Monday, March 25, 2013

Crew Review: Math U See Epsilon

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My kids seem to grasp math fairly intuitively, but I have a couple who struggle with reading.  That can make teaching math rather trying, as most math programs assume the child is reading at a much higher level than they are operating at mathematically.

A bit over a year ago, I finally looked seriously at Math U See.  I should have done that a long time ago.  The elementary levels of Math U See (Primer through Zeta) can be done by watching the video, working with Mom a bit, and then having only a very limited amount of reading to do in order to work the problems.

That's a perfect solution for my students.

 photo epsilon-Book-and-DVD_zps6676f688.gifPrior to this review, I had worked with levels Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Geometry and Algebra 2.  Being able to start Epsilon: Fractions and Other Topics was absolutely perfect timing.  And what is really exciting?  Math U See has just finished revising the elementary levels, so I got to try out the new and improved version.  Since we already had the workbook purchased (and I was borrowing a DVD and Teacher book), that meant I got a really good look at the new features.

I am impressed.

How we are using it:

Basically, my son watches the DVD lesson, and then works the first worksheet (A) for the lesson.  He's in 6th grade, and a lot of this material is review for him.  If he completes it quickly and accurately, he skips ahead and goes straight to the first one that includes review (D).  If he completes that quickly and accurately, he moves to the Application & Enrichment page (G), and then the test.  If he works quickly and accurately, he is ready to move to the next lesson.

If he doesn't complete the work quickly and accurately (so far he has), there are additional worksheets.  Worksheets A, B and C in each lesson work specifically with that lesson's concepts.  Worksheets D, E and F cover that lesson's material PLUS some review of previous concepts.  The biggest new feature is the Application & Enrichment (Worksheet G).  More on that later.

What Epsilon Covers:

Epsilon focuses on Fractions.  During the review period, we got through the first eight lessons.  The package includes the Student Workbook and the Tests ($30); Instruction Manual and DVD ($45); and the fraction overlays ($33).  The Math U See blocks are not required in Epsilon.

Here is a bit from lesson 6, where he is learning about combining fractions with different denominators.  In the photos below, Thomas was asked to add 1/2 and 2/5, and then asked to subtract 2/5 from 1/2 as well.

First, he created 1/2 (the red one) and 2/5 (blue).  He can't combine them though, because they aren't the same kind.  He needed to change them so they'd be the same kind, so he grabbed another halves overlay to put on the blue 2/5... clearly showing that 2/5 is the same as 4/10.  He is in the process of putting the fifths overlay on the 1/2 in the top right photo.

In the bottom photo, you can see that 1/2 = 5/10 and 2/5 = 4/10.  So 1/2 + 2/5 = 9/10.  And 1/2 - 2/5 = 1/10.

Not only is it easy, but it makes sense, and even the 3rd and 1st grader were grasping the concept.

New and Improved

It has been fairly public in the online homeschooling community that Math U See has revised their elementary programs.  Since I had borrowed Epsilon from a friend, and bought a workbook, this was my chance to see the changes side by side.  First, what hasn't changed:
  • The DVDs haven't changed at all.
  • The scope and sequence of the overall program is the same.
  • It is still a mastery program.
  • The methods and techniques that make Math U See such a great program are still there.
What is new:
  • There are slight modifications in the teaching in a handful of lessons (lessons 1, 3, 9, 10, 15, 17, and 29)
  • An "application and enrichment" page is added to each lesson.  The main idea is these pages is to work on word problems, but there is also a bit of new teaching and some stuff that is just fun.
  • The Instruction Manual has a lot more help for the parent in teaching the concepts.  But... this is something I rarely use myself. Like my kids, I've always found math fairly intuitive, so watching Mr. Demme on the video is enough for me.  However, the changes in the Instruction Manual could be really helpful, especially if you are a bit anxious when it comes to math.

Specifically, looking at the lesson Thomas just finished (#8) which has the students working on adding three fractions with different denominators --

  • 8A is identical in content.  The new version includes more space for working out the problems.
  • 8B is identical.
  • 8C is identical except for spacing on the word problems.
  • 8D is identical in content, but the problems are spaced out a bit more.  The review (in both old and new) has them doing double digit multiplication, and also long division, including writing remainders as fractions.
  • 8E is identical except for spacing on the problems.
  • 8F is identical except for spacing on the problems
  • 8G -- the Application & Enrichment page, features problems relating to music (whole note, quarter note, half note) and has them adding up notes to equal full measures.  Very, very cool application page.

What about the lesson he'll start today, since that is one with changes in the teaching?

