Update: We finally have an account with Demme Learning and have Math-U-See, Spelling You See, and other products on our shelves! We're working on a more in-depth review (with an Our Honest Opinion section) now.
The goal of Math-U-See is to encourage students to be confident problem solvers who understand and enjoy the study of math. The reason we study math is so we can apply what we learn in everyday situations. Math-U-See wants students to learn their math facts, rules, and formulas, and they also want students to be able to use this knowledge in everyday life.
How Do These Work?
The Math-U-See strategy involves three components: video instruction for the teacher and student, hands-on manipulatives to illustrate abstract math concepts, and workbooks to provide plenty of practice, systematic review, and real life application.
The Components:
Student Pack
The Student Text has six worksheets per lesson. There are three Lesson Practice sheets focusing on the new concept. These practice sheets include word problems which are designed to apply the concept being taught in the lesson. There are also three Systematic Review worksheets covering the new material as well as providing practice of the math concepts previously studied. The word problems on these pages reinforce math concepts mastered in past lessons. The Test Booklet has one test per lesson (30 lessons), four unit tests, and a final exam. These may be used to help determine mastery or as an extra worksheet. There are slight variations in the number of worksheets, lessons, and unit tests in the upper level material (Algebra 1 through Calculus).
Instruction Pack
As the teacher, watch the DVD to learn the concept yourself and see how to demonstrate this concept with the appropriate manipulatives. Have the students watch the video with you, if you think it would be helpful. The Teacher Manual provides written instructions, examples, and answer keys for each of the 30 lessons. The instructions provide the written explanation for the new concept and several examples illustrate the new concept. The answer keys are for the Student Text and the Test Booklet. The video and the Teacher Manual are designed to easily familiarize you with the new material. They are your multi-sensory, educational tools.
Manipulatives
Math-U-See has developed three sets of manipulatives, proprietary to their courses. The Integer blocks are essential for the lower level courses, and used all the way through Algebra 1. These blocks—sort of a cross between Cuisenaire rods, base-10 blocks, and Legos—are color-coded rods in lengths of 1-10, with red blocks that form a 10x10 base. They are used to teach basic arithmetic, place value of integers and of the unknown (or x), and more, as the series progresses.
With Epsilon (approximately 5th grade), the Fraction Overlay set is introduced. These start with the idea of the small, green unit block and enlarge it to a flat 5″×5″ square that can then be divided into smaller fractional parts, making it possible to teach abstract fractions in a concrete, visible way. The colors of the Fraction Overlays mirror the colors of the Integer Blocks: halves are orange; thirds, pink; fourths, yellow; etc.
In Zeta-Algebra 1, the Algebra/Decimal inserts help illustrate the concept of x and teach polynomials in a concrete way. The inserts present a smooth surface and the colors remind students of the proper placement with regards to place value: units are still the smallest, then x, then x2 and so on. While we might think arithmetic and algebra are two separate disciplines, they’re definitely not; using the manipulatives demonstrates the connection.
Level Up Sets
These packages include the Student Pack AND Instruction Pack, along with the "Digital Pack," which includes 12 month access to the streaming instructional videos, a PDF instruction manual with lesson and test solutions, skip count songs MP3s and Songbook PDFs, 12 month access to digital manipulatives, as well as other online resources such as a worksheet generator, online drills, math fact sheets, and more (read more about these here). To add just a little confusion, in Zeta, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra, the Level Up Sets also include a needed manipulative; whereas the "Level Up Base Sets" are just the trimmed down Student, Instruction, and Digital Packs. If you want the digital component, these are a great value; if you don't, you can save some money at Exodus if we have a used copy of the Instructor Pack.
Universal Sets
If you've never used Math-U-See before, the Universal Sets include everything you need: The Student Pack, Instructor Pack, Digital Pack, and any needed manipulatives, whether it is the Integer Blocks, Fraction Overlays, or Algebra/Decimal Inserts. These are a great value if you can't find any of the manipulatives used, but less so if you can.
Our Honest Opinion:
We've wanted to carry Math-U-See for nearly 20 years, but the company prioritized selling through reps, conventions, and mail-order until recently. Since we couldn't sell it, we came up with reasons to dissuade others from using it whenever we believed we could honestly do so. So while we don't think these are problems with the course, per se, they may be useful to help you evaluate whether their approach is a good one for your family.
Reason 1: Mastery vs. Spiral
Kids are different, and some really need more comprehensive coverage up-front, while others grasp a concept quickly and want to move on. Math-U-See's mastery focus on one primary topic per year is probably our most cited concern, as students can bore of focusing on one thing for so long. Some parents will supplement with other things (like Math Mammoth or Life of Fred) to add in more variety.
Reason 2: Books are not sequenced to grade levels.
Math-U-See does not attempt to match their curricula to normal grade levels. This is not really a big deal to us, but there are a couple of potential drawbacks: 1) it could be harder to move into (or out of) the curriculum if something isn't working for you, and 2) kids are not always well-prepared for standardized tests. This seems to often level out, though, and if the student has truly understood the material, he'll likely do just fine long-term. If you use charter school funding that requires compliance to common core, this could be a third drawback.
Reason 3: Expensive to start up.
The videos, workbooks, and manipulatives can seem pricey at first, but the cost is actually pretty competitive when you start looking at many other options out there, especially if you'll use the materials for additional students or the manipulatives for several years. Because of the manipulatives, the courses can't be shipped via normal book rate or "media mail," so factor in some additional shipping costs to your calculations!
Reason 4: Multiplication approach.
From years of experience, we find that most parents love the Primer through Beta levels, but in Gamma, Demme's approach to multiplication is not one to which everyone is accustomed or likes, so that seems to be a level at which parents commonly decide to change curricula or carry on. If you like Gamma, we'd encourage you to stick with the course!
Reason 5: High School seems lightweight.
If you're going to proceed to high school and you like Demme's approach, we think the Algebra 1 Legacy Edition and Geometry courses are fairly lightweight and his videos are less helpful than earlier levels, but the Algebra 2 seems to fill in most of the holes if you consider his guidance adequate. The other courses seem fairly standard as far as difficulty goes. The new Algebra 1 Principles of Secondary Mathematics, released early in 2023, is supposedly "more comprehensive," so this complaint may no longer be valid, but we have yet to hear any feedback from real users.
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