Thursday, March 28, 2013

{Crew Review} Math U See is Amazing!

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We have been Math U See (MUS) users for two years now, and I was incredibly excited to be able to officially review a high school level MUS program - Algebra 1.  It is a program that I like to subtitle “math without tears.” Oh, yes, we’ve been to the path where math elicits tears, and don’t want to go back.Photo 8 b
Math U See provides a system for learning math that really helps kids understand and master the basic, foundational skills of math – without pain!  From the website (they said it so much more succinctly than I could have):
The Math-U-See system is structured with step-by-step procedures for introducing, reviewing, practicing, and mastering concepts.
It is mastery-based, meaning that you don’t move your child forward until he can demonstrate he has mastered the material (teaching the concept to you is a great way to show mastery). Instead of just learning how to do math, students learn why we go through the steps we do.  If you are a visual learner, you can see a variety of introductory videos from the website or if you are more linguistic, you can read about some of the Math U See distinctives.
What I love about Math U see is the flexibility it provides not only for the teacher but the student.   Teachers (moms) are given many tools to use to teach – DVDs, written helps in a teacher’s guide, and hands-on manipulatives for the kinesthetic/ visual learners.  A variety of learning styles are satisfied within this one curriculum, even at the high school level.  I’m sure you wondering how on earth you can use manipulatives in Algebra 1.  I wondered that, too.  Here’s a video of Mr. Demme explaining how the Math U See blocks are used to visualize algebra:

Here is what we received to start Algebra 1:
Instructional Pack ($57) – This includes a hard backed teacher’s book and DVD. The 350+ page manual includes information on how to use MUS, lesson-by-lesson instruction and examples for teachers to use to help them understand the topics, solutions to all student work (each problem is completely worked out), honors lessons, and tests.  You can also find lists of symbols, formulas (yippee), and a glossary in the back.
Mr. Demme actually teaches each lesson concept to the student in the DVD.  Algebra has 35 video lessons, and it has become our pattern to use these as the primary teaching instruction for Ben.  Ben really enjoys watching Mr. Demme teach -- he is much more patient than I am. 
MUS instructor and student packs
Student Pack ($32) – This set includes a workbook with assignments and honors pages and a second workbook with just tests for each lesson, four unit tests and a final exam.  Each student page is perforated and 3-hole punched.  You can download a grade tracking sheet (PDF) from the website.  
MUS manipulativesWe also received a set of manipulative blocks ($38). These are color coded by number and include blocks for the numbers 1 through 10 plus hundred blocks. Algebra/ Decimal inserts ($22) are plastic rod clips into the underside of the 10-blocks. They are gray and blue. There is also some red single unit (1) blocks included.

If you are trying to determine where to start your child in MUS, I would highly recommend the MUS placement tests, such as the Algebra 1 readiness test.  This will give you a good idea if your child has had enough exposure to pre-Algebra concepts (like exponents and solving for an unknown) to be prepared for Algebra 1.  Ben had just completed MUS’s Pre-Algebra course when this review item arrived (thank you, God, for your perfect timing!) and had done well with the material so I knew he was all set.
Because MUS is not a grade-level based program but a skill-level based program, you will definitely want to assess where your children (these are the major topics for each level):
Alpha – single digit addition/subtraction
Beta – multi- digit addition/ subtraction
Gamma – multiplication
Delta – division
Epsilon – fractions
Zeta – decimals and percent
There are  placement tests for each level – I highly recommend using them.  And if you have any doubt, it is better to review for mastery then push ahead and have student and teacher frustrated!
Algebra 1:Math U See Algebra 1 table of contents
There are 35 lessons in Algebra 1, with five worksheets per lesson plus an honors page.  The first two (A and B) are practice pages, where your student will only practice the new concept, integrated into what they’ve learned previously. Worksheets lettered C, D and E are systematic review pages.  These worksheets have a few problems from the lesson but more importantly require your student to use previously mastered concepts in new problems.  I really like that there has been lots of review of fractions and decimals (often times used in an algebraic equation) because I’ve found that Ben needs these little nuggets of review.  Finally there is the honors page to complete.  Although this is optional, it is recommended that your student complete it if they are pursuing high math and sciences (which Ben is).  
If you’ve been adding up the worksheets pus accounting for tests and exams, you’ll find there is plenty of opportunity for your student to practice, learn and master algebra with Math U See.  There’s a total of 175 worksheets + honors pages + tests+ exams.
How we used this product:
Although we schedule math daily, I am very flexible in how a lesson is completed.  I truly do follow Ben’s needs.  When we start a new lesson, Ben watches the Mr. Demme teach on the DVD and he completes the A worksheet.  If he can complete the first  worksheets with 95-100% accuracy, then I usually allow him to jump ahead to the review pages. However, I think the systematic review pages in this program are so helpful that I rarely allow him to skip over worksheets D, E.
Ben and I agreed to completing all the honors pages in Algebra 1. I really like the honors pages, so we’ve done several of them together. The cover topics such as word problems, graph Math U See Algebra 1 test bookletinterpretation, costs/ revenue/ profits, additional graphing of polynomials, word problems with equations, Kepler’s Third Law, and tons more. I’m hopeful that these honors pages will help Ben to see the practical application of high maths. Since has designs on a math/science focus in college, I think these will provide him with a great introduction of the integration of math and science.
I have to admit that when I opened the MUS test booklet for the first time, I was shocked:  the tests are all multiple choice!  This is not how Pre-Algebra was.  However, I do believe this is a good teaching opportunity for Ben.  Since he does tend to make a lot of careless mistakes (please do not get me started on the importance of the negative sign), it is forcing him to check and double check his answers.  I still require him to show all his work so that he is not developing bad shortcut habits.
When Ben started MUS Pre-Algebra in 7th grade, I asked around on Facebook how moms defined “mastery.”  After some input, I’ve come up with a general rule of 85% accuracy or better.  But, of course, it does depend on the type of mistake. There were a few times last year that Ben just bombed a test because of careless mistakes.  When these mistakes relate to the concept being tested, we generally hang out in that lesson for a bit more.
Click here to read more reviews of all the MUS levels from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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