Friday, September 7, 2007

Math, You See

Gayle asked weeks ago for a review of Math•U•See, and I'm finally getting around to it. Sorry. Math is really not one of my favorite topics, even when it's combined with writing (which I love). But, because you asked, Gayle, I'll take a stab at it. :-)

First, I have to admit that this is actually our second attempt to use MUS as our math curriculum. About a year and a half ago, my dear cousin (also a homeschooling mom) sent me her copy of the Alpha program after hearing me complain one too many times about how Jo just couldn't get addition facts to stick in her head. Not being a person too shrug off wise counsel (or free curriculum) from those who know better, I dutifully bought a starter set of the blocks and the Student Text and we set to work on seeing just what this math was.

It was a monumental failure, that's what it was.

When confronted with a pile of happily colored little blocks, Jo froze. Her brothers cheerfully built walls and other creations from them as she struggled to remember the corresponding color to number relationships. She could not/would not sort the blocks into the neat little stair steps that our video friend Mr. Demme modeled. She fumbled around with setting up equations with those fun little hands-on manipulatives. And in the end ... I gave up.

We went back to Horizons, which was good enough, I guess, but never the perfect fit for my math phobic dd.

Fast forward to this past spring. Jo undergoes her annual evaluation, as required by the All Knowing Educational Powers That Be. The woman who does the assessment is another one of those people whose wise counsel I would be remiss in dismissing. She goes over a handful of math skills with Jo, then turns to me.

"What are you using with her?"
ME: "Horizons."
"Well, stop. Have you tried Math•U•See?"


I explained our problem with MUS, but she didn't back down. "Try it again," she urged, "She just wasn't ready before." I admit that I didn't believe it. But, I went home, pulled out MUS Alpha and started over. And this time, it seems to be working.

Clearly, the difference is in Jo. The program is no different than it was 18 months ago, so it has to be my daughter that's changed.

This go-round, she memorized the block colors in under an hour. She flew through Alpha, memorizing all of the facts with only a couple of burps along the way. Now she's on Beta. She's only 5 lessons in, but she's doing fine. I don't expect any major headaches for her as I look ahead in the text.

I have also placed Atticus and Logan in MUS--mostly just for consistency on my part. Atticus is at the tail end of Alpha, reviewing subtraction facts just long enough to let his older sister improve her confidence by staying a step ahead of him in the Beta book. (Yes, this is a ploy on my part.) Logan is doing Alpha again for mastery. He' finished lesson 6 today, counting to 100. He seems to be loving the math=blocks idea, which is right up his alley.

So, what do I like about MUS? First of all, I love that the pressure is off of me to be the one to initiate the teaching. I am essentially in the "support" role, following up where the very capable Mr. Demme leaves off. If his method doesn't "click," then I get to rework it. But honestly, his teaching style has been very approachable for my kids. I watch the video with the child the first time, then pick up with the examples and games in the teacher's guide. Then we work through the worksheet. The next day, the child watches the video on his or her own, then I sit in and we work through it again. On the third day, I give them the option of watching or not. Usually, they are ready to move on, which means teaching the lesson back to me.

All of this, of course, assumes that it's not a lesson that is covered in one day, which we've had several of since we're using the program remedially.

I also like the number of practice problems given in MUS. Some math programs seem too work-heavy to me. Frankly, if you've got it, you've got it. If you don't, then no matter how many problems you put on a worksheet, you're not going to solve the darn things. MUS allows for a manageable number of equations, then gives you the chance to step back and make sure that the mastery is there. If it is, and one worksheet is all it takes, then fine. if not, they have six sheets for each lesson (plus an online worksheet generator and drill program) that can keep spitting out more.

I also have a healthy appreciation for the blocks now. They are integral to the program, but my biggest fear (that my dc would be reliant on them to do any math of any sort) has not proven true. The manipulatives are an attractive tool, but like training wheels, there comes a point when they are too cumbersome, and the kids willingly set them aside. When they need to "see" concepts, though, the blocks work better than any other manipulative I have used. I can't tell you how many "a-ha!" moments I have personally had while watching a lesson and playing with my own set of blocks!

Yes, I admit--I have learned from MUS.

So what do I not like? The thing that turned me off to the program at first is actually not a drawback to me now. I wanted something that kept reviewing essential skills with Jo, since she seemed particularly hard pressed to keep facts and functions locked into her brain. I have realized, though, that that is something that I shouldn't depend solely on a math curriculum to do--it's something that I should be providing for my children in the way of daily life-application experiences. Since returning to MUS, I've made a point of hauling out more games, teaching my kids to play cards, asking them to calculate things and otherwise engaging them in a steady diet of mathematical thinking.

So there's the review. MUS is not a one-size-fits-all cure for the common math curriculum. But it is a great starting place.


Lorri said...

I was just going to write my own post about MUS. I remember that you recommended it to me over a year ago. It's going well for us and we're using it along with Horizons. BTW, when you use a light color text on your blog, it's virtually impossible to read through a feed reader.

Gayle said...

Thanks for posting this. I've only heard people say how great it is but no one tells me why or what the drawbacks are. This was a really great review. Didn't gush about it one way or the other, just very informative.

Anonymous said...

I happened to come across your blog while researching MUS. We're going for it! Thanks for posting your experience. And Lorri is right, the yellow is virtually impossible to see. I had to uncross my eyes a few times to read it. The "hard to read" yellow is a disservice to your blog. Blessings to you!