Feb 16, 2016

Math: Curriculum How It Works

I talked about the reason behind this series of posts already, so I'm just going to jump right in and tell you about how we use our favorite math curriculum:


 photo How It Works Graphic_zpsxzueir1m.jpg


We use Math U See. It is our second math curriculum. It might or might not be the greatest math curriculum available. I don't know. But I believe that math is one of those subjects that a teacher does great disservice to her students when she jumps from one curriculum to another on a regular basis. So when our second choice worked for us (oh so much better than our first one!) we stuck with it. And I have no intentions of ever changing. We have used it for five and a half years now. We have used every level from Primer to Zeta. Next year we will take the plunge into Pre-Algebra.



Math U See comes with four components: 

  1. a Teacher's Manual that has all the lessons and all the answers to every worksheet and test
  2. a student workbook with consumable worksheets and a test booklet
  3. a DVD with all the lessons taught by Steve Demme
  4. a set of specially designed blocks for manipulatives (some levels have additional manipulatives but all levels use these blocks)
When we first started, I bought two sets of blocks so that we would have plenty. I have four students, however, and they are close in age. If I had fewer kids, or they hadn't all been so young and bad at sharing eager to do math Right Now, I could easily get along with only one set. 

The TM and the DVD are both reusable. The workbooks are consumable and have to be purchased for each new student. Despite many parents' requests over the years, there are no PDF versions available to make it more economically feasible, nope, you have to pay for the consumable workbook.

On thing I really like, even though I don't totally understand how it works, is that, even when they update, they don't change things, so "old" manuals and DVDs can still be used with updated workbooks. 

You can also purchase a Skip Count CD with songs and a songbook to help your child learn their math facts. This is not a required part of the program. I don't think I even own the book and my kids dislike listening to the CD, so we rarely do. I have other, more "enjoyable" ways to torture those math facts into their little brains!

Now, Math U See is one of those products that insist that it is absolutely necessary to follow the program for it to be most effective. The problem is, that they aren't that great at communicating just exactly how to follow the program. So I hear a lot of brand new users asking a lot of the same questions. 

  • How long is a lesson supposed to take?
  • How many sheets do we do in a day?
  • What do I do if my child doesn't memorize the math facts right away?
  • What do I do if my child is confused?
  • What do I do if my child is bored?
  • Do we have to have the blocks?
  • My child won't stop using the blocks!/ My child hates the blocks!
  • Is it ok if my child uses the blocks for tests?
  • Do I need the wooden box for blocks?
  • How many sets of blocks do we need?
The answer to all the questions is pretty similar. What works best for you?  My method is a result of several years of trial and error, but I'm hoping that if I describe it here, it will help you figure out your method more quickly than I figured out mine!

Here is what we do:

My kids watch the video for the lesson. When they were younger, I would watch it with them. I would ask them questions, point out important parts, and generally just keep them focused. When they each were ready (this was different for each child), I let them watch it themselves. At this point, they all know how to work the equipment and can set up the DVD and watch it all on their own.


The same day that they watch the lesson, they do the first page of the lesson: worksheet A. This sheet covers only the concept presented in the lesson. There are two more sheets that also only have problems concerning that concept. However, we never do those. My kids usually grasp the new concept quickly and are ready to move on.


As soon as they finish worksheet A, they hand it over to me and I check their answers. Any that are incorrect get marked with an X and then I hand it back to them. They rework those problems right away. And I check them again. If they are still wrong, I will usually start working through the problem with them. We discuss/ brainstorm/ do the problem with me asking questions and them providing the answers. Their issue is generally just a silly mistake that they aren't catching (all my kids, in varying degrees, see numbers backwards, reverse double digit numbers and have other similar issues that make simple mistakes common). But sometimes they are having trouble with the concept and this is when I find that out. And we work through it until they "get" it. When all of worksheet A is correct, they are finished for the day.

The next day, they do worksheet D. The sheets D through F are all review problems. Review is pulled from any concept from the one they just learned to any previous material including previous books. I have never had any issues of my kids not getting enough review of a concept. We do worksheet D the exact same way we did A. 

The third day, they do worksheet F. Again, we do the same procedure.

The fourth day, they take the test for that lesson. I tell them that the test is to help me know what they know and what they don't. I don't pressure them, but I won't help them. They are allowed to use the blocks, draw pictures, or ask me for clarification so that they can solve the problem. But they solve them all on their own. When they are finished, I grade it. They have to score an 80% or above to move on to the next lesson. They do not correct their tests. (This makes test day a happy day for them!) 


If they don't pass, they work on those concepts that they didn't do well on. If it was silly mistakes that knocked their grade down, I usually just make them re-take the test. My goal for the test is simply to help me know what exactly they know. But I also want to provide some accountability. They get marked down if they forget to provide an answer and I take off points for all calculation errors. However, I do not take off for numbers written backwards. They simply have to rewrite them. (This happens a lot.)

The fifth day, they start over with the next lesson.

If they need help at any point, they are allowed/ encouraged to do any and all of the following:


  • re-watch the video lesson
  • look back over old lessons
  • read through the lesson in the TM
  • ask me
  • ask a sibling (sometimes siblings can be more helpful than a math-challenged mom)
  • use the blocks
  • draw the problem


We have even been known to post our problems on Facebook and ask our friends for help!

We work on math facts every single day. We use a lot of different resources for this, although we don't necessarily use each one every day. We don't wait until the facts are mastered before moving on, but mastery is our ultimate goal. My kids understand that knowing the facts makes math easier and they are motivated to learn them. It's not the easiest task, but we work on it and don't/won't give up until we conquer it.


The blocks, decimal inserts, and fraction manipulatives are considered important to the curriculum. I will tell you that if your child adores the blocks, let her use them! She will eventually wean herself off of them because at some point it just becomes easier to solve the problem in your head than fiddle with the blocks every single time. On the other hand, one of my "best math students" has always hated the blocks and never uses them willingly. So if your kid doesn't like them, don't stress about it, and don't force them on him. And don't even worry about the money you spent because the resell value is high! :) I have one kid that uses them constantly, two kids that use them occasionally, and one kid that never uses them unless I make him. And they are all learning and retaining.

The last thing I want to tell you about is our block storage. Instead of buying the wooden box, my husband went to the hardware store and bought a big storage box. I don't remember how much he paid, but I do remember that it was less than the box. I love that it is big enough for both of our sets of blocks (except for the hundred squares, which isn't a big deal, we just stack them in our math cabinet).


But what I really love about our box is that it has removable boxes inside so the kids can just pull out the box of twos or fours or whatever they need and carry it to the table and not have to deal with the whole box if they don't want/ need to.


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