Review of Math-U-See ~ Math Comparison

The plethora of curricula available to homeschoolers today is dizzying. While wading through the options and recommendations, I eventually made charts of my top three to four choices for history, math, grammar, writing, and spelling to narrow them down. I thought I’d share my research with you. I hope it helps save someone else time!

Some of the curricula that I’m reviewing I have not seen in person or used. The thoughts shared here are my own personal thoughts based on what I’ve read. I noted price, description, and what I perceived to be the weaknesses and strengths of a curriculum based on our philosophy of education, users’ reviews, and practical aspects of our family.

If you are researching curricula, Cathy Duffy’s site is helpful to succinctly describe how a specific curriculum works. For actual user’s reviews, look on The Well-Trained Mind forums or Homeschool Reviews.


Based on my personal history and having read The Well-Trained Mind, I began my search into math curricula with these four choices: ABeka Homeschool (ABB), Saxon Homeschool, Math-U-See (MUS), and Singapore Primary Mathematics (SM). In my short homeschooling career, I have already used each of these with the exception of Saxon (which I grew up with in elementary school). Of the three I have used–ABB, SM, and MUS–I used Singapore the least and MUS the most.

I recently shared an intro to these math reviews along with my review of Saxon, followed by a review of ABB math, and a review of Singapore’s Primary Mathematics. Today is my final math curriculum review of Math-U-See.

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Description:

Cathy Duffy’s website was invaluable to me in comparing math programs: Here’s her Math-U-See review.

During a homeschool convention I had the privilege of attending last year, the convention host made an announcement: unfortunately, the MUS representative was not available that day for a luncheon presentation. “Don’t worry, though.” He suggested. “If you want to know how Math-U-See works, you can buy an order of fries, break them up into little pieces, and play with those for a while!” If you know MUS, you know how funny that is.

MUS’s major component is their manipulative blocks, color coded by number. The manipulative blocks are used in all of the Math·U·See levels from Primer to Algebra 1. There are 88 pieces in this colorful, base-10 set of stacking blocks used to teach all aspects of arithmetic. The same blocks are used in conjunction with the Inserts to illustrate key algebra and decimal concepts. The set consists of five each of the 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, and 100s; seven 5s, twenty units and twenty-one 10s.

With the blocks, as well as a series of teaching videos, the student literally can “see” math. The elementary levels are named by Greek letters, which is a nice feature for students who are behind so they don’t need to be embarrassed by working a grade level behind. The Alpha level covers “addition and subtraction for single-digit and other topics.” (See MUS’s website for a full table of contents; Alpha includes skip counting, place value, shapes, and telling time.)

The Beta level covers multiple-digit addition and subtraction and other topics like money, measurements, perimeter, place value, borrowing, regrouping, ordinal numbers and tally marks, thermometers and gauges, and bar and line graphs.

Gamma covers single and multiple-digit multiplication as well as the area of a rectangle and square, solving for an unknown, prime and composite numbers, and measurements. Delta covers single and multiple-digit division as well as other geometrical areas, roman numerals, and beginning fractions. Epsilon takes a level to explain fractions and some others topics. Zeta covers decimals, percents, and other topics like probability, averages, geometry issues, and the metric system. Then comes pre-algebra (presumedly for 7th grade, but you can go faster or slower), and the upper levels with traditional names.

MUS also has a Skip Count CD & Book: “ These are songs on a CD to help the student learn the skip counting and addition facts. They include a booklet with the words and music. There are two versions of the songs on the CD, one with Christian lyrics, and the other with the lyrics taken from science and literature.”

The Instruction Pack “contains the instruction manual with lesson-by-lesson instructions and full solutions, and the DVD with lesson-by-lesson video instruction,” whereas the Student Kit “contains the student text with lesson-by-lesson worksheets and review pages, as well as the Test Booklet.”

