June 21, 2011

Math U See: Math Minus the Meltdowns

Not many people in the world get a warm fuzzy feeling when you mention the word 'Math'. In fact, I'd say that of the people I know, most of them probably would say that math was their least favorite subject in school. It remains that math must be learned -- and that every homeschooler has to teach it somehow -- even if they do it as organically as possible (without any workbooks - beats me how they would accomplish it that far out of the box... but I have heard it can be done). Because math is so necessary, it might as well be fun - or at least less painful, right? And it might as well be understandable and not full of distractions and busy work, right? Well - that's what my kids thought... and it took me FOR-EVER to get with the program and put down the schoolish textbooks and LISTEN to their pitiful cries for help.

I was just unable to let go of the boxed curriculum. The classroom conventional. The drudgery. My kids would call it the "ball and chain".

We were hitting our heads on brick walls every day. Math was our meltdown subject. For years. I kid you not. It caused all the rest of our homeschooling to be put on the side-burner because one or the other of my kids would get caught drawing on their worksheets, hiding their worksheets (that was creative), writing down random (wrong) answers to get out of doing the work, or just sitting and staring the page down, wasting time. SO MUCH WASTED TIME.

I tried everything (except changing the curriculum - silly me). I tried bribes of free time, video games, candy, etc... I tried threats and grounding. Nothing made math hurt less. Some things might have made their teeth rot out if I had been dumb enough to continue them. [Sugar is not the friend of concentration - in case you were taking notes on the candy comment above.]

It didn't help that math wasn't MY favorite subject in school, either. Give me a book to read or an art project any day. Math, not so much.

Things got worse in Junior High. The dry textbook spiral approach started getting tedious and much more complicated. The kids weren't understanding the instructions on the pages and when I read them, they didn't make sense. It seemed like I had to show the kids how to do each new concept in a different way than the page was explaining it. They were getting more and more confused. Math meltdowns began to 'multiply' and infect our already stressed homeschool days (remember - we've had 2 babies in the past 2.5 years around here - we don't need extra stress, thankyouverymuch).

I knew that our math curriculum problem needed to be addressed -- and it didn't matter if it was half way through the school year and the books weren't finished. We HAD to find something that would work, that the kids at least could tolerate -- even if it didn't make them LOVE math.

I had heard of Math U See and knew them well as a vendor at the Homeschool Post. Each year they join us there giving away curriculum and being one of the first sponsors/vendors to sign on and support the homeschool blogging community... so I got to talking with Ethan Demme and he offered to let me review the program for my teens. In all honesty, he had asked me before, and while I was very honored, I was just too set in my ways (read: thick skull) to let go of what we were doing -- because it was familiar. [They say doing things the same way and expecting different results is insanity - ya think?] This time, I was totally on board.

My kids couldn't believe that mom was releasing them from their math prison. They were so excited when the box got here that they offered to throw a bonfire party in the back yard with their old workbooks. I generously granted them "math page re-do pardon" and told them they could throw away all the pages that I had put in their to-do boxes that needed re-working. We were going to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Finally.

Enter Math U See... and if you don't know anything about their program, the best way to find out is to browse their website or check out their booth at your local homeschool conference. [I'm hoping to see them at the Austin and Houston homeschool conferences this year.] You can view a demonstration video just by clicking over to their site (free). They will mail you a sample as well. They have a ton of answers to questions on their FAQ page, but you can tweet @mathusee or friend them on facebook, too - they have excellent customer service.

It was easy to get set up with Math U See -- it only took a simple online placement test. I was surprised that we had to go back a bit because Ethan suggested that they get a firm foundation by repeating some concepts where they had just missed one problem -- so that I could be sure that they understood the concept concretely (manipulatives are the key to this). I hated to go back -- even a smidgen -- but what is the point of moving forward if you are not comprehending WELL what you are doing? That sounds like what public schools do when they pass kids who aren't up to par. I want my children to understand math - so that they can use it well in real life... and re-teaching a few concepts is totally worth it when the methods used to reteach are building a SOLID understanding that wasn't there before.

I wasn't sure what to expect with manipulatives for fractions (which was one area my daughter needed a bit of help), but WOW -- I am so impressed with the overlays and gear that come with the program.

Before, I couldn't get 12 problems out of my kids without pulling teeth. Now, they pop in their DVD and listen to Mr. Demme give the lesson (watching him work problems on his white board, seeing how he uses the overlays and other manipulatives)... and then they do their easy - non-distracting - math assignments from their books. No busy work. Just enough problems to master the concept and practice it. I grade it as soon as they hand it in, and they put it in the turn-in box with a grade already on it. If they miss a problem - which is a lot more rare now - they go back and see RIGHT THEN what they did wrong. If they need to go over a concept again, Mr. Demme is on DVD and easy to access!

I asked my daughter what her favorite curriculum was this year and expected that she would answer that it was something writing, art or music related (those are usually her favorite type subjects). She told me, "I would say Math U See."

"Wow." I said... not even sure if I believed her. I think she could tell that I was shocked.

