Today I’m starting a new series. I’m going to highlight each curriculum that we use, go over the pros and cons, and then share with you how we use it in our house. The last part, I’m hoping, will be the most helpful. No curriculum is perfect, remember? (See my post on that HERE.) Anything you use will need to be tweaked, and I want to make that process easier. And speaking of easy, I want to give you shortcuts and tips from someone who has already made all the mistakes! So let’s dig in by starting with the math curriculum we use: Math U See. *Disclaimer* I am only speaking about elementary age with this curriculum. That’s because I haven’t yet used the middle and high school courses: Prealgebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Precalculus with Trigonometry, Calculus, and Stewardship (money management). The Pros #1  It’s handson There’s a reason that it’s called Math U See  they want kids to tangibly manipulate the math concepts so they can truly understand them. This is very important developmentally for elementary school. Children at this stage think concretely. Symbolic thought is difficult until ages 1012, depending on the child. Many adults (politicians especially!) erroneously believe that using manipulatives in math is harmful for children. They believe that it is a crutch that keeps them from learning. The opposite is actually true. Removing manipulatives too soon is actually more harmful. Looking back, I believe this is what hindered me as a child in the 80s when manipulatives of any kind were completely removed from math classrooms. Math U See does encourage you to take away the blocks eventually, but you do that when the child is ready. I actually have seen my kids understand a concept faster because of the blocks, and in a deeper way than I did at their age. They aren’t just temporarily memorizing how to do a problem, they are really learning how the math works. #2  Mastery is encouraged, not finishing books at certain ages. If you’ve read my blog at all, you probably know I am big on mastery, not just simply covering material. I love that about Math U See. The teacher book and DVDs are constantly reminding both the parent and the child not to move on to the next concept until they have mastered the previous one. For this reason, the books are not labeled by grade. The levels are Primer, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta. After Zeta, you continue on to the appropriate middle and high school courses listed above. A lot of people skip Primer and go straight to Alpha. However, I did Primer for my older two in kindergarten. Haley flew through it and ended up starting Alpha halfway through the year. With my youngest, I did Primer in preschool, mainly because he has a winter birthday versus a summer birthday like his siblings. The Math U See website has a test so you can figure out what level is best for your child. #3  Memorization of math facts is emphasized. I know what you may be thinking  but I thought you said math should be handson! Yes, I did, but that doesn’t mean memorization is a bad thing, either. Memorization with understanding is actually freeing. When kids can add, subtract, multiply, and divide super fast in their heads, higher math concepts are much less taxing. And believe me, your kids will be able to do this mental math in their heads with this curriculum because of number four . . . #4  Tricks and patterns are taught for faster mental math. I’ll make a confession here: thanks to Math U See, I can do math in my head much faster. It taught my kids so many tricks that had me thinking, “why did no one ever show me this?” For example, did you know that nine and eight are jealous of ten? They want to be ten themselves! The number nine has one mouth, so he slurps up one from every number to be a ten. Eight has two mouths, so he slurps up two. Thus, 9+7=16 and 8+7=15. Maybe you had better teachers than me, but this blew my mind! And then there’s how to remember 8x7=56. Look at it backwards: 5,6,7,8! Those are just a few examples. There is also a memory song CD that is really catchy to help you learn addition and skip counting (aka multiplication). The Cons #1  It is a spiral curriculum. Okay, first off, you may not know what that means. But believe me, you won’t homeschool for long until you hear this word tossed around. What it means is that concepts are practiced over and over again. The idea is that you don’t want kids to forget previous concepts. That’s great and all, but the problem is that kids don’t get enough practice with the new concepts. Each lesson in Math U See has five practice sheets and one “enrichment” sheet in the workbook. Practice pages AC gives kids about twelve or fifteen problems on that lesson’s concept. Pages D and E gives them only maybe three or four problems on that lesson’s concept followed by eight to twelve review problems. It just isn’t always enough practice in my opinion (and in my husband’s) for the new concept being taught. Then, to make things even more frustrating, the lesson test (included in a separate booklet) is set up just like review pages D and E. Which means your child could get all the problems correct that cover that lesson’s concept yet still fail the test because they got the “review” questions wrong. Want to know something, though? All homeschool math curriculum is spiral. So this is one you just have to deal with no matter what. (See the next section for how I recommend dealing with this.) #2  Division is introduced late. In Math U See, Gamma covers multiplication, and Delta covers division. Whereas in traditional math  where kids will learn their multiplication tables, then go on to simple division, then start multiplying large numbers, then learn long division  Math U See focuses on multiplication for a whole book. That means your kid will learn their multiplication tables, then learn how to multiply bigger and bigger numbers in one book, and only then move on to division. In some ways, this set up makes more sense cognitively. There’s just one tiny problem: standardized testing. Most kids will have never done division or even know what it is when they take their first standardized test as third graders under Math U See. I can imagine what you’re thinking: Melanie, that’s terrible! Why use this curriculum? Again, I will address that in the last section of this post. #3  Place value notation is used to teach multiple digit addition, multiplication, and division. What the heck is that, you ask? Oh, I bet you’ve seen it on many a Facebook post by frustrated parents trying to help their public school kids with their math homework. Math U See doesn’t use the boxes that I have seen in those