Strengths: 

  • MUS is a Christian company. As I said in my other math reviews, it’s not really a biggie to me if my math curricula is “Christian” or not, since it doesn’t really show up unless there is a stewardship program–which MUS does have–or unless there are verses printed on the workbook pages. 🙂 But if two programs are equal to you, why not support the Christian company?)
  • This is one of Cathy Duffy’s “Top 101 picks for homeschool curriculum.” “Emphasizes conceptual understanding, particularly through the use of demonstrations with manipulatives. This is one of the best programs for hands-on or interactive learners. Like the Saxon Math program it also teaches in increments or small steps with plenty of review. Complete solutions are now included for all problems at all levels, an especially helpful feature at upper levels.”
  • It’s also a recommendation in The Well-Trained Mind, a guide for classical education: “Good course for a visual or hands-on learner, and the videos provide plenty of teacher support.”
  • “Provides the student with more tutorial support.”
  • “The mastery-based approach allows students to move at their own pace whether they are naturally gifted in mathematics, struggle with mathematical concepts, or have special needs.”
  • Their missionary discount is incredible! (50% off, when I purchased from them last year–I haven’t seen any other company that beats that discount!)
  • They also offer a metric UK version (or other country-specific options–even South Africa). Missionaries could even order these versions from the U.S. with the discount. (There are international vendors of the country-specific versions, but they can’t offer the discount. But you’d save on shipping.)
  • The most non-distracting worksheets possible, if your child struggles with distraction from over-stimulation visually.

Weaknesses:  

  • Some say it’s “weaker” (maybe for word problems/critical thinking?—This is mainly a critique on the higher levels, but it is responded to on the web and Cathy Duffy rewrote her review later, see below.), or for the “slower” student. I heard one say to supplement with Singapore for those areas.
  • Worksheets are not colorful.
  • Doesn’t follow a traditional scope and sequence, so you don’t learn some concepts until later (or earlier as the case may be). For example, it doesn’t have much instruction on fractions until the Epsilon level (5th grade-ish). If you have to stop homeschooling and switch to a brick-and-mortar school halfway through, you may need to make sure to supplement your child in whatever areas he hadn’t gotten to yet in MUS.
  • Not spiral. If your child needs daily review of time, money, fractions, whatever, or an extremely tight spiral (or incremental) like Saxon or ABeka, you would have to add that in yourself; because MUS is a mastery program. When the child can “teach” the material back to you himself (meaning he has mastered it), he moves on the next lesson.
  • Some parents say they can’t understand studying just “one topic” for a whole year. This is a non-issue, however. They get this from the front cover of MUS’s books, which say the main topic for the year. But MUS does cover many other topics besides simply addition, multiplication or whatever the title may say within the book. MUS gives the lesson titles for each level on their website (and I listed some above), so you can see all that is covered in each level there.

Comments or Modifications:

On their website, “Our goal is to help produce confident problem solvers who enjoy the study of math. The reason we study math is so we can apply what we learn in everyday situations. The students learn their math facts, rules, and formulas, and are able to use this knowledge in real life applications. The study of math is much more than committing a list of facts to memory. It includes memorization, but it also encompasses learning the concepts that are critical to problem solving.”

The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM) says, “This program takes a very different approach; it is suited to parents who are intimidated by the idea of teaching math, and to children who are very hands-on or visual in their learning styles.” Also, “Be sure that you purchase additional practice sheets if necessary, so that students will have plenty of opportunity to solidify their knowledge of the math facts.” I don’t agree here, because MUS has free worksheet generators on their website, plus a drill program (for free for any other math-program users as well!) So there are plenty of ways to practice the material without purchasing more practice sheets.

Finally, TWTM says when comparing math programs, “Unless you decide to use the MathUSee program, with its teaching videos, you may eventually need a math tutor [5-6 grades].”

Cathy Duffy explains that her earlier negative review of their high school math needs to be adjusted after “a 2005 addition to the upper level courses [which] is a series of Honors Enhancement Books for Pre-Algebra through Precalculus. These provide more-challenging practice, more critical thinking, practical applications, more complex word problems, test prep practice, and preparation for the math required in advanced science courses. This addition largely alleviates my concerns expressed in my original review about the program’ ability to challenge advanced students.”

Also Duffy says, “One of the things I think makes Math-U-See so popular is that many parents and teachers find that author Steve Demme’s presentations of math concepts helps them to finally understand so much they were taught in math but never understood. Parents and teachers with a new or renewed enthusiasm for math then do a much better job teaching their own children.”

From MUS’s website: “How Math-U-See fits different educational styles”

  • Charlotte Mason—lessons are short and free of “twaddle.” There are lots of opportunities for hands-on experience, and students are encouraged to “teach back” the concepts to the parent (narration).
  • Classical—Memorization of facts is encouraged in the early grades, and mastery of concepts required at every level.
  • Traditional—Concepts are taught on dvd, and workbooks are used for practice and review.
  • Relaxed/Unschooling—The books are not assigned grade levels, so it is easy for students to work at their own pace or interest level.
  • Unit Studies—Topics are grouped together by concept, helping students to see how math ideas are related to each other and the whole structure of mathematics.

