Miquon Math is organic. Any hippie connotations associated with that word are only mildly applicable, though the general spirit of change and revolution present during the 1960s (when Miquon was developed) is one of its defining elements. Developer Lore Rasmussen was a German educator teaching at the Miquon private school in Pennsylvania when she began using innovative approaches to math education. Believing that children are capable of far more complex understanding than they are typically given credit for, Rasmussen stressed an observational/experiential teaching method in which the child learns through tactile experimentation.
This is not a turn-'em-loose and let-'em-learn approach. While it does shift focus away from the teacher and onto the child, the teacher is still an essential part of the learning process. Rasmussen believes the classroom should act as a lab for kids to explore, and that by doing so they will learn much of what they need on their own. Students should be engaged in hands-on activities using manipulatives to lead them toward understanding of abstract concepts. The organic approach of Miquon Math is designed to allow kids to find their way to the right answers without simply being led there by a teacher.
Miquon is an elementary math course designed to help kids understand mathematical concepts. There are six books to be used over a three year period, though no specific grade levels are attached; some parents start their kids in kindergarten, others in first or second grade. The vague grade levels also make this a good choice for students in need of remedial math study. Miquon Math introduces all four arithmetic operations and works with fractions in the first year. By the third year, students are graphing algebraic equations. Rasmussen describes math as a language by which we can interpret the physical world, and her goal is to make sure kids are able to speak that language.
There are six student worktexts that are colorful but plain (no pictures, just brightly colored ink). Each book contains drills and activities for kids to complete; there is no text. Manipulatives are the heart of this program, particularly the Cuisenaire rods. Cuisenaire rods are brightly-colored plastic square rods of sequential lengths designed for kids to play and learn with. The author suggests beginning a child's math education by providing these rods and doing nothing else; the child will almost certainly begin to make associations on his own when he is simply able to handle the rods.
The Lab Sheet Annotations book for teachers provides extensive notes on the workpages in each student text. This is not an answer/solution key; this is basically a series of lesson plans to help the teacher understand how to present material unobtrusively and how best to guide learning. Teachers and parents who have taught math using this program say the Annotations are essential.
By themselves, the student worktexts look impossibly confusing. However, each page is coded to correspond directly to pages in the Lab Sheet Annotations, where teachers will find instructional material and answers to all problems. These codes are further clarified in the "Lab Sheet Level Chart" demonstrating which sections of each student text deal with specific mathematical functions and concepts. Lab Sheets Annotations also includes reduced student pages to aid easy reference.
Notes to Teachers outlines Rasmussen's philosophy of education and provides a sort of ideological framework for the curriculum. The First-Grade Diary is similar to the Notes, but provides more practical information. The Diary is Rasmussen's log of her first trial year teaching math at Miquon School, and offers insights into what types of activities she led in the classroom, how she made sure kids were actually "getting it," and how much information she actually presented in a straightforward way.
Miquon Math is so flexible as a curriculum it's tempting to find some other name to describe it, but it is definitely a curriculum. It can be used to supplement another program, but it can just as easily (and perhaps more profitably) be used on its own (though it can also be a good remedial course).
This is very teacher-intensive stuff; just because the kids are expected to discover ideas and concepts on their own, they need to be closely supervised by a teacher to make sure they really understand what they're learning. (Rasmussen isn't anti-formal knowledge; she's simply non-traditional in teaching approach.) By the time students complete the Miquon course, apart from basic mathematical functions they will be familiar with basic algebraic and geometric functions, more advanced terminology than they are likely to encounter in any other elementary math course, number lines and graphs, and other concepts generally not studied until high school.
Just because something is different doesn't mean it's good, but Miquon Math seems to be able to back up its odd approach with a genuinely functional system of math instruction. Though many parents and teachers find the teaching methods difficult to understand or implement at first, it doesn't take long to figure them out. Kids, on the other hand, seldom seem to have a hard time picking up on the system, and reviewers usually are happy to say that their kids understand and even enjoy math after using Miquon.
Miquon was designed and tested for classroom use. At the same time, Rasmussen stresses the need to tailor it to each child's learning ability, an expectation far easier to accomplish in a homeschool setting than in a large school classroom. The flexibility of the program would also allow a parent to teach children not too far apart in age without having to use entirely different curricula or grade levels for each of them.
The student texts aren't particularly exciting to look at (no fuzzy animal pictures here), but the consistent use of Cuisenaire rods alleviates the lack of pictures. Some people find the lack of a formal student text frustrating, though most kids seem to approve. The Lab Sheet Annotations are generally considered indispensable, while the other teacher's books are seen as optional. However, since it is the other two books which clearly outline Rasmussen's pedagogical philosophy, they are just as important in order for the instructor to fully grasp what she will be teaching and how.
We tend to avoid curricula that rely too much on the use of manipulatives, but with Miquon it is done in such a subtle way that the manipulatives are aiding real, abstract learning and thought. This is not a self-taught curriculum, but if you actively engage in the learning process alongside your child it could be one of the most rewarding.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.