Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

 

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. 

Upsides

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!  

 The Downsides

  • 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!)

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tracy
    May 22, 2011 @ 13:33:04

    Looks like a good math program. I don’t agree to eliminate the imperial measures. We use them in the US, and United States students are taught both imperial and metric. Its hard for those in the US to wrap their brains around that. LOL!
    I see it more as a positive than a negative because your children are expanding their learning horizons.

    Reply

    • joyandcontentment
      May 22, 2011 @ 14:14:54

      Hi Tracy, thanks for stopping by!

      We are working around the Imperial/ Metric issue. For my eldest it didn’t matter, but for my second son I have fount it to unnecessarily complicate matters. We do use inches and feet here but I’d be hard pressed to find a pint of anything. So, for our family, I just wish the version labelled “Canadian” kept to measures that are used by Canadians… at least at this early stage. I think the Metric system is used by all but a handful of countries, and I remember hearing rumblings a while ago about the US switching over. I don’t know if there is any truth to that, but it may be why students there are taught in both formats… ?

      Anyway, it’s such a minor downside to the curriculum, I almost didn’t make it at all! LOL Math-U-See is amazing and I can’t imagine ever considering anything else!

      Reply

  2. Christine
    May 24, 2011 @ 12:42:59

    I have gone back and forth about considering Math U See; the price has always seemed high to me. Your post definitely has me pondering it. My hesitation is that my daughter is 8- and the perfectionist in me hates to put her in a lower level.I am strongly considering it though.

    Reply

    • joyandcontentment
      May 24, 2011 @ 13:37:43

      Yes, the price was a tough one for me to swallow too. The levels are a bit different from the traditional approach (what we’re used to seeing in public school) but it really seems to make much more sense to me.. It seems to work much more like, adding layer upon layer, which means that some things are out of the “traditional” order. But I think that’s one of the big benefits over other programs, and it probably plays a part in why kids seem to have a better job of grasping it. I don’t think you need to go back a level, but I wanted to make sure it worked properly for us. One thing I should mention that you may find helpful… There are 3 lesson and 3 review pages per lesson, and many times we only did 3 or 4 of the 6 pages. In this way, I was able to use the same book for another child. I just wrote his name and the date on the page when he was expected to do it, so I would know whose work it was. This worked beautifully and saved me some dollars as well. Good luck with your planning!!!

      Reply

  3. Connie S.
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 01:43:33

    I’ve used MUS in the past for my son who did not fare well with traditional worksheet pages and the physical concept of writing…the old original versions…but eventually moved him into Saxon 54 as his motor skills improved. I am now considering it again for my 9yo who is struggling with the concreteness of math concepts after using Saxon from K-3 but just isn’t getting it. Now that the materials have been revised, I am wondering if you think there is enough review of prior concepts built into the different levels. That is my only hesitation as there was very little in the earlier versions.

    Reply

    • joyandcontentment
      Jun 26, 2011 @ 22:53:13

      Hi Connie, I can’t speak to the differences between the early and current versions of MUS, so I’m not sure how different they are or whether or not they would address your concerns for your child. All I can speak for is my own experience which changed from an overall tone of frustration and confusion (for teacher and child) to a very clear understanding for my kids. We do hit snags in the road, but on those days, we put it away and try again a day later. That day later makes all the difference. My kids have to be in the right frame of mind if they are going to grasp anything.

      I have also heard very positive things from other people’s experiences with MUS, so I would be inclined to think it can’t hurt to try. It’s not a cheap experiment, but it is certainly a worthwhile one if you end up finding a curriculum winner…

      Just food for thought. Good luck!

      Reply

      • Melissa
        Feb 03, 2013 @ 23:23:34

        Yes the newer version has a lot more review than the older version!! We have been using MUS for 2 years. We have a large family and have used the primer thru Epsilon books. We love them. My older children had previously been in public school and I took them back 2 years worth in math to make sure they “got it.” it has been well worth it.

        Reply

  4. Miriam Homer
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 18:07:27

    Canadians might like to know that we labeled most of the imperial measurement problems as “optional” in the latest Canadian edition. That way parents can decide for themselves how much of it is appropriate for their child. Hope that helps a little with this issue.
    Miriam Homer – international editor for Math-U-See

    PS – Love your review!

    Reply

    • joyandcontentment
      Aug 11, 2011 @ 08:11:00

      Thank you Miriam! That’s good to know! It’s not a huge issue for us, but it was one little thing I came up with when trying to find the downsides to this great program! Glad you liked my review. (It was honest!)

      Reply

  5. Amy
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:39:46

    Thank you for this review. This fall will be our first year of homeschooling and I have been debating about what math cirriculum to use with my 12 year old son. I’ve heard a lot of good feedback about Math U See. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this article. Love the pics. God bless.

