Time to Regroup!

By Fall 2012, Math-U-See (MUS) had ceased to be a good fit for us. In fact, the odd methods MUS employs by the middle of its Gamma book left my daughters just as stressed as they'd been before, and I later learned that our time with MUS had left them with serious knowledge gaps we'd need to spend significant time remediating. I did some research from October to December 2012, and by January 2013, I'd decided on Teaching Textbooks. Then in March 2013, I learned that MUS had chosen to align with the common core standards. Thus - due to both its content weaknesses and its connection to common core -  I can no longer in good conscience recommend MUS to anyone, and I strongly urge anyone considering MUS to find a non-common core alternative.


Our homeschool math journey has been interesting, to say the least.

I felt pretty sure from the beginning that this was one area in which I wanted to use a "traditional" approach - a good, solid program that would help the girls master mathematical concepts "the old-fashioned way," following the logical, common sense methods that worked for decades before post-modern style "educational reform" took hold. Having heard too many horror stories from my friends who teach in elementary schools about programs that do such things (seriously!) as ask kids to describe "how they feel" upon learning that 2 + 2 = 4, I wanted nothing to do with "new math."

And so we first tried Horizons, a tried-and-true homeschool-friendly program that is also, as I understand it, used in many traditional Christian schools. It uses the solid, logical, computation-based method I was looking for. And, yet, it wasn't a good fit for us - at least at that time. Because, for all its strengths, the girls found it hard to really grasp what seemed to be abstract ways of explaining things - even with the help of beans and other counters that I added in an attempt to help.

So, after about a semester, we switched to Singapore Math - which is anything but traditional in terms of U.S. mathematics. As the name explains, the curriculum originated in Singapore and, thus, uses traditional Asian/eastern ways of understanding number concepts. But it came highly recommended and was far more concrete and pictorial than Horizons; plus, I couldn't deny the research that shows how successfully the majority of Asian students do with similar approaches, and so I thought we couldn't go wrong.

And it worked for a little while. But then it pretty quickly degenerated into what the girls took to calling "Math with Tears" because the approach just didn't resonate with either of them. Even basic addition and subtraction were presented with complicated, multi-step formulas, and the girls just couldn't remember what do from one day to the next. As the program suggests, I supplemented with flash cards to help them memorize their facts, but it just wasn't working.

I was loathe to switch programs again so I kept at it for longer than I should have, wasting precious time and causing unnecessary angst in the meantime. But a little more than a year ago, I realized that I had to do something because the girls were stuck. The longer I kept trying to muddle through Singapore, the further and further "behind" they were getting.

I did a bit of research, listened to the wisdom of an experienced homeschool mom in town (who also happens to have been a math major and provides tutoring in our local association!), and finally settled about a year ago on Math-U-See. I felt more than a little defeated ordering the program's Alpha book - which, in theory, is meant for kindergarten or first grade with its focus on single-digit addition and subtraction. But I felt strongly that I had to start at the beginning to ensure that the girls really learned their basic facts. After all, without a strong foundation, a house will not stand.

And this is one of my biggest homeschool success stories so far! We could breeze through some of the lessons, but I also made sure we took our time so the girls really understood important building blocks such as place value and had really nailed their facts. They caught on very quickly to the wonderful MUS approach, which is just the right balance between the "old-fashioned" way of doing things and more modern, solidly research-based techniques. And they love Steve Demme, the program's creator and video teacher. Nonetheless, we spent a year - minus the summer months - in that one book and finally just started on Beta in early March...which means that some might consider the girls "behind" their same-aged peers in math right now. But I've decided that doesn't actually matter. For one thing, MUS uses an entirely different scope and sequence than what is common in most other math programs so comparisons are not really relevant. Secondly, what's more important than "keeping up with the Joneses" is that the girls know their stuff and can apply it to myriad real-life situations. With that foundation, they can easily "catch up" as needed.

And they are. They figured out two- and three-digit addition without regrouping in just a day or two, mainly because they knew their basic facts inside and out. And they've had a good time applying that knowledge over the past couple of weeks. As a result, I believe we'll go through Beta in fairly short order.

Today was a big day around here - the day to introduce regrouping (specific to "carrying" in addition right now; we'll address "borrowing" in subtraction in a little while). I was excited and nervous at the same time, knowing that it's not a hard concept to remember once understood but also realizing how key it is to so much else within math. I wanted to present the lesson well, and I hoped (and prayed!) the girls would "get it" because of how many mathematical "doors" will ultimately open easily for them as a result of mastering this one idea.