My personal thoughts:

I am a happy user of MUS; so far I’ve used Alpha through the beginning of Gamma for one child. I’ll explain in a final summation why I chose MUS and my thoughts on the other programs. For now, I plan to use MUS through the pre-algebra level. Then I may switch to Saxon or some other math program for the high school level.

Making a clock with math manipulatives.

Making a clock with math manipulatives.

I like using the DVDs. It gives my son another “teacher” that is not ME for math; and I hope that as my kids get older, it may be a way to make math more independent while I work with other children. I’m also learning quite a bit about how to use manipulatives to teach math. I never grew up with base-10 blocks, so math makes much more sense to me now, rather than when I was just using a flashcard-drill approach. I also feel that the use of base-10 blocks has helped my son to be much better at mental math. Really, go try it out with some fries. 😉

I do think that the upper levels don’t seem as helpful or deep as other math programs that I’ve heard about. If you want to use MUS, but not for the high school level, I’ve heard that the time to switch is after the pre-algebra level, because that ties all the elementary levels’ concepts together. I still may use MUS as an “intro” to the concept in high school, and then use another program to follow up and make sure they understood everything or covered everything. Of course, by the time my kids get to high school, this all may be different! 🙂

I enjoy being able to go at my child’s pace, and not being more tied to a traditional scope and sequence with daily lesson plans. My firstborn is quick with math, and we are now using Gamma (the “3rd-grade-ish” level) in the middle of 2nd grade. (At this point it’s hard for me to see how one level is “enough” for a whole year.) My second son is not as good at math, so I’m guessing we’ll be going slower with him.

If you decide to go with MUS, I recommend just purchasing the two sets of manipulative blocks with special wooden storage cases right from the outset!

Price:

Alpha-Delta:

  • instruction pack $43
  • student kit $30
  • manipulative block set $38 (might want two—they’re used all through elementary)
  • wooden block box $43 (holds 2 sets)
  • skip count CD & book $11

Fraction Overlays $33 (for Epsilon)

Algebra/ Decimal Inserts $22 (for Zeta)

50% discount for missionaries!

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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7 Responses to Review of Math-U-See ~ Math Comparison

  1. Christie says:

    So helpful! I’ve been loving your math reviews!

  2. Wow… thank you! I have had such a hard time choosing math! 😦 We’ve used Saxon for 2nd and 3rd, but the 5/4 book doesn’t seem to fit us! I compared and prayed and finally decided on MUS! Hope we like it! Can’t wait to check out your other reviews! Thank you!

    • Amy says:

      I hope MUS works out for you! I haven’t started in the middle like that, but I did come from a traditional-style math program (ABeka) which I used in K. This is an interesting comment; from what I’ve heard, lots of people like Saxon more for the upper levels than for K-3. Can you share why you think 5/4 isn’t a good fit at this time? I’m curious!

      • Of course with Saxon, a new concept is introduced daily and previous learned material is reviewed daily, as well. I thought that that is what I loved about Saxon. During 2 and 3, I taught from a teacher script each day and my children completed a worksheet. Now, however, I have 2 more children entering “school” and beginning K this year, which means a lot more teaching time from Mom. (Baby #5 will arrive in December, too!) The Saxon 5/4 book still introduces a new concept each day AND adds on the new skill of copying all problems from a book onto paper. I know Saxon 5/4 is designed to become more independent and require less from Mom, but I think Math U See would be an even greater opportunity for my 4th graders to be more self-directed in the area of math, working on 1 concept for several days or even a week, without me teaching a new concept each day! I know that copying problems from a book onto paper is a great skill that my children would benefit from, but I’m not sure that I like the idea of spending an hour per day on math– yet. It seems with grammar, Bible, history, Latin/ roots, spelling, science, geography, literature, AND math, our days really do seem to get long! 😉 If we can learn math well, more independently, in less time– I’m all for it!

      • Amy says:

        I am totally with you on finding solutions to curriculum that seems to take a looong time. I love AAS spelling, for example, but I am considering what to switch to that would be more independent. There’s just not enough of Mom to go around in a big family if all of the curriculum is teacher-intensive! Thanks for sharing; that is helpful to know in case I ever do switch to Saxon.

  3. Pingback: What I Chose for Math | Ita Vita

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