    Reply

    • Trina
      Apr 18, 2012 @ 09:16:01

      Good for you Amy! I love the planning stage, so hopefully you’re having lots of fun determining how to start out. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

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  7. laura
    Oct 18, 2012 @ 21:48:24

    thanks for giving us an honest review~ i’m not impressed with the math i’m using currently and i’m strongly considering Math-U See…..i was wondering if you own the one set of manipulative blocks or more? just curious if 1 set is sufficient…
    thank you~

    Reply

    • Trina
      Nov 24, 2012 @ 08:45:58

      Laura, I’m sorry for the delayed response. I wasn’t notified of your comment and only noticed it now…

      I have one set of manipulatives and find it works out just fine.

      I hope you find it as successful for your children as I did for mine!
      Trina

      Reply

  8. L Smith
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 15:27:00

    Thank you for the great review!
    We are just beginning our homeschool journey and are considering MUS for both our girls.
    I am curious about the homeschool catalog you use. I also love to search and highlight! I love my tablet but there is just something about flipping pages, circling and underlining that makes me happy!
    Thanks!

    Reply

  9. Chasity
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 23:55:08

    I would like to Thank you for this review. I have been back and fourth on what Math program to get and I kept coming back to MUS. I have read many great reviews, but still was not sure, but after reading your review, I am 100% certain now that we will be using MUS. Thank you so much for a real and honest look into this program and how it works.

    Reply

    • Trina
      Apr 16, 2013 @ 10:00:01

      That’s great, Chasity. I should add that although I wrote that review 2 years ago, we are still using the program faithfully and continue to be very happy with it. I now have three children in Zeta, Delta and Alpha, all soon to jump to the next level. One of the important things to note is that we just stick with a concept until it’s mastered. For some, we are there for a while. For others, we do one page and move on. It’s a fantastic way to learn because you’re not boring them with stuff they already know, and you are taking the time needed on the things with which they struggle. Best of luck to you as you try it out!

      Reply

  10. Katie H.
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 15:19:07

    We have had a lot of issues with my oldest child, who is 8. For some subjects she is kind of a slow learner. We have hopped around different math curriculums the most, some being mostly book work and we also used RightStart math. I liked the idea and concepts behind rightstart math, but I kept finding myself, as the mom and teacher, dreading math every day because of how much I had to put into doing math with her. She couldn’t ever do it herself, it was a completely hands on parent/child experience. Having other children to teach, and at the time a 1 year old, it was painful and exhausting. I have heard a lot of great reviews for MUS, but my biggest fear has been that I will put a bunch of money into it, only to find myself glued to my daughter’s side for hours each day while all other schooling and housework suffers. So I guess the question that rises for me, is… How much hands-on parent time do you find children between 8-10 years of age might need? I want my daughter to have the best, but I just can’t be glued to her side like I was before. I’m not the lazy parent that says ‘take your book and let me know when you are done,’ but I do like and need little independence on the child’s end. And, like I said, she is a bit slower in the math area, at least for now. I am utterly frustrated and exhausted teaching her on a daily basis.

    Reply

    • Trina
      Apr 23, 2013 @ 12:22:19

      Katie, I feel your pain! I know it’s very hard to dedicate time with one student when you have a wee one tugging at your paint leg and calling ‘Mamamamama’ incessantly. That’s actually one of the things I really appreciated about the MUS program. Because Steve teaches each lesson on the DVD, it’s one less thing I had to worry about. Mind you, depending on the topic, there were times I would watch the lesson again with the child, so I could help them through the tough spots, but largely it has been a very independent process, aside from me checking the work and helping them through corrections as needed. I wrote this review a couple years ago, but I now have a 13 year old, almost 11 year old and 6 year old doing their respective levels, and I only do the work with them about 15% of the time (through any problem areas). They do a little bit every day, and keep it up a few times a week through the summer so it all stays fresh. I found that a big break put us WAY behind each fall, so we changed our approach and do a little bit, with greater frequency.

      All in all, I’d suggest giving it a try. My thinking is that the three Rs are the most critical as they form the basis for other subjects, and really, for so much of life. I think it’s worthwhile to invest a bit more in math with the hopes that you may find the right curriculum for your needs. Put the word out among the homeschoolers in your area to see if you can borrow the blocks, dvd and teacher manual for a short period of time (maybe 2-3 weeks once school breaks for summer?) and then you only have to buy the student text in order to give it a try. Then, if you like it, you can commit to the purchase of the remaining materials. You can visit the site to see where she should start (I went back one level when we began, just to make sure the basics were covered), and then go from there. Good luck! I’d love to hear back from you to know how you make out!

      All the best!

      Reply

  11. Katie
    May 01, 2013 @ 22:30:54

    Thanks so much for the helpful response! It’s kind of exciting for me to hear that it seems like I wouldn’t be absolutely glued to her for math as in times before if we used this. I will definitely put more thought into this and respond back with with our decision/progress! I really appreciate the detailed review you had for this, I haven’t seen one has helpful as this where I really felt like I had enough information to go on to know if it could be right for us. Thanks again!

    Reply

    • Trina
      May 02, 2013 @ 04:58:30

      I’m so glad I could help. It’s hard, wading through the info to make what is hopefully a good choice. I hope you find it to be as terrific as we have!

      Reply

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