Join us for this very special interview with Steve Demme, the creator of Math-U-See and founder of Building Faith Families. Hear Steve’s story and be prepared to learn about yourself and your student.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:04.904
Welcome to The Demme Learning Show, our mission here is to help families stay in the learning journey wherever it takes them. This bonus episode was previously recorded as a webinar and was not created with the audio listener in mind. We hope you will find value in today’s episode. Welcome everyone. My name is Gretchen Rowe and it is my very great pleasure to have the opportunity to spend an hour with one of my favorite people on the planet. Steve Demme is the founder of Math-U-See, and now Demme Learning, and he is also the founder of Building Faith Families. And he was our math professor at Clan Roe for a number of years, and my kids still counted a blessed experience to have Steve teach them math because nobody wanted me to teach them math. So, I’m delighted to spend the next hour with him. He has lots of things to share with you. And Steve, welcome.
Steve Demme: 00:01:05.025
Thank you. Nice to be here.
Gretchen Roe: 00:01:08.181
It is. It is such a treat to get to spend some time with you. So, I want to kick off with this wonderful question. How did your family juggle life when you started Math-U-See?
Steve Demme: 00:01:23.226
That’s one of many questions that we should ask my dear sanctified godly wife. Let me just go back a little bit. So, our journey started when we were living in Georgia at the time. And God had blessed us with four sons and, at the time of my youngest son being born, John, with Down syndrome, I was not only a pastor of a small church, I was also a school teacher. So, I was teaching math during the day and I was pastoring the rest of the time. And that’s where my math experience came from. When Johnny was born and he had lots of surgeries and my wife and I burned out and that’s a whole big story that I just said in one sentence, we moved to a different state because we couldn’t continue to function as it was. Johnny’s care had really taken a toll on us. And I’m not blaming Johnny totally on that one because I was already pretty frazzled, as it was, because I was serving in multiple capacities. Not only was I a teacher and a pastor, but I was running summer camps and I didn’t know how to say no. So, I was already on the edge, but this was the camel’s, the straw that broke our back. So, we moved to a different state, and I taught one year in a Christian school. And I found out that I really didn’t fit in formal education anymore because we’d already been homeschooling our other boys for several years, and I loved the lifestyle of learning, because home education to us is not so much teaching and learning as it is teaching and learning as a family and doing life as a family and you work together and you read books together and you just do everything together. So, the next year, after I had taught for one year, I started a one-man tutoring operation. Now, this is kind of germane to the question. So, how did we operate? We didn’t do well that next couple of years because Sandy was still trying to get her health back and I was doing the best I could to put bread on the table, but at the same time, we had to hire people to come in and clean for us and help us because we were just a struggling family. And my sons were amazing that they seemed to have come out of that unscathed because we’ve asked them, “How did you operate?” And they said, “Oh, we just did it. Anyway. So then in ’91, we moved to Pennsylvania, where we’re living now. I painted houses for an Amish contractor for one year, and I did the math seminars, writing materials on the side. And in 1992, I said to my wife, “I think we can make a go of it full time by doing Math-U-See.” So it was in ’92 that we took the plunge. And I was writing books, and I was conducting seminars, and the rest is history. So it was tricky because the business was in our basement. I mean, my kids would help me assemble books, and we wrote skip count songs together, and it was a family business in the pure sense. But after a while, we had people starting to work for us in our basement, and then pretty much basement and garage, and then basement, garage, and upstairs. And finally, one day my wife said, “I need my house back.” So we purchased a barn, and we renovated it about three and a half miles from our house. And we were in that barn for many years. And then we moved to a warehouse, and we continued to rent space in the warehouse. And so we’re out of the home. So it was hard. It was hard on my wife especially, who was trying to homeschool our kids, and she’s got all this other stuff going on all around her, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:05:32.553
What’s the age difference, oldest to youngest, for the four boys? I don’t think I’ve ever asked.
Steve Demme: 00:05:37.288
A little over seven years’ span. Yeah.
Gretchen Roe: 00:05:40.459
So they didn’t know any different as far as your journey. That was what they were familiar with, so they wouldn’t know anything else.
Steve Demme: 00:05:51.664
Yeah. And probably when I was teaching school, that was the most order and rhythm that we ever had in our family because I would leave the house in the morning and I would come home in the afternoon. And we got one check per month, and we weren’t self-employed. Those were some of the golden years. But being self-employed– there’s a verse and proverbs about, “The barn is clean, and you don’t have any money. But when you have a lot of business, the barn is full of a mess.” And having a self-employed business in your home, it takes a toll. It just does.
