Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Okay, I am still not a fan of the cheesy name of this program, but I simply cannot argue with its efficacy as a methodology. Meelyn and I have started the pre-algebra program and we have both discovered that the manipulatives are pure genius.

Granted, we're not very far in the book; we've done the first week's worth of assignments in the text and both of us have met with success. Steve Demme does an excellent job on the DVD of explaining the new concept the student will be working on -- for example, the first lesson covers addition with negative numbers -- and then the student goes on to do the daily assignment, twenty problems.

Meelyn and I worked separately, sitting on either end of the sofa using a tray table for our notebooks, with another tray table between us to hold the manipulatives. Using the manipulatives was slightly amazing. I don't have a mathematical mind, so doing a problem such as (-11) + (+28) became understandable to my brain and my eyes when I used Steve's method of gathering the colored "bars" to solve the problem.

This problem required the use of three ten-bars (ten cubes in one long, plastic strip), one cube and an eight-bar: one ten-bar and the cube were turned over to their hollow side to represent a negative number, while the other two ten-bars and the eight-bar were left right side up to represent the positive number. I plucked them out of the cardboard case and lo and behold! I SAW THE MATH!

Even better, Meelyn saw it, too.

If you're confused about the "bars," (also referred to as "blocks") click here to get a look at them. We have Starter Set 1 and the Algebra/Decimal inserts.

Math-U-See employs the following approach in all of its levels, taken from the MUS website:


Math-U-See: Suggested 4-Step Approach

In order to train students to be confident problem solvers, here are the four steps that I suggest you use to get the most from the Math-U-See curriculum:

1. Prepare for the Lesson
2. Present the New Topic to the Student
3. Practice for the Student to Acquire Mastery
4. Proceed after the Student Demonstrates Mastery

Step 1. Prepare for the Lesson

As the teacher, watch the DVD/video to learn the concept yourself, and see how to demonstrate this concept with the blocks or fraction overlays. Also, read and study the examples in the Teacher Manual, along with the written explanations. The video and the Teacher Manual are designed to easily familiarize you with the new material. They are your multi-sensory educational tools. The older and more mature the student, the more useful the video and Teacher Manual will be for them as well.

Step 2. Present the New Topic to the Student
Present the new concept to your students. Have the students watch the video with you, if you think it would be helpful. Older students will benefit from watching the video.

Build: Demonstrate how to use the blocks (or fraction overlays) to solve the problem.

Write: Show the problems on paper as you build them, step-by-step.

Say: Explain the "why" and "what" of the math you are doing.

By using Build, Write and Say (also explained on the video), you are helping the students to use their eyes, ears and hands to learn. Do as many problems as necessary until the students understand. One of the joys of teaching is hearing a student say "Now I get it!" or "Now I see it!"

Step 3. Practice for the Student to Acquire Mastery
Using the examples and the Lesson Practice problems from the Student Text, have the students practice the new concept. Coach them through the building, writing and saying process. It is one thing for students to watch someone else do a problem, it is quite another to do the same themselves. Do enough examples together until they can do them without assistance.
Note: Do as many of the Lesson Practice pages as necessary (not all pages may be needed) until the students remember the new material and gain understanding. Utilize the word problems, which are designed to apply the concept being taught in the lesson.

Step 4. Proceed after the Student Demonstrates Mastery
Once mastery of the new concept is demonstrated, proceed into the Systematic Review pages for that lesson. Mastery can be demonstrated by having each student teach the new material back to you. Let him build the problem with the blocks (or fraction overlays), write it as he progresses through the problem, and say what he is doing as he works the problem. The goal is not to fill in worksheets, but to be able to teach back what has been learned.

Note: The Systematic Review worksheets review the new material as well as provide practice of the math concepts previously studied. The word problems are taken from material the student has mastered in previous lessons as well as the new material. Remediate missed problems as they arise to ensure continued mastery.

Proceed to the lesson tests. These can be used as an assessment tool or as an extra worksheet. Limiting the time on a test is your decision, but be aware that it is often an unnecessary source of stress, especially for younger children.

Your students will be ready for the next lesson only after demonstrating mastery of the new concept and continued mastery of concepts found in the Systematic Review worksheets.
Confucius was reputed to have said, "Tell me, I forget; Show me, I understand; Let me do it, I will remember." To which we add, "Let me teach it and I will have achieved mastery!"

I really enjoyed using this system with Meelyn yesterday, who went from a great fear and loathing of math before we started yesterday morning to an actual tentative feeling of "maybe I can do this after all." She was disgusted with herself for making careless mistakes (writing -28 for an answer when the answer was actually -27, for instance) but I'm not too fussed about those kinds of mistakes, because at least I can see she has the concept. The kind of mistakes that worry me are when a student writes -28 and the actual answer is something like +642. Naturally, I want those careless errors to be cleaned up, but I am delighted to see comprehension. So it was a real treat to see Meelyn teaching the material of that first lesson back to me, explaining it clearly and getting it right.


What a relief. I don't feel that I need any manipulatives to see a good year ahead.


Kbg said...

I was holding onto our starter set of blocks, etc. as I thought Matt might still use them, but he got an A+ in math all year, so I think we are good to let those go if you would like to have them...free of charge because you are so cute and all. Just say the word and they can find their way to MNO on Monday...it is on Monday, right? Also, do you need any herbs for WW, I can bring some...I have many choices. JLMK

Jennifer Wright(Davidson) said...

If only we'd had that in 1978...:)

Shelley said...

Thank you so much for the offer of the manipulatives! I'm sure we can put them to good use.

And herbs....I'd love to have some herbs, which I pronounce with a hard "h" like a good Hoosier. Anything you want to bring that's currently needed would be much appreciated. This city isn't much on the herby thing and I have a feeling that B. would take umbrage at my driving 50 miles round trip to buy a handful of tarragon. ;>)

Shelley said...


Jennifer Wright (Davidson)??!!

Are you the Jennifer Davidson I know and love from Algebra 1 and four years of French with Madame Vanderleest and driving with Rena to Ball State in her rusty little Toyota and many hours of sipping Tab cola in a booth at Mac's?

Jennifer, is that YOU? Or are you just a person who has the same name who also floundered her way through algebra in 1978?

Jennifer Wright(Davidson) said...

C'est moi! :) I LOVE your blog!!!LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!

Shelley said...

Jennifer!!! Chérie!!! I can't believe it's you!

I have a thousand questions, all of which are trying to spill out of me at once, but I can barely see to type through the tears in my eyes.

Please do email me at insomnimom@hotmail.com and let's catch up!