So I'm thinking you won't be surprised that I have once again teamed up with the TOS Homeschool Crew to review homeschool related products. I'm not going to lie. I really like receiving packages in the mail. It's a huge event at our house as we all gather around the box to see what's inside. It's a lot like Christmas morning ... all year long.
The first package we received this year as part of the Crew review team was from Math Essentials. This program was developed by Rick Fisher, a 5th and 6th grade math instructor. Interesting fact about Rick Fisher from the Math Essentials website:
Each year approximately one-half of his students bypass the seventh grade math program and move directly to a high-powered eighth grade algebra program.
We received two products from Math Essentials. The first was Mastering Math Essentials: Book One for Grades 4-5. This program boasts...
*Easy to follow math program requiring only 20 minutes a day.
*Short, concise, and self-contained lessons.
*Daily exercises help students master, maintain, and reinforce math skills through consistent review.
*Easy-to-use correction key and teacher's manual.
I used this math program with two of my students.
What we liked:
~Mastering Math Essential Math Skills also includes a DVD to be used each day as part of your math program. Each DVD session is just a few minutes long and is meant to be the teaching portion of the day's lesson.
~Each lesson is designed to take only 20 minutes a day and the workbook definitely reflects this. As a matter of fact, each lesson fits on only one workbook page!
Each page has 4 review problems, 2 speed drills, a small "Helpful Hints" section, 2 Sample problems to be done with the teacher, 10 problems, and 1 word problem.
Check out sample pages here.
~Math Essentials have based their program on the idea that distractions should be eliminated from the texts and math programs must be streamlined "focusing on a well-determined set of the most critical math topics".
~The price. The Mastering Math Essential Math Skills Book 1 (with included dvd) is only $33.95. That is a seriously reasonable price. The website even offers this guarantee:
The Math Essentials no risk guarantee. At the end of 30 days, if you do not see a dramatic improvement in math skills among your students, simply return the materials and for a full refund. There is absolutely NO obligation.
But, seriously? $33.95 isn't that much of a risk when we are talking math programs!
What we didn't like (my least favorite part of writing a review, by the way):
~On the back of the Mastering Essential Math Skills text, it clearly states that the program includes an easy-to-use correction key and teacher's manual. The website actually says, Lessons are easy to correct and the Parent/Teacher's Guide provides illustrated step-by-step solutions for each exercise and problem.
There is an answer key in the back of the book, but try as I might, I simply could not find illustrated step-by-step solutions for each exercise and problem. There is no teacher's manual...at least not what I would call a teacher's manual. There are 3 pages in the front of the workbook devoted to "Notes to the Teacher or Parent" and "How to Use this Book" that includes 8 steps with simple black and white drawings describing how a teacher in a classroom setting would move through a lesson. There is a "How to Use this Book" section on the dvd, covering the same topics as in the book.
~The dvd lessons are definitely short and concise. Only a few problems are reviewed, and the children are expected to work these problems in a separate notebook along with Mr. Fisher (the instructor). There are absolutely no frills to these dvd sessions. You don't even see Mr. Fisher. You see only a whitescreen and his problems as he writes them. Often, however, there is no problem at all on the board as he is lecturing in the background. For up to 30-45 seconds the students see only a white screen. I realize that the idea is to eliminate distraction, but I could see my kids' eyes glazing over. They were getting distracted...because there was nothing engaging about the lesson.
~Our math sessions generally took at least 30-40 minutes. I think I was expecting to have less teaching involvement since this program has the dvd portion in each lesson. But that simply wasn't the case. Since there was no teacher's manual, I needed to watch the dvd lesson with my students to even know what the lesson was about that day. Then I had to re-explain the lessons covered in the dvd and work through many of the worksheet problems with them. Even the speed drills are designed for the teacher (me) to choose one number for them to drill addition facts by and one number to drill multiplication facts by. Which meant when they were done, I had to take the time to figure them out myself since I had no teacher key for these answers.
Now you might be thinking I sound lazy at this point. And I'll go ahead and admit it. I am a little lazy. However, I'm not teaching a class full of students who are all on the same grade level. I have eight children, six of whom are school age...all on different math levels. I have to teach a lot of math in one day. I want my math programs to be thorough, but I also want them to be super teacher-friendly and with little to no prep. A thorough teacher's manual is key for that.
We also reviewed Mastering Essential Math Skills Geometry. This 80 page workbook is set up exactly like the Book 1 except is does not include the teaching dvd. There is an answer key and Glossary of math terms in the back of the book, but even less teacher instruction. My sixth grader worked through lessons in this book and while he loved how short they were, we were often frustrated by the lack of instruction. The only instruction came in the form of the "Helpful Hints" section in the middle of the page. But often even I had a hard time deciphering these "Helpful Hints" without the aid of a teacher's manual.
Once again though, the price of this book is a big bonus. It's only $11.95 to order the Geometry workbook. Math Essentials offers others just like it for Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, Pre-Algebra Concepts and more. It really is not a big investment to find out if this program will be right for you. I also must admit, that many on the TOS Crew are finding much success with Math Essentials. You can read their posts here. Just because it's not a great fit for us, doesn't mean it won't be just what you are looking for!
Also, Math Essentials will be offering a special promotion for the months of July, August, and September. The promotion applies to any order placed through the Math Essentials website. Any order that includes Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 1, OR, Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2, OR, No-Nonsense Algebra, will include a free copy of Geometry (A $14.95 value) plus a free Homework Kit (A $4.99 value).