social media posts, but it is similar. Here is an example: If you’re like me, you’ll probably have to study it for a minute or two, and then you’ll go, “ohhh!” Math U See really emphasizes kids understanding place value, and I understand that. Place value is a very important concept that helps kids truly grasp so many things in math. However, the above way of adding can get really confusing for a lot of kids (and their parents!) It’s fine when the numbers are straightforward, like above, but add in carrying to the tens or hundreds place, and it gets complicated real fast. I will say, however, that Steve Demme, the creator of Math U See, tells you to abandon this method if it confuses your child. Also, the above method for multiplication and division are frankly so confusing to me I didn’t even attempt to give you an example. I didn’t use it at all with any of my kids. #4  They teach a weird way to do multipledigit multiplication. The only way I can really explain this is to show you: Their reasoning is that when you carry in a multiplication problem, you have to multiply AND add at the same time. They say this confuses kids, so instead, do all the multiplying first, then do all the adding. I actually thought at first, “okay, that makes sense.” So, we tried it with Luke. This is what happened: I hope you can see the problem (my pen started to run out of ink!) Kids don’t write neatly or in straight rows like adults do, therefore, they can’t tell which place value column each number is in. Luke’s writing is especially messy (he gets it from me), so he would get crazy answers like the one above on the left. So, with all these cons, how do I make this curriculum work for us? First off, I hope I didn’t scare you with the cons. The pros have far outweighed them, and the cons have been easily remedied. Plus, I haven’t found a single math curriculum that didn’t have parts I hated. This one, with its visual, handson approach and tricks for fast mental math is far and away the best for my kids. How we make it work for us: How each lesson goes: Monday  We watch the DVD OR I demonstrate the concept on our white board (more on this later). Then, we do page A together. If my child is ready, I let them do B on their own. Tuesday  We do some exercises on the board together. If my child didn’t do B the day before, we do that one together, then they do C on their own. Wednesday  We do page D together, then they do E on their own. If my child hasn’t done C yet, however, they do C on their own. Thursday  Math flashcards and mental math. Even my thirteen year old still does this. For him, it’s more about speed. I set a timer for one minute, and they each see how many cards they can go through. We do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time, and money. I then quiz them on their measurements (How many teaspoons in a tablespoon? How many feet in a yard?) These are all in the back of the teacher book. There are also mental math problems in the teacher books like “two times four, plus one, times five, equals what number?” Friday  Either E practice page or the enrichment page for my youngest. For the older ones, a lesson test. Usually, on Monday, it is heavy on the manipulatives, then they slowly use them less and less. Also, some lessons take us less than a week, while other ones require more than a week. How does this address the spiral problem? Doing problems together on the board first helps me to catch problems and refresh their memories on the review problems. I have also found that doing thirty minutes to an hour of math each day and covering one or more concepts per week helps cement it in their memory better than stretching out a concept for twenty minutes a day over two weeks. On tests, I don’t give them a grade. Instead, I use it as a guide to see what they need more practice on. We always go over the tests together afterwards. How I handle the division issue: The Gamma book finishes the multiplication facts (except for 11 and 12) at lesson 20. So, at that point, I start alternating lessons with the Delta book. It would look like this: Gamma Lesson 20: Multiplying by 8 Delta Lesson 1: Factors Gamma Lesson 21: Multiple Digit Multiplication Delta Lesson 2: Division by 1 and 2 Gamma Lesson 22: Rounding to 10, 100, and 1,000 Delta Lesson 3: Division by 10 Gamma Lesson 23: Double Digit Times Double Digit . . . and so on and so forth This way, my third grader is prepared to do division on his standardized test. If a review problem comes up in the Delta lesson that we haven’t done yet in Gamma, we just skip it. How I handle the place value notation with addition: We only use it at the beginning so they understand the concept of keeping your ones together, your tens together, your hundreds together, etc. After that, we only do it occasionally. Once we start carrying numbers, we abandon it completely. By then, they understand the concept anyway, so why add the extra steps? With subtraction, multiplication, and division, I don’t even introduce it. How I handle the multiplication issue: With Luke, I gave it a try the Math U See way, and it was a disaster. I basically had to start over and reteach it after weeks of headaches and tears. So, with Haley and Ian, I didn’t even attempt it. I don’t show them the DVD at all for multipledigit multiplication or long division (this is important!) I just show them on the white board how I learned it back in the day, and we go through the lesson same as above. If you need a refresher course on how to do it, a quick internet search will jog your memory, believe me. Finally, how I organize our blocks: I saw this on Pinterest after struggling for years with the cardboard box the blocks are shipped in. I just bought this cheap tackle box at Walmart, and then I had a separate place for each color, all neat and organized. You may notice a deck of cards in there, too. That’s to play the game “race to a hundred,” probably my kids’ favorite part of this curriculum! So, there you have it. If you’re considering Math U See, or are already using it and wondering how to handle the cons, I hope this helped. Good luck with math  I know you can do it!
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AuthorHi, I'm Melanie! I'm a homeschooling mom of three kids ages 13, 11, and 9. I have a BS in English Secondary Education from Asbury University plus 30 hours of gifted certification course work. I've taught in just about every situation you can imagine. Public school, private, homeschool hybrid, and private tutoring. The most important thing I've learned? One on one, individualized instruction can't be beat. Archives
July 2022
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