Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Math U See - Alpha ~ Schoolhouse Review

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I've always been curious about Math-U-See. I have heard nothing but great things from our friends that use MUS as their primary math source. So, when I found out we were chosen to review Math-U-See Alpha, I was completely excited and ready to give their newly updated Alpha program a try with my first grader! Math-U-See is not based on your child's grade, it's based on skill level of mastery. (There is a placement test available that will help flesh out what level your child would benefit from beginning. However, if used sequentially, Primer would be used in kindergarten, and Alpha is first grade and so on.)
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Alpha focuses on:
  • single digit addition and subtraction to mastery
  • place value (units or ones, tens and hundreds)
  • counting to 100
  • algebra (solving for an unknown)
  • geometry (shapes-circles, triangles and squares)
  • skip counting (2s, 5s, 10s, and 100s) 
  • telling time by hours and minutes 
  • fractions (halves and fourths) 
  • measuring length by repeating units
  • and word problems

A fairly big brown box arrived at our front door and this is what we found inside!! ~ Everything we needed to be successful with MUS Alpha!(We received a Beta version. The covers of the booklets will be more like the photo above, not black and white like the photo below. I've also just learned that the workbooks will be three hole punched and perforated. Our Beta version was not.) 


If you noticed in the first picture, you'd have to work patiently to get the manipulatives to fit in the box after taking them out each time. So, I went to our local craft/hobby store and bought this scrap booking bin. It is perfect for our manipulatives! 
Overview of our first lesson and more:
That very evening we began Lesson 1. But first, I looked over the teacher's Instruction Manual, which goes through how to teach each lesson similarly to how the video teaches the lesson. It typically goes into more detail than the DVD with games and teaching hints. I would say it is a very valuable piece to the lessons.  I decided we would begin at the beginning. This curriculum uses terminology and manipulatives that are a little different from what we are used to. To get the most out of MUS Alpha, I chose to begin with Lesson 1. (I also really wanted to see how my new five year old would understand the first couple of lessons.) Next, I popped in the DVD. The first part was an introduction to MUS for the teacher and child. There wasn't enough "action" to keep my little ones from fidgeting a lot in the beginning. But, we kept watching and got to what was truly Lesson 1, and that was very interesting and they were actively engaged.
A Decimal Street poster came with each set of manipulative blocks. Two sets will be exactly what one child will need. (Ryan and Jonathan had to take turns sharing the hundred blocks for this activity in Lesson 1.) Lesson 1 is all about place value and manipulatives. I have to say that even though this lesson was a review for Ryan, the different approach (the blocks are new to us) and terminology helped cement the concept for him. Decimal Street is a cute way of showing everybody has their own place and Mr. Demme introduces a new way of referring to the tens place numbers. (I thought the new terminology for tens was strange, but I didn't say a word about how I felt.) Ryan caught on after watching the video a second time and us working through a practice page. Jonathan, our preschooler, had fun watching the first video and trying out the Decimal Street poster with his brother. He isn't quite ready for this level, he should be a Primer anyway, but I just wanted to see how he would do. ~ I catch him paying attention to Ryan's video lessons. And, 90% of the time he will sit on the train table (what we use for a desk while watching the video) and play with the blocks while Ryan and I work on the workbook pages. The blocks keep Jonathan very quiet!

Ryan and I worked our way fairly quickly through the next seven lessons, watching the video usually twice on different days. We used the student workbook each math day, but since the first eight lessons are review for Ryan, we would just do one Lesson Practice page, at least one Enrichment page and then, the Systemic Review, and finally the test. That was plenty (probably overboard) for a nice review, but taught with a different twist.

I will add that the student workbook is bulky, it's 447 pages. We found it trying to get the book to stay open on the page we were working on. We had to find heavy paper weights to keep our Beta version from flipping over on us. It might be worth it to have the student workbook unbound and put in a binder. Just a thought.Your version will be hole punched and perforated, so you may not have this issue. And, the manipulatives can be a tricky to pull apart, especially the 100 blocks.

Lesson 9, the lesson that was new to Ryan:

Here we are working on Lesson 9: Addition: +9, Mental Math. This whole Lesson 9, teacher's manual, video, worksheets, application and enrichment pages, tests - everything for Lesson 9 is online. You must check it out! There is also a Table of Contents for Alpha on this page, too!

It only took viewing the video once and working through two practice pages for my little one to catch on and be able to recite his nine facts without hesitation! I was so proud of him (and Math U See!)! He really loved making the slurping vacuum sound. You just have to watch the video. =)

Student Workbook shots:

What do we think:

I have to say MUS - Alpha is a good fit for my little guy. It takes no prep time on my part and is quick (Charlotte Mason would be proud.) and so far, a fun way to learn math. I think this would be a great resource for a teacher that doesn't want to spend a lot of time preparing for a math lesson and for a student that needs a short lesson.

Fun Fact:
I did peek ahead to subtraction, and I have to say they way Mr. Demme teaches subtracting from a "teen" number is genius. I won't spill the beans, but I taught the trick to my nine year old and she thinks MUS is pretty cool, too.

Math-U-See Alpha: Instruction Pack with DVD - $43 (Instruction Manual and DVD)
Math-U-See Alpha: Student Pack- $30 (Student Workbook and Tests booklet)
Manipulative set- $38 each


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  1. Love this review! Great photos!!!

    Stopping by from the Crew

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