When I look back over our years of homeschooling, I see that we've used products from certain companies nearly every year we've homeschooled. One of those beloved companies is The Critical Thinking Co.™. When Brennan was a preschooler we were introduced to their Building Thinking Skills books, and more recently we've used their U.S. History Detective books for high school.
For the past few years, Lauren has used the Mathematical Reasoning™ series of workbooks for additional practice alongside her regular math curriculum. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Understanding Pre-Algebra, the next work text in the series.
Understanding Pre-Algebra is suggested for Middle School students in grades 6-8. Lauren is just now finishing up her sixth grade year. In terms of math skills, she can confidently do calculations with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. As we continue in her regular math program, she would be starting pre-algebra in the fall. I was confident that she was ready start the pre-algebra material from The Critical Thinking Co.™.
The Understanding Pre-Algebra book is a hefty softcover book (442 pages) that combines instructional materials and practice problems in one volume. It has fifteen chapters and 120 lessons. Each chapter has a chapter review exercise that could be used as a test, and the book includes a final examination covering all the material presented in the book. Based on my examination of the materials, it looks like it covers absolutely everything that is covered in any other pre-algebra course.
A lesson in this course generally consists of a page or two of text explanations and sample problems followed by ten to twenty practice problems for the student to complete on their own. Answers are provided in the back of the book, sometimes with a brief explanation but the problems generally aren't worked out.
I am quite impressed with the materials. In addition to be a comprehensive look at pre-algebra topics, this book requires the student to think through the concepts. For instance, in one of Lauren's first lessons, she was reviewing important divisibility rules. One of that lesson's questions was, "Joan said that 27 cannot be divided by 2. Is she right? Explain your thinking." Lauren need quite a bit of guidance to think through the exact way that question was worded, and eventually I coached her enough that she realized that you could still divide 27 by 2, even if it didn't divide evenly.
Unfortunately, as I was discussing the material and some of the questions with Lauren, I realized that she's just not ready for this book. She's done quite well with math in the past, but I don't think she's developmentally ready to move from the concrete world of elementary math to the abstract world of pre-algebra. This book introduced a lot of new abstract concepts (natural numbers vs whole numbers vs integers) on the very first page, and she quickly became overwhelmed. She also became frustrated because this book requires a student to either have good reading skills in order to process the teaching section or have a parent/teacher helping with the explanation. Lauren wanted to complete the lessons independently because in the past she's usually done math on her own. It just isn't possible for her to work through this book independently right now.
Despite our recent frustrations because Understanding Pre-Algebra is a poor fit for Lauren right now, I continue to highly recommend The Critical Thinking Co.™ materials. I had to set this book aside for now, but I'll hang on to it for when Lauren's ready to tackle the challenge.
Homeschool Crew bloggers have been using both this book and other excellent options for the past month. Be sure to check out some of the other reviews:
The Critical Thinking Co.™ has generously offered a coupon code for readers to use on an upcoming order (see below). Also, they offer free critical thinking puzzles delivered weekly to you inbox. Sign up here and select your appropriate grade level (or levels).
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