The unique way MUS incorporates unit blocks really helped. Upon seeing a relevant problem (such as 46 + 35), a student first builds each number using the blocks; this provides a visual in terms of both amount and place. Then she regroups the units by replacing the unit values with a 10 plus whatever units remain; thus 6 + 5 becomes 10 + 1 and is illustrated with the color-coded blocks. She's reminded that only up to nine units can live in that house and so the new 10 must be "carried home" to the tens place; she does this by actually physically moving the 10-rod over to the other 10-rods she has already set out. And then she makes the appropriate notation on her written math problem. From there, she sees what units remain and places that answer into the written problem and then subsequently adds up all the tens.

Some people worry that using blocks as a learning tool makes kids dependent on them. But I have seen throughout MUS so far that is not the case; rather, children use the blocks as needed, but are then pretty quickly able to "graduate" beyond them to simply doing the work on paper. The difference between kids who use such visual and kinesthetic aids and kids who don't is significant. The former actually understand what they're doing and why; the latter just do the work but often don't really know what they're doing or why.

Just for fun, I asked the girls today how comfortable they feel about doing regrouping after one day. On a scale of one to five, Rachel said she was a two; hopefully, she'll feel like a three or even a four after tomorrow. Abigail said, "I'm a five already. I love this!" But, knowing her as I do, I think she'll maybe "feel like a three" tomorrow morning, and so practice will help to make her a solid five in a day or two.

We'll spend at least the rest of the week practicing - until I'm sure the girls can simply see a problem and know "automatically" what to do. Even though MUS will provide on-going review as we progress to other lessons, we won't rush this one in any way. MUS is a mastery-style program, and - with math in particular - I'm a firm believer in mastery as well. And that's one beauty (among many!) of homeschooling: we can stick with something as long as we want until we accomplish that goal.


Jennifer said...

We had a similar situation in math using A Beka. I felt very frustrated since many of the families we know were having such wonderful results using A Beka, but it just didn't work for my oldest. So, after "wasting" a couple of years trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, we also switched to Math-U-See and LOVE it! We went back to the Alpha book and took our time. My oldest will finish it in the near future and her younger brother isn't far behind her. It is so exciting to see her really "get" what she is doing and I know that the foundation will be worth the extra time as we go on.

Cara said...

That's wonderful! I'm so glad you found something that works well. Math has been such a challenge for us as well. We're using Bob Jones Press right now and I also incorporate cubes for some of our lessons - they are so helpful!

Emily said...

I'm so glad to hear about Math U See! It seems to be quite popular and a very good program. We're currently using ACE (Accelerated Christian Education), but it's just not working for our family. My hubby and I are going to a homeschool convention in May and will be seeing what is out there. My children are older, finishing 3rd and 4th grades and my daughter in finishing kindergarten. Loved hearing your review on it!

glenda09 said...

That's great that it's working!!! The "new math" sounds just silly and scary at the same time!

Me and Mine in a Small Town

glenda09 said...

I just wanted to let you know that you have been awarded the Sunshine Award for your blog. I really love your blog and can't wait to read more of your posts. You can pick up your award here at my blog.

Me and Mine in a Small Town

Jamie~ said...

We are in the same boat with math! We've been using Singapore and I have NOT been impressed so we're switching to Saxon next year. I've heard great things about MUS, as well.

Thanks for stopping by my blog during UBP. It was so wonderful meeting up with other like-minded bloggers!

Jessica @ This Blessed Life said...

Hi Tina! Just getting around to visiting everyone who stopped by from the UBP! lol I was homeschooled for a few years during middle school and plan on homeschooling my son during elementary school. It is a great gift that you're giving your girls! :)

Sara @ Embracing Destiny said...

Thanks for sharing this review of MUS and how it's working for you. I'm also looking for the right math program for my daughter and I keep hearing good things about MUS. Your details about it helped!

I also mentioned your blog on my UBP After-Party post here:


redeemed diva said...

Hey Tina, thanks for dropping by my blog. I don't know if you got to see Monday or Tuesday's entries but please take a look at http://redeemeddiva.blogspot.com/2010/04/and-just-exactly-how-do-you-get-lime-in.html

You will laugh, i'm sure of it. (No blog discourtesy is meant by posting my site here, just want yo to experience more than Friday's post)

On a side note, I love Math-u-see. My girls thrive with it. So glad you found a good fit. have you read A mathematician's lament...you can get it on the internet . google it. It's an essay-story and will change how you do math with your kids! blessings on you homeschool mom--it's not an easy job...keep going!

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