Friday, March 29, 2013

Math-U-See Algebra 1 Review

One of my favorite things about being on the TOS Crew is the variety of curriculum and learning products that we have the priviledge of reviewing. We have had some outstanding products to review, and some less-than-stellar, or didn't-quite-work-for-us items.

This review is about Math-U-See's  Algebra 1 package that Arlene and I just had the chance to review. 

It is one of the outstanding ones! 

Step 1 - open the box and build something!

In the box from Math-U-See we received: The Algebra 1 Student Text (and Test Booklet) [$32], Instruction Manual (and DVD) [$57], along with 2 manipulative sets: Manipulative Block Set [$38], and Algebra/Decimal Inserts [$22]. That's $149 for the complete set.

(This picture is missing the DVD, see it in the next picture down)

For those of you who know me, that is a lot of money to spend on one thing, but I hope you'll see why I'm recommending you save up and buy this for your child who either :1- is a kinesthetic learner, or 2- struggles with math. (Or is/has both!)

See how all the books match? That will come in handy if you have a shelf-full of Math-U-See (MUS) books, as it makes it easy to find the set you need for each child.

Arlene has always been a Kinesthetic-heavy learner. Gross motor skills have always been her forte, fine motor skills... she's getting there. So I jumped at the chance to use MUS with her for Algebra because there are a few concepts she just wasn't understanding with our current Pre-Algebra curriculum. 

When your child switches from the basic 4 functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) into Algebra, they sometimes struggle with the unknowns (those pesky letters!) In fact, I have some adult friends who struggle with Algebra for the very same reason. Their minds have worked so hard to understand the concrete operations of math, that they have a hard time grasping how you can solve for an unknown letter. "What does X mean Mom?"

When we were learning about grouping like terms, Arlene got confused about my explanation of 1x and x being the same thing, and then she mistakenly thought that every time she saw an x it would represent 1- Ugh!

Math-U-See and Steve Demme's DVD's to the rescue! 
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In the beginning of the DVD's, Mr. Demme explains that each lesson (each new concept) would be presented in the DVD, and then the students would have time to practice the new concept in their books, using the manipulatives as needed. He also stressed that each student move at their own pace! This was key to Arlene who sometimes takes longer to learn a new math concept, but once she learns it, it sticks. Knowing that she could go at her own pace, and not a set schedule relieved a lot of pressure.

So, away she went, Arlene and the DVD (and her student book.) 

Now, when you read the Instruction manual, (which I think is fantastic,) you see that since MUS is a mastery program, the student does NOT have to complete all of the pages in each section -IF THEY UNDERSTAND IT. I chose NOT to mention this to Arlene, so she just started at the beginning and came to see me when she got to the "Honors" page in section 1. 

She had taken the readiness test, watched the Lesson 1 section of the DVD, and done sections 1A,1B,1C,1D, and 1E in 2 days. Not bad for a girl who usually doesn't like doing her math lessons!

Since she had been a self-starter, I excused her from doing the Honors page, and she moved on to Lesson 2. Now, lessons 2 and 3 took her more than 2 days each, but I want you to know that it has never been this easy to get Arlene to do her math. In fact, I had to make her take a break for a few days at the end of lesson 3 so I could catch up on grading her pages and spend time going back over a couple things she had not understood.

Now, about that Instruction manual...
There are 2 basic types of math instruction manuals I have seen, the "Looks like the student book, but with the answers in red" and the "Here's how to teach it, plus the answers" kind. This is one of the second kind... the better kind. 
Each lesson has examples for you to go over with your student (for if they didn't understand the concept from the DVD, or if they just need more time to process the information.) This is also helpful for the parent who hasn't cracked open an Algebra book in 20 years to review for themselves. If you have a self-motivated learner, you won't have to do anything...except grade once in a while! 

In my opinion, actual 'Algebra' starts in Lesson 3 with the lesson "Solve for Unknown with One Variable."

Now, it's time to get out those manipulative blocks... or if you're Arlene, to take apart the Lego-man castle you built on the day the box arrived! (You might have used the blocks in lessons 1 and 2, but here is where the Algebra inserts are awesome!

The only thing missing is an equals sign, so we made one ourselves. Here is a photo explanation of solving the equation: 3X + 2 = 2X +4

(Notice how the Algebra inserts click into the back of the blue "10 bars" to represent X(the unknown.) The blue inserts are X, the gray ones are -X, the red "ones" are negative as well)
3X +2=2X+4

Subtract 2X from each side

Figure out your "ones"

Subtract 2 from each side


And just like that, Arlene understood that she didn't have to know what 'X' meant before she started the problem.

So I must say "bravo" Math-U-See!

I am a math junky. Yes, I'm the one with a box of trophies and ribbons from math competitions from Jr High and High School. I could have taught Arlene Algebra myself, using a bunch of cheerios and carrots, but this is SO MUCH EASIER! 

You don't have to be a math junky to have your students learn Algebra. You just have to be willing to invest the money in MUS. The basic manipulative set can be used from the earliest Elementary level all the way through Algebra 1. Once you've purchased the Instruction pack with the DVD's, all you'll need for your next Algebra student is to purchase the Student Kit again. So it is a semi-consumable product.

If you're not sure what level your student is ready for, MUS has free downloadable placement tests on their website. That's how I knew which level to select for Arlene, I printed both the Pre-Algebra & Algebra Placement tests and gave her problems from both.

Overall, I would give Math-U-See an A+!

To see what other members of the Crew thought about the various levels, click the banner below!


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1 comment:

  1. I "get" math and number relationships. I don't generally have a hard time seeing how to do a problem. But then to try explaining it to some of my children is like speaking a foreign language. This looks like something we both would like!