Is there more angst spilt in homeschooling over any subject more than math?
Math is a subject none of us want to mess up. Once our children hit middle school, people start asking how we think we’re going to teach upper level math competently. And we wonder that ourselves, too, even if we don’t like being asked about it.
It’s possible to wing math in the early years, but because math is a consecutive skill, where one concept builds upon another, it’s best to choose a program and stick with it. Different programs use different vocabulary. Different programs teach concepts in different orders, but different logical, step-by-step orders – so skipping around between programs can lead to gaps and confusion more than in any other subject.
I’ve written before about how much I love Math-U-See. We’ve been using it for 9 years now, and with all my students so far. We use the video lessons (I’ve watched them too, so I understand how to teach the material) and the blocks – the whole package. I love it.
In the last almost-decade of sticking with the same program and walking 4 students (and soon starting my 5th) through the process, these are my top 5 tips for using and organizing Math-U-See.
If you use Math-U-See, please share your tips and suggestions in the comments, too!
Math-U-See Tip #1: How to store the blocks
Math-U-See blocks are a core of the curriculum, and they are very cleverly designed and implemented in the program. You can buy a wooden case from them to store your blocks, but that’s rather pricey.
Instead, I use a wide, shallow 25-qt Sterilite container with a latching lid. Kids can dig around and find the block they want quickly, but we can also put them away quickly because we don’t have to sort them into correct cubbies.
Math-U-See Tip #2: Reserved Crayons
In Primer and Alpha, kids do quite a bit of coloring with their math. As they learn the blocks in the first few lessons, they’re supposed to color the blocks the right color. With my first student, we hunted around the crayon bin every time, with my son constantly asking, “Is this an ok color? Is this one ok?”
When I ordered Primer for my third, knowing I had at least 2 more after her, I got smart and set aside hand-picked crayons. I pulled out the colors that best matched the blocks and stuck them in a small container that lives in our math book bin.
When she sat down with her lesson page, she had the little container with just 10 crayons, and it was clear which color was intended.
Math-U-See Tip #3: Pull out the pages, use clipboards, have a “turn in” container
This Math-U-See workflow is probably my best tip. Is it ok to put the best tip in the middle?
First, I tear out the math page to be completed each day from the workbook. The kids do not handle the workbooks themselves directly. If they did, the covers would be torn in no time and I’d have a headache figuring out what I’m supposed to be assigning and checking in each of the 4 books that won’t stay open to be checked.
After all, Math-U-See is a mastery-based program. My kids never do all the pages in the book and sometimes they need more pages than are included in the book (we use the tests as extra work pages and also print extra practice off their website). When I tear out their workpages and stick them on their color-coded clipboards, it doesn’t matter whether I pulled the page from the workbook, the test book, or off the printer – they know and I know their math for the day is on their clipboard.
Plus, we make them correct their work until they get 100% – mastery approach, right? So if a page wasn’t 100%, it goes back to the clipboard. Whatever is on the clipboard is the work to be done.
And where does it go when it’s done? At one point they were supposed to put it onto my clipboard when they were finished so I could check. However, my clipboard could be anywhere and it always had other things I wanted to see on top, too. They couldn’t always find it and I didn’t really want those extra pages cluttering it up.
So, I bought a mail sorter and it lives on the counter. When they finish their math, it goes into the mail sorter to be checked. If it’s all correct, the page goes into the trash or fire-starter bin. If it needs another attempt, it goes back on the clipboard.
Now that my husband checks the math, this process also makes it obvious to him when there’s math to correct. If it’s in the mail sorter, he knows it’s his to-do.
Figuring out a workflow process so everyone knows exactly what needs to be done with the least amount of rifling and questions is the goal.
Math-U-See Tip #4: Lined paper sideways for figuring
I got this tip from Mr. Demme himself.
Place value in Math-U-See is important. Keeping numbers straight and in their right place is critical, no matter which math program you use.
My older students use graph paper to show their work, but that seems a bit excessive (and also not large enough squares) for the elementary students. Once they get into carrying or borrowing, though, it’s super handy and leads to fewer place-value flubs if you simply turn a lined piece of notebook paper on the side to help you keep the numbers in their right place.
Math-U-See Tip #5: Add in regular drill
I appreciate and value the mastery approach of Math-U-See, and they emphasize knowing the facts perfectly before moving on. However, if they don’t use them, they lose them, and knowing the facts isn’t the same as being able to do them quickly.
So we add drill practice to our daily math routine, at least for the elementary students. I use both xtramath.org (love it!) and Calculadder. We’ve also added times table chanting to Morning Time before because those facts needed review.
No matter what program you’re using, we as the homeschool mom need to be alert and wise in applying it and adding in supplements or taking a break or pausing to review based on what each child needs to make progress.
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