Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Balance Math

I remember when algebra was just a high school class. I also remember helping my best friend pass algebra by talking her through the homework problems on the phone each night. These days algebra is for all students -- Kindergarten through High School.

Yesterday, Lauren was watching her math video and was asked, "4 plus what equals 8?" Solving for the unknown in that question is the most basic of algebra skills.

Today I looked at Brennan's math assignment and found algebra for a fifth grader, disguised as a lesson on decimals. 8x + .09 = 1.69

It seems like students of all ages need to develop algebra skills, especially when it comes to thinking critically about the relationships between known and unknown values in a problem.

PhotobucketMeanwhile, I was hoping to find a fun way to keep Addison's algebra skills sharp during her break between Algebra I and Algebra II. Critical Thinking Company recently introduced a new book that I hoped would fill the gap -- Balance Math Teaches Algebra!.

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! focuses heavily on solving multiple equations simultaneously. Many of the pages look like one below where the student looks at multiple balanced scales to solve for an unknown value. Other pages involve looking at scales (balanced or unbalanced) and then figuring out which written equation means the same thing as the scale illustrates.

Nearly all of the problems can be solved with basic algebra skills such as the associative or commutative properties. They can also be solved with just a bit of basic logic/thinking skills. Addison considers the problems in this book as thinking challenges rather than math problems. She also thinks the overall concepts are a bit easy for her after finishing an Algebra I course.

Brennan was able to review one of the earlier books in the series -- Balance Math & More!, Level 2. Unlike Balance Math Teaches Algebra, many of the problems in this workbook do not involve balance scales.

For Tic-Tac-Math problems, all of the rows, columns, and diagonals must add up to the same sum. The goal is to fill in all of the blank spaces in the tic-tac-toe board.  Other pages are Inside-Out Math, a problem where the student finds the missing values when given the answers to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. A sample of each type of page is shown below. Some of the pages in this level include fractions, but the majority of the problems involve whole number operations.

Again, this book is more of a thinking skills book than a math skills book. Brennan sometimes objects to the lengthy calculations and was happy when I allowed him to use a calculator on the page that required him to add/subtract five-digit numbers.

I've been impressed with every product that I've ever used from the Critical Thinking Company, and these two Balance Math books are no exception. One thing I particularly love about Critical Thinking Company is their generous copyright allowances. "The individual who initially purchased this product is licensed to reproduce the activity pages for use within one home or one classroom." I'm always thankful when I have quality materials that I can pass along from one child to the next. (Right now, my two books are torn apart and put into page protectors for reuse.)

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! currently costs $14.99, and Balance Math & More!, Level 2 costs $9.99. Both are available from The Critical Thinking Company. They are appropriate for students that have mastered basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. A student that has only been introduced to addition and subtraction would find Balance Math & More!, Level 1 more appropriate. As an adult, I found some of the problems in each book to be a bit challenging. Perhaps that's the beauty of products that require thinking and logic skills -- you never outgrow them.

If you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about products from Critical Thinking Company, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here. Crew members review products covering several different subject areas and grades, including Crypto Mind Benders, Inference Jones (reading comprehension), and Mathematical Reasoning.

Disclaimer: I received two Balance Math workbooks as a member of the 2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.


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