Friday, March 29, 2013

Math U See Pre-Calculus {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

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I've often said that one of the best perks of being a homeschooler is being able to experiment with different curriculum options until we find that one that fits our child best. For Addison, we've found that Math-U-See fits her perfectly.

Recently, Addison skipped ahead a bit in her math studies so that she could review the Pre-Calculus level from Math-U-See. (She's currently about two-thirds of the way through Algebra 2, and it looked like the beginnings of Pre-Calculus did not require her to know anything that she hasn't covered before.) Pre-Calculus includes Trigonometry and covers other topics such as identities, polar equations, logarithms, sequences, and limits. The full table of contents can be found on the Math-U-See website.

I'm pleased to report that Math-U-See has made Pre-Calculus manageable and even perhaps a little fun.

At the heart of most lessons is the clear video instruction from Steve Demme. We didn't time any of the video segments, but Addison estimates that they are all between ten and twenty minutes long. She would have noted (and complained) if they had been much longer. Mr. Demme does an excellent job of explaining even the most complex math concepts so that the student fully understands what is going on and isn't just memorizing how to work a problem.
Following each lesson, the Math-U-See materials provide several practice pages in the student workbook. The Pre-Calculus lessons have four regular practice pages and an optional honors page for each lesson. We like the way that the practice pages are in a separate workbook so that Addison can do the work directly on the page. Occasionally, she needs to use scratch paper to do parts of the problem, but often she can complete all of the work in the allotted space. The goal of Math-U-See is not for the student to complete all of the work pages, though. The goal is for the student to practice long enough that they master the new concept. Addison rarely needs to use all four practice pages before moving on to the next concept, but I like knowing that there are additional worksheets that she could use if she needed to.

The Pre-Calculus materials come with optional honors pages in each lesson. The honors lessons expand on the concepts in the text, challenge the students with more word problems, and provide practical applications. Some of the honors lessons help the student develop higher level math thinking skills so that they'll be prepared for a science or math field of study in college. Occasionally, the honors lesson will include a concept that might not be covered elsewhere in the materials, perhaps a interesting factoid or unique application.

In addition to the student materials, the Pre-Calculus curriculum comes with a full Instruction Manual. At times, Addison has used the written lessons to substitute for the video instruction. Most of the time, however, we refer back to the text so that we can easily find a single concept in a lesson that needs to be reviewed. The textbook lessons include explanations, sample problems, and practice problems (with answers).

The Instruction Manual  also includes all of the answers for the student worksheets, the honors lessons, and the tests. Each of the answers include the steps needed to complete the problem, not just the answer. I appreciate seeing the steps to the solution so that I can help Addison find her mistake instead of just marking the answer as wrong. Our only complain about Math-U-See is that Addison sometimes finds it difficult to figure out what format her answer should be written in -- should she simplify fractions, use her calculator to find the square roots and get an approximate value, etc. When her answer is in a different format, I either tell her which form to convert it to or I do a bit of a math myself to make sure she's answered correctly. It isn't a big deal, but it would be easier if the instructions on the worksheets were clear about how to format the answer.

The real question about a math curriculum isn't necessarily about the curriculum at all. The real question in my mind is whether it works for the student. Math-U-See not only teaches math in a way that makes it easy for Addison to understand, it somehow makes it fun too. When I asked her about the Pre-Calculus curriculum she responded,
"What I really liked was the honors page for lesson 6 where we combined trigonometry with algebra." 
I laughed. 
She responded, "I know. It was so fun!" 
I think that statement clearly illustrates why we love Math-U-See. It works for Addison and somewhere along the way Steve Demme has taken a daunting subject and made it "fun."

The Pre-Calculus materials include the Instruction Pack (DVD and Instruction Manual) that costs $72 and the Student Pack (Student Workbook and Pre-Calculus tests) for $32. In addition, Pre-Calculus requires that the student have a scientific calculator that does square roots, trigonometric functions, logarithms, and natural log. Addison is using my husbands old scientific calculator, and I'm able to check her work using a free calculator app on my iPad. Pre-Calculus is intended for high-school students who have already completed geometry and algebra 2 courses.


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  1. Thanks so much for this review! I realize it's three years old now, but it's still helpful!

    I was wondering if your daughter went on to college, and if so, did this course help prepare her for college math?

    1. She's heading to college on an academic scholarship in the Fall with plans to major in math. She did great in her higher level math classes, and we're anxiously awaiting the results for her AP Calculus B/C exam.

    2. Well, that totally answers my question! =)

      Math-U-See Pre-Calc for the win!

      Thanks again.



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