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Algebra (Math U See) Review by Jill Hardy

Math U See

I have to preface any and all math reviews that I do by stating up front that I am not a "math person." When I sit down to look at a curriculum, especially one that involves higher math, I can't give the same sort of opinion that someone who really knows the material could give you. I can only tell you what it has and whether it's clear enough for a homeschool mom who stumbled through high school math to understand and teach. 

I've heard some homeschoolers say that Math U See's upper level courses (algebra, geometry, etc.) aren't "rigorous" enough. (In all fairness, I've also heard "math people" wax poetic about Math U See, so take that for whatever it's worth.) To be honest, hearing that something isn't rigorous usually gives me pause, and it should. We are ultimately responsible for teaching our children, and the pressure can be overwhelming at times. We don't want to send kids off into the world unprepared; we want them to have a good education. And "rigorous" means "good" . . . right? 

Well, it can mean "good," and it can also mean that the material is tough for a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old to understand. I do want my children to have a "rigorous" education, but more than that, I want them to have a thorough understanding of what they study. Even if they don't finish 9th grade with a comprehensive knowledge of algebra, I want them to completely understand--and be able to use--what they do know. 

When I compared Math U See algebra with another algebra book that I had on hand, I did find things that weren't covered in Math U See. But the reverse was also true; some things covered in Math U See weren't touched on in the other book. 

The Math U See program seems to cover the basics of algebra: solving for an unknown; solving simultaneous equations by graphing, substitution, and elimination; square roots; and dividing polynomials. When you add in the Honors component of the Math U See algebra (a separate book with 34 additional lessons), you gain additional application problems, as well as more complex factoring, and things such as finding molecular mass. 

The "basic" Math U See algebra program is comprised of 34 lessons, each with two pages of lesson practice (where the new concepts are worked on), and three pages of systematic review. Each page has an average of 15-20 problems. If one page is covered per day, you could finish the whole book in approximately one school year, but if a student understands the material and is ready to go on after a minimum of repetition, you could finish it much sooner. One of Math U See's great advantages is its ability to provide as much or as little review as the student needs. 

The Math U See approach is outlined in four steps: Prepare for the Lesson (the teacher becomes familiar with the material), Present the Material (the teacher presents the lesson or allows the student to watch it on the accompanying DVD), Practice to Acquire Mastery (the student completes one or both of the lesson practice sheets for the current lesson and as much review as is needed), and Proceed after Demonstrating Mastery (you move on only after you're sure that the student has mastered the material). 

The program includes 34 weekly tests, 3 Unit tests, and a Final Exam. It also makes use of Math U See's unique manipulatives (sectioned blocks with special inserts for decimals/algebra). The manipulatives are what "make" this program, in my opinion; to be able to see 2X + 9X + 9 is invaluable when you're dealing with something as abstract as algebra. (For me, anyway.) I believe that a program that incorporates manipulatives will be far more likely to give my kids a thorough understanding of algebra. However, if your child is gifted in the area of math and displays a natural understanding of the subject, you may find the manipulatives superfluous. 

I'm not sure that I'd want to do this program without the Honors portion. The additional challenging word problems involve "real-life" math applications, and therefore I don't believe them to be optional. Even if my children don't go on to professions where heavy-duty math is required, I still want them to be able to apply the benefits of what they've learned in everyday situations. And that means gaining practice with as many applications and word problems as possible. The Honors program also introduces an additional four-step approach: Read, Think, Compare, and Draw. These strategies encourage the student to apply current knowledge to figure out solutions, to compare those solutions to what is given in the answer key, and to explore new ways to find the answer. All of these strategies are valuable tools for a student to have. 

Math U See suggests a few different ways to handle the Honors material. One option is to fit in the Honors lessons instead of the extra practice sheets in the regular algebra program. (At least one systematic review should be done, but students following the Honors course won't likely need all of the review.) Another option is to complete the Honors material as a "bridge" course after the regular algebra book is finished. 

So, in short, I can't really speak to the "rigor" of the Math U See algebra program, but I do believe it to be very thorough. The flexibility of review, the use of manipulatives to illustrate difficult concepts, and the relaxed and fun tone of the lessons on the DVD make this an accessible and (relatively) easy to understand method of learning algebra. 

Product review by Jill Hardy, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2006