Making Math Meaningful

We are no longer carrying this series, due to unreliable supply and little demand. To help younger students visually learn the reasoning behind basic math concepts, see Math-U-See. For math curriuclum with a focus on critical thinking, we suggest you look at the Singapore Math.

Well, "there be good and bad" as Ray Bradbury once said. Making Math Meaningful definitely contains elements of both. Author David Quine begins with a good premise—children need to learn to think mathematically, not merely be able to reproduce memorized answers—but his methods leave something to be desired. Covering grades K-7, this course offers a unique approach that takes a long time to present relatively little material.

Levels K-4 depend on student-teacher interaction and include seperate student and teacher texts; grades 5 through algebra are self-taught and contain the student material and answers in one volume. All student texts are consumable. There are no illustrations in any of the books, just black and white text and problems. Manipulatives (plastic cubes, chips and links, all sold separately) are used for levels K-4.Each book contains activities for students to complete in order to contextualize and better illustrate the concepts.

How Do These Work?

Quine equates math curricula that employ lots of drills and review to Pavlovian behavioralism, saying that a child taught math through endless repetition is only answering problems because he has been conditioned to do so. Instead, he argues, students need to know the why behind different principles in order to make them applicable to everyday life. He repeatedly quotes Charlotte Mason as saying the reason we study math is to improve our logic skills, and he attempts to mirror this goal in his approach to instruction.

The author's goal is to show kids how and when they should use math practically. Lessons are all structured the same: parents (and in the later levels, students) read a story or do an activity that illustrates that lesson's principle;students are then asked to explain the principle, after which it is named and a formal definition given; finally, students complete a set of problems. Putting math principles in a practical context is creative, but the explanations are somewhat awkward and bland and many students find it hard to concentrate.

Making Math Meaningful is slow-paced compared to other programs. The advantage is that students are thoroughly familiar with concepts before moving on to others; the disadvantage is that many children get bored with repetitive lessons that aren't teaching anything new. Some parents complain that the lower level books fail to cover time, money and calendars; others say this isn't a problem as those topics can easily be taught in everyday situations.

Our Honest Opinion:

The most positive aspect of Making Math Meaningful is that students learn the reasons behind mathematical operations, which helps them to reason deductively. Principles are rehearsed so many times before moving on that they become ingrained in the child's mind, helping him toward continuity of understanding as he learns more. Topics are logically sequenced, so lessons build on each other and do not appear in seemingly random order.

Some concerns are typical—no solutions manual, not much teacher support outside the scripted lesson plans, boring presentation of material, not enough review. Others are not quite as standard: typographical errors show up fairly regularly, and nearly everyone who has reviewed the curriculum notes the many wrong answers listed in the teacher guides and in the back of the upper level texts.

The writing is often clumsy; many find it difficult to grasp the idea being presented. In the early levels the use of manipulatives makes lessons fun, but for later grades lessons can be a chore to get through. Most parents (even those who like the series) say you can't start in the middle; you need to begin your student in at least the first grade book for them to get the feel of the style and approach.

If your child has a hard time understanding the logic behind math, Making Math Meaningful could be a good option. A lot of parents like the self-guided approach to the later grades. If your child is good at math, you probably want a faster-paced program with more detail and complexity.

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.

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