"Oh, it's not because I like math or anything," she said. "It's just because it made math easier and now we can get the rest of the fun stuff done each day without having a huge time-suck. I'm not as miserable any more."

Well... if you can't LOVE math, at least you could be tolerable, right? Math U See gave us a light at the end of the tunnel. And believe me, it was a loooong, dark tunnel -- full of boogeymen.

The kids don't cry every time I mention the M-word. The pages are short enough that they actually do two or three sometimes just to get done quicker with their material. THAT would have NEVER happened before.

I'm holding my breath still in hopes that this new quick math-time routine will become a solid habit that won't fall apart as the math gets harder in upper levels. I've only used Math U See for less than half of this school year so far, but I can honestly say that I truly appreciate what it has done for not only our math time -- but in giving me back the rest of my day to get everything else done (or at least try). Peace and pushing forward - "that's what I'm talkin' about!" ANY tiny bit of progress I find this year is a GIFT.

THANK YOU, Math U See! I'm looking forward to a hopeful and long future with you!

Disclosure: Math U See provided me with Epsilon and Zeta and the corresponding manipulatives for this review free of charge, but the opinion expressed here is my own and in no way compensated for.

NOTE: Leave a comment on each of my review posts this week and I'll be picking some winners to any and all of the products that some of these great vendors are offering. One entry per post, per person - enter by Saturday - random winner announced next Sunday the 26th!

Quick Links
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Where to Order : Math U See Website
The Math U See Blog
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Don't stop here... Read Cathy Duffy's Review of Math U See

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MarshaMarshaMarsha said...

Math is the ONLY subject that we have not hopped around on over the years... and it's because we have used MUS from the beginning. :) My boys still love it and when they don't understand a concept the first time around, they just have to watch the DVD again. And if they still don't understand, I will watch it again with them and then help them. Honestly though, I think I've watched it only a handful of times with them and we are finishing up Epsilon. Woohoo!

Anonymous said...

I, too, was at the end of a long dark tunnel with math. We were using Saxon and my 8 year old was learning to hate!!! math He would score a hundred and not remember what he did. It was crazy and loaded with melt downs and more tears than I could handle. We were in process of adopting another little boy and I knew our school time had to improve. I looked into all the math programs I could find and was so impressed with Math U See. I talked with friendly people at our convention and was sold! This has been the best year of math ever (and I've been homeschooling for 18 years!) Thanks Math U See for making my children see and understand their math concepts. My 8 year old still doesn't love math, but he doesn't have math meltdowns anymore and our newest addition (age 7) is actually starting to understand the basics of numbers. We love Math U See!

Kelly said...

Glad to hear you liked the fractions book and manipulatives. We will be starting Epsilon in the fall. It's always good to hear others' opinions.

pixie_bit said...

I think I may have to use this program with my youngest - it is always reviewed so well!

Gwen Toliver said...

I remember hearing Demme speak at the very first homeschool convention I attended many years ago. His approach and great explanations impressed me from the very beginning. What a great program and one I'm seriously considering for my younger ones.

k balman said...

I love love love love this and currently don't really know what to do for math curriculum other than workbooks!!!!!

char said...

When I first started homeschooling my son (4th grade),math time was always scream-cry-throw a fit time even though it was one of his best subjects. It was my first year to homeschool and it was horrible. The next year I threw math out completely. I had him do math around the house like in baking or adding and averaging things at the grocery store. The next year I got math u see and he finished the entire book before Christmas(we started in Sept.)It was amazing! I normally dont even grade his lessons anymore. When he is ready for a test he asks for it, I grade it and normally any mistakes made are the simple mistake we all make when we do math too fast. Now my girls are starting it (they are in beta) and I don't know what I would have done without it! I ♥ MUS!!!!

Annie said...

We used MUS last year and are absolutely using it this next year. Our kids love the videos!

Margie Huddleston margie@thehuddlestons.org said...

You know, we have always used Abeka for math, and my son has always struggled with the directions part of the curriculum. I found that I was doing the same as you-repeating the directions in a less confusing way than it was written.
My interest has definately been peaked now, and we might have to look into this for our boys. Thanks for sharing your opinions on this.

Kristy said...

I have been searching for a good math curriculum for my oldest, who is starting first grade in the fall. I would love to try a strong math program this year.

Sheree said...

This subject makes me the most nervous.

griffinsheree (at) yahoo (dot) com

Becky said...

I've heard great things about math u see. My sister used it this past year and could not rave enough about it. She has some kids that are not math fans but enjoyed math this year. One of my kids in particular needs hands on/manipulatives to get it. I really think this is the way to go for math next year! Great and honest review. Thank you so much!

Jeniffer said...

Oh goodness! I know what I'll be looking into getting for my kids when we reach that stage! Math wasn't my favorite subject either, and while I finally got a handle on it, for a while I was one of the students struggling with multiplication and fractions. I hope that I can avoid those...and maybe keep an open mind. ;)

Jamie said...

Oh my gravy, would this make a huge difference in our homeschool. I've looked at it before, but cost, laziness, etc.. have kept me from trying it. This would be fabulous! Thanks



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