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Math in Focus: Level 3A Review by Kim Kargbo

Dr. Fong Ho Kheong
Saxon Homeschool
181 Ballardvale Street
Wilmington, MA 01887

Math in Focus is an elementary math curriculum using the Singapore approach to math. It is distributed through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company in the United States. The kit I received was the 3A Homeschool Kit, which included the Teacher's Edition, Student Textbook (hardcover, non-consumable), Student Workbook (consumable), Assessments Book (consumable), and Virtual Manipulatives CD-ROM. This was a complete 1 st semester set. That said, I don't believe most homeschool families would find much benefit in the very pricey Teacher's Edition. It is designed primarily for classroom use. The only potential benefit I can see would be the answer keys that are in the teacher's book. But for the most part, the answers in third grade are not too hard to figure out on one's own.

Level 3A includes 9 chapters that are designed to be done over two weeks each. The chapters include: numbers to 10,000, mental math and estimation, addition to 10,000, subtraction to 10,000, using bar models for addition and subtraction, multiplication tables of 6-9, multiplication, division, and using bar models for multiplication and division. The Assessments Book has pre-test and chapter tests for each chapter. The lessons all follow the Singapore approach of concrete to pictorial to abstract concepts. The textbook is full of colorful and cute illustrations, with lots of white space on the page, making them easy to follow and not overwhelming. The workbook is in grayscale with diagrams and illustrations and generally between 2 and 12 problems on a page. Every chapter in the workbook ends with a "Put on Your Thinking Cap" exercise applying critical thinking skills to the concepts taught in that chapter. There are cumulative reviews every couple of chapters, reviewing all of the previous skills.

I will admit that at first glance, the CD entitled "Virtual Manipulatives" sounded oxymoronic to me. How can you call something a "manipulative" when you can't manipulate it? However, it is really a neat tool that has on-screen manipulatives, such as counters, base-ten blocks, number lines, number charts, graphs, fractions, etc. For families that travel, this would be like taking an entire suitcase full of math manipulatives right in your laptop! Don't think you are going to save a lot of money on your pricey manipulative kits, however. This CD runs $105 retail.

The price of the Math in Focus kit is probably the biggest drawback. However, if you eliminate the teacher's edition, it is pretty reasonable. Each semester's kit costs $124 through Saxon. The Virtual Manipulatives CD is separate. On the publisher's website however, you can buy the pieces a la carte and save money by not buying the teacher's kit (or the assessments if you are not a "tester"). Just the student text and workbook for each semester is $34. The Assessments Book (for the whole year) is $38. If you already have and use manipulatives, you don't need the Virtual Manipulatives, but if you travel a lot, it might be a worthwhile investment and would take you through several years of school for several kids.

I would recommend this product (minus the Teacher's Edition) to a homeschooler looking for a comprehensive math curriculum from a well-known and reliable tradition and publisher.

Product review by Kim Kargbo, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010