This is one of my 101 Top Picks!
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See the complete review in 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Steve Demme, creator of Math U-See, combines hands-on methodology with incremental instruction and continual review in this manipulative-based program. It excels in its hands-on presentation of math concepts that enables students to understand how math works. It is one of the rare multi-sensory math programs that continue to use manipulatives up through Algebra 1.
Manipulative Blocks, Fraction Overlays, and Algebra and Decimal Inserts are used at different levels to teach concepts, primarily using the “rectangle building” principle. This basic idea, consistently used throughout the program—even through algebra—is one of the best ways to demonstrate math concepts.
One of the things I think makes Math-U-See so popular is that many parents and teachers find that author Steve Demme’s presentations of math concepts helps them to finally comprehend much that they were taught in math but never understood. Parents and teachers with a new or renewed enthusiasm for math then do a much better job teaching their own children.
Math-U-See uses a “skill-mastery” approach, requiring students to demonstrate mastery of each topic before moving on. The program also builds in systematic review for previously learned concepts.
There are eight books for elementary grades titled Primer, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, and Pre-Algebra. The Greek letter designations were chosen particularly to emphasize the order of learning rather than grade level designation. Students should move on to the next level once they’ve mastered the content of a book. These first eight books are followed by Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, PreCalculus with Trigonometry, and Calculus. Placement tests for the different levels are available free at the Math-U-See website.
Student books are perfect-bound, and the pages are perforated and punched so they can easily be removed, written upon, and placed in binders. (Test books have been redesigned in this same fashion.) Student books now have much more practice work than they did in earlier editions, and they include many word problems. Honors exercises have been incorporated into the student books for Pre-Algebra through PreCalculus. These optional, additional problems stretch students to higher levels of understanding and application of math concepts covered within the lessons.
Test booklets for each course have tests to be used at the end of each lesson plus four unit tests and a final exam. Neither student worktext pages nor tests are reproducible; you need to purchase books for each student. Student workbooks and test booklets are the only consumable items in each course.
Instruction manuals are printed in hardcover books with full-color covers so they might be used a number of times. Calculus, the only exception, has a softcover, comb-bound book, although that will likely change to hardcover with the next printing. Complete answer keys with solutions are now included for all problems at all levels, an especially helpful feature at upper levels.
All books are printed in black and white with no illustrations other than mathematical ones....
The program covers all basic math concepts and all of those in the elementary-level Common Core Standards, but it does not try to correlate the teaching of concepts at the same grade level or in the same order as the Core Standards. Everything gets covered eventually, but in a more sensible order than the standards, in my opinion.
For each level you need both the student kit and the instruction pack. The student kit for each level includes a student workbook and a test booklet for most levels.
For Primer through Algebra 1, you will also need to purchase the set of Manipulative Blocks, but these are very reasonably priced. Math-U-See’s manipulatives are primarily plastic blocks somewhat similar to Base Ten Blocks and Cuisenaire Rods, color-coded to correspond to each number...Fraction Overlays are added at Epsilon level and Algebra/Decimal Inserts are added at the Zeta level. That means, the same sets of manipulatives are each used over at least a few years.
The instruction pack for each level includes an instruction manual plus one or more DVDs that “teach the teacher.” Note that DVDs have subtitles for the hearing impaired. Parents must watch the DVDs to understand the basic concepts that are the foundation of the program. On the DVDs, Demme works through each level, lesson-by-lesson, demonstrating and instructing. Demme’s presentation is enthusiastic and engaging as he clearly explains why and what he is doing. He throws in lots of math tricks, the kind that make you scratch your head and ask yourself why they never taught us that in school....
There are plenty of practice problems in the latest editions of Math-U-See, but students who need more practice have free access to a computation drill program on the Math-U-See website....
As you move into the high school level books, students are able to work more independently. The instruction manual for each level is written to the student. Students need to watch the DVD presentation then read through the instruction manual before tackling the workbook. Workbooks include extra instruction for unusual problems, especially for some of the honors problems, but they do not serve as complete coursebooks on their own.
The honors exercises provide more challenging practice, more critical thinking, practical applications, more complex word problems, test prep practice, and preparation for the math required in advanced science courses. The addition of the honors exercises largely alleviates concerns I expressed in my review in the first edition of Top Picks about the program’s ability to challenge advanced students. Students can also move through the texts more rapidly if they master the lessons quickly....
The DVD instructional component might make a huge difference...since Demme does a great job of explaining and illustrating concepts. However, I very much appreciate the fact that the newest editions’ instruction manuals for these and other high school level courses now include a teaching component so that students do not have to rely entirely on the DVDs.
Note: Math U See announced updated editions available March 2013 with a number of improvements. Among them are:
- an extra "Application and Enrichment" activity page added to the student workbook for levels Primer through Zeta
- more thorough coverage of concepts encountered on standardized tests
- more work with word problems
- updated instruction manuals with improved or expanded explanations and answers for new problems
Math-U-See is sold only through Math-U-See representatives. Check the Math-U-See website for the distributor in your area and for a free demo.
Teacher packs (TM & DVD) range from $30-$90
Student kits are $20-30
Starter set of manipulatives $35
Fraction Overlays set $30
Algebra/Decimal Inserts $20
- Learning Styles: best for Wiggly Willy and Sociable Sue
Suitable for: one-on-one or group, plus some independent work
Need for parent/teacher instruction: moderate to high
Prep time needed: minimal to moderate (more up front to learn basic techniques)
Need for Teacher's Manual: essential
Religious perspective: Christian
PO Box 8888
Lancaster, PA 17604
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