I love when my homeschool curriculum catalogue arrives in the mail. I get excited over flipping through the 150 pages, subject by subject, making notes with my highlighter about things I want to consider, or at least research a bit further. I love it. It makes me giddy.
But the best input doesn’t come from the publisher. It comes from hearing from people who have used it in the homeschooling of their own children. So, I was happy to see Toni’s Curriculum Review Round-Up over at The Happy Housewife this week.
I hope my perspective and experience can be of help to someone shoveling through the enormous heap of options.
For the first several years of teaching math, I had put together a cobbled mix of workbooks and word problems. I knew that at some point when they were older, say, algebra level, we’d be best to purchase a program, but that was a few years away and we were doing just fine… at first.
When I started to see the kids getting frustrated, and desperately wanting to avoid math altogether, I knew I needed to try something else. I found the ‘something else’ bit quite overwhelming, as there are so many options out there. But when I raised the question with some fellow homeschoolers at our kids’ drama class one day, Math-U-See received accolade after accolade. I decided to give it a go.
The program includes placement tests on its website and suggests where the child should begin. However, since it was a decidedly different approach to math, I thought it would be best for my kids to go back one level and start there. If they got it, they’d breeze through it (fine by me to skip questions and pages), but I didn’t want to potentially miss something important. I wanted to lay the groundwork.
That was over 2 years ago and we haven’t looked back! Gabriel (11) is now on Epsilon (fractions) and Caleb (8) is on Gamma (multiplication).
Overall, (FOR US) I would say a typical math lesson looks like this:
- Watch DVD (usually twice… it’s only a few minutes long)
- Test it out with manipulatives, discuss level of understanding and watch for lightbulbs (we usually use a white board for this part)
- Assign lesson pages (usually 2) and review pages (usually 2) – be there to help along the way
- End of lesson
Note: For concepts that I believe will be more challenging, I will check work as they go along through their lesson pages. Otherwise, I check the 2+2 pages at another time (usually minutes before the next math lesson while they’re working on something else) and depending on how well (or poorly) they mastered (or didn’t master) the concept, we will work through the incorrect questions, correcting them, before continuing on to the final lesson page and the final review page.
Most days, we spend 1 hour on math. Some days it’s 20 minutes. Some days it’s 2 1/2 hours. I try not to stifle it if they want to keep going. And I try to move on if it’s a day we’re just not feelin’ it.
I truly believe that kids will learn when they are open to being taught, and we all have days when we’re just. not. into it.
In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, two BIG ones come to mind:
1) The sequential building of skill upon skill, bit by bit. Each lesson contains 3 ‘lesson’ pages and 3 review pages. The review pages are especially critical in making sure they keep up the previous skills.
2) The manipulatives are wonderful – the program wouldn’t be effective without them. They help children (and adults, frankly) to understand the WHY and HOW behind the what. This is huge in my mind. It’s wonderful to see the lightbulbs go off in my kids eyes when they master a new concept by seeing it, saying it and doing it with the blocks and fraction overlays.
But of course, there are many other upsides:
- There is great flexibility in how we use the program. In line with our entire approach to homeschooling, we do math on the days we feel like it, skip it on the days we don’t. When we do math, we spend more time on some lessons than others (I will make up or pull additional questions from the website if needed), and conversely, we’ll skip many pages if there is no need to do them. I don’t want my children to be bored with math, so there’s no point drilling into them something they already know. This program works very well with my homeschooling philosophy.
- The program is filled with tricks to make things easier. I’m telling you, there are tricks in there that I WISH I had learned in school. I can’t imagine how much less frustrated I would have been knowning some of these things. And that says a lot since I was a pretty good student. For all the kids that struggled and stressed and agonized… ? Ugh… this would have likely saved them all of that.
- Being from Nova Scotia, we were thrilled that MUS was available with a Canadian version, using kilometers and meters as appropriate.
- There are lots of word problems, which I think is WONDERFUL! The math requirements in real life don’t come to us in the form of neatly printed numerical questions. They come to us in real life terms and force us to figure out what kind of math to use to answer the question. Math U See is great in this regard.
- I love that someone else is teaching the lesson. Let’s face it, as a homeschooler, we get LOADS of face-time with our kids. 🙂 And the 5ish minute DVD segment allows me to do something else with another child while one is watching Steve. We usually watch each lesson twice, so the student can be extra sure he gets it (and so I can pay attention at some point to).
- Yes… Steve Demme. He’s great! The kids really enjoy him.
- The skip counting songs are really helpful. When my kids are stuck, I hear them singing the song for the appropriate multiple.
- There is a lot of Teacher material. I choose not to read most of it, though I do use it as a reference when needed. I’m sure that as we start to get into the higher levels, this material will become much more valuable. (I did have to read up a bit on multiplying, dividing fractions for my 11 year old).
- There is also a test booklet which we tend to use later in the year. I prefer to see how they recall a concept later, since I can see from their workbook marks how they are doing as they go. Sometimes I’ll test quarterly, but mostly, I test when I think they are ready for one. (Again with the flexibility.)
- The program runs up to Grade 12 Calculus. I don’t know if we’ll be homeschooling then, but if we are it’s nice to know we can continue with this amazing program if we coninute on in this (thus far remarkable) journey.
- I see they have added a Stewardship Course: “A Christian approach to personal finance and consumer math.” This sounds GOOD!!!
- As an added bonus, the manipulatives have been great fun for my 4 year old who is eager to “do school” with her older brothers. A cute workbook and use of the blocks makes her (and her mama!) very happy indeed!
- Though I appreciate keeping the costs low, it would be nice if the workbooks were a bit more exciting for the kids… especially in the lower levels. Colour would be nice, but even a few cartoons would help. It hasn’t been a complaint of the children, but I think it would be more fun for the littles.
- The Candian version should eliminate the other imperial measures… like gallons and pints. Our juice, ice cream, and gas are measured in litres, so this bit has been hard for my kids to visualize, though we’re working around that.
And a story to share:
My Aunt homeschooled her children for a number of years before they entered the public school system. They also used Math-U-See very successfully, and her son really struggled with the subsequent concepts in math after hitting highschool. He came home one day and told his mom how he wished they used Math U See in the school system, becuase it just made so much more sense!
Oh, and another:
There is a great study posted on their site about scores among Special Education students in Albuquerue. Check this out!
Both stories lead me to believe that MUS doesn’t have to be just for homeschoolers. It can be for any student who needs a boost in this area.
Heck, even MY math has been boosted because of it! 🙂
This post has been linked to The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup. (Thank you Toni for gathering so many of our experiences in one place! It’s going to be fun reading what everyone has to say about various subjects, in preparation for next year!)