At Demme Learning, we trust parents. That concept started with Steve Demme, the founder of Math-U-See. You may know a little about the program Steve considers his “baby”; you might even use it. But have you ever wondered why it’s in such a different order than other curricula, or why manipulatives are used all the way through Algebra 1, or…? As he says, “I don’t believe there’s any better teacher than a parent. And I feel like my job is simply to help you to be a better math teacher than you would be without me.” Our goal is to partner with you to find the best way to teach your children.
Deductive vs. Inductive Learning
The basic premise of Math-U-See is that the parent and child will work together through examples of each concept by building with the blocks, writing problems, and taking turns explaining to each other (a method we call “Build, Write, Say.”) Work through as many problems as it takes for your student to say, “Now I get it!” or “Oh, I see!”
Traditional math instruction, the kind that many of us parents had in a classroom setting, is deductive learning. That means an instructor presents and teaches the lesson, provides information, illustrates examples, and explains as best they can. Think of the example of a college lecture—the students listen and watch, then do the best they can to replicate the process with the homework assignments and so on.
Math-U-See uses an inductive approach. Home educators, by definition, are not classroom teachers. Rather, they are tutors. An advantage for tutors is that they can customize instruction to fit the learning preferences of their students. They can be far more interactive and allow students to have hands-on, real-time practice. They can also ask questions and make observations to determine whether a child is mastering a concept. This inductive style works to create a lifelong love of learning, and in fact, many classroom models have turned to inductive learning. In Steve’s words:
…as a parent/teacher, instead of perhaps spewing information all the time, as good as it might be, you might be doing a disservice to your child and you might be a better teacher if you just asked questions—a little bit of the Socratic method as opposed to the didactic and just the deductive.
By interacting with your student, you will validate their ideas. You might be surprised by the creativity or intuition they demonstrate. For instance, the “block clock” we use to teach telling time was actually developed by a student in the early days of Math-U-See. If your student uses the blocks in a different way or demonstrates a problem differently, ask “What’s your thinking? Why did you do that?” rather than “No, that’s not right,” or “That’s not how I showed you.” You might find a new way of approaching problems and your student will probably retain the concept more effectively. You’re also allowing your child to become a problem solver and cultivate their innate intelligence.
4 Math-U-See Components
1) Video Lessons
How do the different components of Math-U-See work together to create an opportunity for inductive learning? Each lesson has a video component in which Steve demonstrates how to present a concept, using the manipulatives where needed. While the videos are for parents to internalize the concepts for teaching, many students enjoy watching the lesson right along with their parent (besides being a great math teacher, Steve is a lovable goofball!).
2) Instruction Manual
There are also written instructions in the Instruction Manual, providing slightly different examples and suggestions for practice. Many parents have expressed their pleasant surprise at finally understanding math concepts that they never fully mastered during their own education. The videos and written instruction complement each other and are intended to be used in tandem.
3) Math Manipulatives
Then there are the manipulatives for all levels through Algebra 1. It’s one thing to watch somebody doing an Olympic event or to watch someone playing a professional sport. It looks easy! But it’s another thing to do it yourself. Even if your students only need to use the blocks one time before they get it, that’s fine. Using the manipulatives provides another method of representing a problem. Research shows that the more different ways we are exposed to information, the more likely it is that we will retain that information.The value of the manipulatives is in your student using them to teach back to you the concept they have learned. This action gives them the best opportunity to put the information in long-term storage in their brain. Teaching back a concept with the manipulatives and explanation is the best way to demonstrate that they have truly internalized and mastered the concept. So feel free to mix things up—let your student be the teacher for a day!
4) Student Workbook
Once you’ve introduced the concept and your student has a pretty firm grasp of what’s going on, it’s time to practice. That’s where the Student Workbook comes in. Levels include five or six pages per lesson. The first three are usually Lesson Practice pages that cover the new concept introduced in the lesson. Do as many or as few of those as necessary for you to be confident that your student has mastered the concept. Remember to incorporate the teach-back of the new concept before moving on to the review pages. The remaining pages for each lesson are Systematic Review pages. These pages are important for retention of concepts that have been previously introduced. We also provide a test for each lesson, which can be used as an extra practice page if you don’t do tests in your homeschool. The tests are a useful tool to ensure mastery; when we make it so easy to learn a new concept, kids go quickly and think they’ve got it. But do they really? Do they really know 9 × 5 is 45, just like that? Or do they have to go 9, 18, 27, 35, 45? If they’re still skip counting, they haven’t learned multiplying by 9, they’ve learned how to skip count. Multiplication by 9 is 9 × 6 is 54. The test can confirm that yes, they really do get it.
There are many different ways of presenting a Math-U-See lesson; there’s no prescribed way or timeline. But in Steve’s words, “I’m just telling you as the guy that wrote the program, this is how I wrote it to be done.” We hope this behind-the-scenes look at the program gives you some ideas on how you can customize for your student’s specific needs and learning preferences.
If you find that you are having challenges with any of the instructions for Math-U-See, we encourage you to reach out to our Placement Specialists. Let us help you get the most out of the program.