Lesson 9 introduces the idea of multiplying fractions, or taking a fraction of a fraction.  The worksheets (A-F) are very similar in the two versions.  There are a couple wording changes in the directions that are totally immaterial ("Not all of these can be built with the overlays." vs. "There are no overlays for some of these.") and some equally immaterial wording changes in a couple of the word problems.

The difference in the teaching is all in the Application & Enrichment page (9G).  This application page emphasizes that multiplying by a fraction is going to give an answer smaller than the original amount.  Worksheet 9G also has the student taking a fraction of a whole number.  There are three word problems on this sheet that involve problems like 3/4 x 9 = ___.  Neither of these concepts is stated outright in the old materials.  Rather, it is assumed that the student will intuitively grasp both ideas.

The test now includes a couple of problems dealing with taking a fraction of a whole number.

The other difference is in the Instruction Manual, where there is a bit (a few sentences) of extra explanation about fractions of fractions resulting in answers that are smaller, and about fractions of a whole number.

My Bottom Line:

I love the new Math U See materials.  I already loved Math U See, I will confess.  But the Application & Enrichment pages make it so that I am comfortable with my kids doing just Math U See.  Because before, it seemed like there were some little pieces here and there that were missing.  Conceptually, my kids have been grasping math incredibly well since changing to Math U See last summer.  These extra pages, though, make me feel even better about the program.

What I absolutely love is that I don't have to purchase all the new stuff for the levels I already have.  I can use the teaching materials I already own and just buy new workbook/test book sets.  Because I am competent with elementary math, I won't need the answer keys or additional instruction information from the Instruction Manual as the changes are pretty minor and I know I can do it from the information directly in the student workbook.  However, Math U See is providing answers for the Application & Enrichment pages on their website, so that could save me a bit of thinking.

I am thrilled that I can get the benefits of the new program for my younger children!

Note that Math U See does not follow a traditional scope and sequence, so if you are jumping into it with an older child, you may find yourself starting your 5th grader with Gamma (as I did).  Be sure to take the placement tests!  However, if used sequentially starting with Primer for Kindergarten, and completing roughly one book per year, Epsilon would be happening in 5th grade.

Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed levels ranging from Primer through Calculus, plus the Stewardship program.  You can check out their reviews by clicking on the banner here:


And in spite of the verbiage used in the banner below, I want to make it clear that I received Epsilon as part of my job duties for the Schoolhouse Review Crew and I was not under any obligation to write a review at all.  I will occasionally choose to write a review of Crew Product when I am actually using it with my family, we love it, and I make the time to write a review.  I have not researched FTC rules enough to know if the below text is actually something I need to include, so I am just putting it in there.

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Tess said...

Thank you so much for the details! I have loved Math U See. It was great to see the comparison of the old and the new! So glad that have kept their scope and sequence and added bit to improve the program. I think I'll be going back to MUS when Supergirl is ready!

Julie said...

I needed/wanted to read something to convince me that MUS is not as good as I think it may be. Not from you. Great review and I'll add another tally in the "you need this" column.

Marcy Crabtree said...

Excellent review,especially of the comparisons of old and new. Thanks for including that!

Debra Brinkman said...

Sorry, Julie!

I absolutely love MUS. I didn't want to. I really didn't. Not sure why. But I have been so totally impressed with them. It's great for my kids who "get" math easily. It's great for them in areas where they particularly struggle too (long division is a huge problem for most dyslexics, and MUS made that relatively painless.)

It's fabulous as a review of material they've more or less covered already. It's fabulous for new stuff too.

It's been wonderful for my "video learning" kids. It's been wonderful for my hands-on kids. It is even good for my "text" preferring child.

The new bits are fantastic. And I love the honors pages in the upper levels.

Karen said...

Thanks for this review Debra. This is exactly what I wanted to know since I already have all of the levels Alpha-Epsilon.

Stefanie said...

Love the side-by-side comparison! Glad to know that the world hasn't ended after all. ;)

Great review!

Sarah Avila said...

Thanks for such a detailed review Debra! And thanks for the insight on starting MUS with an older student. I'm thinking of switching my 5th grader but was concerned on what level to start him with.

And now I'm kicking myself for not asking to review this product!!!

Lori Butterfield said...

Thank you for your comment about starting your 5th grader in Gamma. That is *exactly* what we did when we jumped on the MUS bandwagon last year. I have been thrilled (as has my son) with how quickly he is picking up the concepts and I do not believe it will take us all that long to move ahead!

Thank you for the excellent review!