Math has been one of my weakest subjects (aside from Chinese that is), and I never enjoyed learning Math. My parents had to get me a tutor, and I more or less struggled through the subject, until I learnt probability and statistics. That was when suddenly Math made sense: it was useful, and it applied to real life!
Anyway, I approached teaching Math to Junior J with a fair bit of apprehension. Yes, teaching pre-school Math is easy, since it is simple, and you can approach it in so many ways and integrate it with real life. However, my chief concern was whether I would be able to introduce Math concepts systematically, and give him a good foundation with regards to the subject. So I started asking other homeschoolers to see what Math curriculum they were using, and I found that a fair number of them were using Math U See. So I decided to try the curriculum out, and we've been using the materials for almost three months.
The main draw of Math U See for most parents seem to be the fact that it is a complete, stand-alone curriculum, that focuses on teaching concepts and building mastery. The curriculum claims to teach the whys and does not focus on just memorization. It has materials catered up to the Secondary Math level.
I especially liked the manipulatives, and they were one of the main reasons why we decided to use this curriculum. I find manipulatives are essential when teaching kids Math, simply because they help to make more abstract concepts concrete. We started off with using Montessori beads for counting, and while they were useful, they were also fiddly little things, and I could not use these to explain certain Math concepts. We also tried Cuisenaire rods, but they too were smaller, and not as versatile. However, instead of writing about what didn't work, let's focus on what the Math U See manipulatives can do:
:: The manipulatives are base 10 blocks, and work like Lego bricks, so you can build layers to see how numbers relate to each other. (By the way, I love the pastel colours!) This isn't the case for the Montessori beads. These are also larger than the Cuisenaire rods and that makes it easier for little hands to manipulate. Sometimes though, Junior J gets distracted and ends up building with them. But there are times where he learns through building, like the time he found out that ten pieces of 10s was equal to 100!
:: They allow kids to "see" addition, subtraction and number bonds clearly: Kids can stack the number combinations to see if they are equal, or count the "missing" blocks for subtraction.
:: They also allow kids to visualize multiplication and division easily. For example in the picture below, you can see that 3 x 2 is also the same as 2 x 3.
:: All in all, the manipulatives are used to teach concepts up to the Secondary Math level, which helps in terms of integrating learning. Even key algebra and decimal concepts are taught using these manipulatives, along with additional inserts. Having the different numbered blocks in different colours made it easier for Junior J to see what numbers he was adding or working with, unlike the usual base 10 blocks which come in a single colour.
|These are the blocks provided in one set of manipulatives. |
We store them in our own hobby case, but you can also purchase
the Math U See wooden block box to house them too.
Lessons for Math U See are taught using the manuals, where the student learns a new concept each chapter, and works through a series of problems in the Student Manual. They also use the manipulatives in solving the problems, and I like how the size of the squares in the manual correspond to the size of the manipulatives, so that you can actually match them up.
|One of the pages in the Primer level.|
|Another page in the Primer manual|
The Student Manual in each level is accompanied by a Teacher's Manual (purchased separately), which gives guidelines on how to teach each topic. These manuals come with a DVD with video demonstrations for each lesson, so that means you can actually watch the videos with your child to minimize the preparation needed on your part. You can view a sample lesson here.
|A page in the Primer level Teacher's manual.|
One thing I liked about the manuals was the way they presented the questions. The questions are phrased simply and concisely, so that the focus is on working out the math concepts and building mastery. There are no wordy, long winded paragraphs about someone eating apples and having to figure out how many apples are left. Those questions tend to require more skills from a child: the ability to read, to comprehend complex sentences and the ability to figure out what the question is asking. The books are printed in black and white print, so there are no distracting diagrams or pictures. However, that being said, this means that parents must also prepare children to solve more complex questions (in terms of language) to prepare them for the PSLE.
|A sample from the Beta level Student Manual.|
|Another sample from the Beta level student manual.|
Another thing I liked about the curriculum was that there was minimal preparation on my part. I did not have to prepare my own worksheets and I didn't have to spend alot of time reading up. This meant we could consistently cover a little math each day, because I would just need about 5 minutes to teach Junior J the new concept, after which I could leave him to try the problems himself.
However, because of the no-frills way of teaching these concepts, some might find the curriculum a little boring. And since it focuses on mastery, there is a certain amount of drill and repetition required, which sometimes frustrates Junior J. So I find that there is the necessity to adapt according to the child's ability. This may mean cutting down on the number of pages he/she has to do each time (or you might even consider skipping some repeated problems if your child gets bored, since each lesson is 6 pages long), as well as varying the lessons by including games or other math activities.
Having this curriculum has been liberating: I can use this to ensure that Junior J attains mastery for Math concepts, and the time I've gained in not having to plan detailed lessons could be used to plan other Math activities for him to vary things somewhat. All in all, it is a really good curriculum to use, but of course, do make your choice based on your child's strengths and learning style!
I was actually so keen on this curriculum that I approached Jenny, my contact from Green Sheep Asia (which distributes Math U See in Singapore, along with other learning materials/curricula) for this review opportunity. For those interested, do drop them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and quote "MakingMum" to receive a free copy of their Skip Count Songbook and CD, when you order a set of manipulatives along with one set of Teacher and Student manuals. Do note that only ten sets are available for this promotion!
Also, I'm happy to share that Green Sheep Asia has kindly agreed to give away a set of the Math U See manipulatives to one reader of this blog! To enter the giveaway, just follow the instructions below in the Rafflecopter widget, and don't forget to comment in this blog post and leave your name and email address!