometry texts cover proofs, and consequently, students miss one of the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of mathematics studies. Proofs teach students logic through the solving of a puzzle, and every student feels an achievement when he sees his solution! Life of Fred Geometry offers a very interesting presentation of the subject and is bound to spark your student's interest in math. resources related to this review:'s Math Resources Section for everything you need to teach math and enrich your curriculum!
Review of Geometry, Seeing, Doing, Understanding by Harold Jacobs
Review of Classmate Algebra
Review of Elementary Algebra by Harold Jacobs
Review of Math, A Human Endeavor by Harold Jacobs
Review of Flashmaster
Review of Calvert's Algebra I
Review of Life of Fred: Fractions and Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents

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