Sunday, June 10, 2012

Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

We used the math curricula Math-U-See Beta for our second grade son this past year.  The program consists of a instructor's package which contains a teacher's manual with answer key and a DVD of video taped lessons.  The student's kit contains lesson worksheets and a separate test booklet.  You can also purchase colorful manipulative interlocking blocks to accompany the program. There is also an optional Skip Count CD and lyrics booklet.

For our family, it was a very successful program, yet one we will not continue to use. So hopefully the pros and cons of the program  for us might prove helpful to some of you.  Before beginning the Math-U-See program, our son was very discouraged regarding his mathematical ability.  He consistently reversed numbers when writing his answers.  In his private school, a number "3" written backwards was "wrong." Part of the luxury of homeschooling was the freedom to say to him that if the calculation was correct, then the answer was correct, regardless if the number was written incorrectly.  The ability to separate math calculations from "handwriting reversals" freed him from the negativity of having everything "wrong."  Once that happened, his confidence blossomed and he began liking math again.

To use Math-U-See, the parent is supposed to watch the DVD video to see how to teach the concept to their child.  The teacher's manual will also contain written instructions on how to teach a concept to the student.  Children can watch the video instructions as well, if the parent so chooses.  Upon using Beta, we quickly discovered that all our son had to do was watch the video once or twice and then he was ready to do the worksheet for the new topic.  Within a week, I discovered that I had no need to ever open the teacher's manual.  The answer key was also not necessary for correcting second grade math worksheets.  The answer key would be useful later in the program as a time-saver for correcting column addition.

Each lesson contains six days of worksheets for the topic covered.  The first 3 days focus on gradually strengthening the lesson and the final 3 days contains the new topic as well as a review of previously covered lessons.  They are not overly long, normally containing between ten to fifteen problems. If this is not enough practice for the child, then there is a free worksheet generator available on the website.  If the child is quickly grasping the concept, then obviously as a homeschooler, you can stop at any point and administer the test or simply move on to the next lesson.

The manipulative blocks for Math-U-See are a strong plus for the program.   Their interlocking nature allows the child to stack them and play with them in a Lego-like fashion.  Each color represents a different number which allows for children to learn in a multi-sensory approach.  For young children, I would highly recommend purchasing the manipulative blocks if considering Math-U-See.
They also offer an expensive ($40) wooden block box to store the manipulative.  While certainly not necessary, I sprang for the box in an attempt to stay more organized.  If money is not an issue, it is a nice feature for each block to have its own "home."

Telling Time: Telling time is one concept in particular, that might prove difficult for many children.  Unfortunately, telling time is not part of the worksheet generator.   So if your child needs more reinforcement on this topic, then you will need to find your own supplemental resources.

The manipulative set includes a template for making a Math-U-See clock.  If you purchase two sets of block manipulatives, then you will have enough of the light blue "5" blocks to make a clock.   This can be useful for getting the child to understand the nature of telling time.  The good news is that if you purchase two sets of the blocks (for the telling time ability) and spring for the expensive wooden block box, you can cram both sets into the block box.  It is a tight fit, but you can make them fit.  We were convinced by a salesperson at a convention to purchase two sets of the blocks for the clock "bonus." However, I would have saved myself the cash if I got "a mulligan" and would have only purchased one set.  By the time you reach telling time (pun intended... I know, I know... INSERT "groan" here!), your child will certainly be able to grasp that adding a "1" block to a "4" block equals five or a "2" block and a "3" block also equals five.

Moving on to the test booklet.  It also contains a supplemental activity for each lesson, such as a dot-to-dot or matching activity.  We did not use these much at all, so I cannot fairly comment on their effectiveness.  But our lack of using them, may indicate a little something to you.  The tests appeared to fairly evaluate whether or not the child had grasped the lesson topic.  They also covered review materials, so you can evaluate whether or not your child is retaining previously covered topics.

We also purchased the Skip Count CD.  In the Mulligan World of "Do Overs," this is another item I would have passed on.  While some children might find this helpful, mine was irritated by the songs.  Despite being a verbal processor, he found listening to the songs to equate with punishment.  If you plan on listening to them in your vehicle, I hope your child is an only child.  The songs go from irritating to excruciating the older you are.  My daughter couldn't get far enough away from the CD player when her brother was listening (okay, okay--forced to listen to) the CD.

All and all, I would consider Math-U-See Beta to be a good, albeit, basic math program.  It converted our child from a "Math-Hater" to a child confident that he could "do" math.  We learned that he could grasp concepts and retain them quite quickly.

Our main con was that it was too basic.  There aren't challenges or bonus areas of extra rigor for kids who are getting the concept easily.  Thus,  our son became very bored by the program.  After Day 1 of a new topic, he was ready to move on to something else.  He finished the program quite quickly.

We have elected not to continue with Math-U-See because we want something more challenging.  The harder the math is, the easier it is for our son to maintain his focus. We will be using Singapore Math for him for next year.


  1. Any time you get a kid to no longer view herself as a "math hater", then that's money well spent!

  2. I whole-heartedly agree with you. I do not regret the purchase of this math program one bit! With the possible exception of the Skip Count CD, it was worth every penny for my son. However, now that he is no longer a "math hater," we are seeking something that might prove to be a better fit for him going forward.

  3. I sprang for the box in an attempt to stay more organized.

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  5. Perfect set. It's interesting and useful to every child.