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Learn Math Fast System (Volumes I-III and Answer Key) / Learn Geometry Fast and Math Kit manipulatives / Learn Life Fast Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

J.K. Mergens
MGM Publishing

According to S. Gudder, "The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple." Have you ever had that terrible feeling when looking at a math problem that you know, or should know, how to solve, but you really haven't a clue? Then someone comes alongside and clears the fog away. What at first seemed complicated turned out to be so simple once you understood the reasoning behind the problem. J.K. Mergens wrote the Learn Math Fast System to help her own son understand the often very simple concepts behind most mathematical principles. Her unique style worked so well with him that she later used the same ideas with students she was tutoring, and eventually she decided to publish her materials for others to use. The program begins with the Learn Math Fast System books, Volumes I, II, and III, which cover basic math skills from kindergarten through seventh grade. Learn Geometry Fast covers important geometry topics through sixth grade. Learn Life Fast provides young adults with important life skills, such as balancing a checkbook, tipping a waiter, understanding taxes, and purchasing a car or home. Each book is between 50 and 100 pages long, with a simple format. The three-volume set of Learn Math Fast System books, a complete Answer Key, plus Learn Geometry Fast (including a Math Kit of manipulatives) is $109, or each book can be purchased separately for $26 to $33. Sample pages are available on the website,, if you would like a closer look before purchasing. There are also additional workbook pages online for each book if students need more practice working through a skill.

This series does not contain any "new math," unusual ways to teach centuries-old math principles. Rather, the focus is on really understanding the ideas behind the math, rather than just memorizing facts. I've always found that to be immensely helpful, personally, not only in solving problems today but in remembering how to solve problems later. For example, on page 43 of the Learn Geometry Fast book, there is an attached foam circle with a one-inch diameter and a string to measure the circumference. The circle and string are attached on the page next to a picture of a ruler. The student places the string around the circumference of the circle, and then uses the ruler to measure the distance. You guessed it! The circumference is 3.14 inches, because for every one inch of diameter, the circle will have 3.14 inches of circumference, hence the incredibly important geometry number of . The following page has the same exercise, but it uses a circle with a diameter of two inches. What a simple and yet immensely memorable way to help students understand where this amazing little number comes from and why it is so useful in math! Volume I of Learn Math Fast starts out with the student using pennies to understand the principles behind simple addition and subtraction. First, they use five pennies to make all of the possible combinations of adding and subtracting with five; then they move on to six, etc. By the end of Volume III, students are learning exponents, graphing, and how to solve simple algebraic equations. The Learn Geometry Fast book includes a small Math Kit with several manipulatives to help students explore the concepts through hands-on activities.

There is much to appreciate in this clever math series. The material is written in an engaging, conversational tone that is easy to understand. The books begin with simple concepts and slowly build to much more complex ideas. There are frequent short tests to check progress--more of a double-check than a long, tedious, pressure-filled examination. The materials are very encouraging and non-intimidating, which is especially helpful for students who are a bit nervous about math. You can choose how much practice is needed, supplementing with extra worksheets from the website. There is also no pressure about how quickly each book needs to be completed, as most of the lessons could last one day or many, as needed. The series is also not written with a specific age in mind, so young students can work through the books with help from mom or dad, and older students (or parents) can brush up on their math skills independently. The books would also be a great source for review of concepts later after moving on to more advanced math. Now don't expect fancy books with color photographs! The books themselves use a very simple format with basic black-and-white photos, but the pictures and graphs are plentiful and helpful. Throughout the books and the Answer Key, the materials include the answers and fairly detailed explanations. You can ask a math question online if something doesn't make sense. There are also some nice articles on the website about homeschooling and teaching a fidgety kid.

Perhaps my favorite part about the Learn Math Fast books is the frequent exhortation that if you don't understand, move back to where the math was easy and start over. In other words, keep working with a concept until it is easy and then move on to the next concept. Math principles build on each other, so it is extremely important to not move on until you understand! Many students run into problems by being forced to move on in math before they understood the last concept. Our family would recommend this simple but powerful series of math books, whether you have young children just starting out in math, or older students who need a solid review of important concepts!

Product review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December 2010