Gretchen Roe: 00:06:30.235
Sure, sure. It does. So then tell us now how you founded Demme Learning. You built Demme Learning, and then you decided at the time that most people would’ve rested on their laurels to begin Building Faith Families. So how did that happen? How did that transition happen?
Steve Demme: 00:06:51.176
Okay. You’re a really good question asker. This is going to go fast, this hour. Well, it was 10 years ago this year. It was 2012. And by that point, my older three boys had graduated from college. They were married. And independently they had all asked to work for– at the time, it was just Math-U-See. And even though I’m okay at business and God has prospered Demme Learning, it’s never been where my heart is. My heart has always been to help families. So for 30 to 40 years, I’ve been speaking at conferences on not only a math workshop or two. I would do workshops on how to have family devotions, how to communicate as a family. My favorite talk was, “The family that stays together, stays together.” I just love talking to families and encouraging them, and I just thought that these are the two different things that I’m going to continue to pursue. But now that my sons were working for the company, and they seemed to have an aptitude, especially my second son. He wanted to have a family owned business and not a benevolent dictatorship, which is what it had been for many years. And so we made the transition in 2012, and now my three boys are running the company. My wife and I stayed on the board for two more years until she was becoming the swing vote. A lot of pressure on my wife. Do you side with the big bald guy, or do you side with your kids? And so she and I both resigned because that transition in 2012 was so painful. We had finally got our family back together, and by ’14 we said, “We don’t want to do this again. We want to keep our family in a good place.” So Sandy and I have backed off. Now, Building Faith Families is where my heart has always been, and so having podcasts, writing books, I have a hymn book. I got all kinds of stuff if you go on Building Faith Families dot O-R-G, to encourage and help families. So that’s where that came from. It really wasn’t anything different. It was just I could put all my energies into Building Faith Families and not split them between running a business and speaking, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:09:19.964
And it’s very evident when you spend time with you at a conference to see that is where your heart is because watching Steve with families, particularly with dads, his special ministry for dads is just amazing. Which means I get to ask you this question. A parent said, do you have some ideas for dads who work outside the home to be involved with their children’s education?
Steve Demme: 00:09:48.621
2012, I learned a bunch of stuff. And one of the things I learned, is that as a dad– I have to be careful which word I use here. I have the ability to build up my family like nobody else, and I also have the ability to hurt them like nobody else. And I learned that year, that I had done things to hurt my family from which I repented. And I’ve worked for closure, and we worked for healing, but let’s go back to the positive side. I would like to think that nobody can build up a family like a dad, so even though the dad might not have time to be working with the kids, one-on-one, or every day even. But just to express interest and ask questions when you come home from work, and you say, “How was school today? Give me three things that made it a really good day.” What did you learn in math today?” And support your wife and support the kids and show interest. That’s huge, and it’s huge for kids because kids will light up when dad will tune into their lives. And I remember having a learning expert tell me one time, “The amount of time that a student spends with a teacher one-on-one in a classroom is sometimes seconds a day.” Teachers got 30 kids, or 140 kids if you’re a high school teacher. And if you can just spend a few minutes one-on-one, eye contact, expressing interest and value, and showing appreciation, you have no idea how that is magnified in the lives of the kids.
Gretchen Roe: 00:11:42.304
I think that’s very true. And I see you sew that into so many dads when we spend time together at conferences. It’s a special privilege to watch you connect those dads back to their families, and watch them be blessed by your ministry. You a lot of parents ask questions about math and Math-U-See because you are their math teacher. You were the man in our family who taught math, and thank heavens you were. I don’t know where my kids would be today if you weren’t. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit. There were several families who asked questions about where do you put your time, what’s the most important thing when you have a bunch of kids, who do you invest your time with first, how do you get it all done.
Steve Demme: 00:12:34.332
Well, I think, Gretchen, you and some of the customer service reps can probably answer this question better. But let me just see if I can map out what I would do if I was teaching my own kids again. The first thing is, I would just work one-on-one. I can’t emphasize enough that there’s a huge difference between a tutor and a classroom teacher. A tutor has the ability to assess a student one-on-one and then find out what works for them and move at their pace. A classroom teacher, you don’t have that luxury. In fact, if you’ve got four or five kids and you’re trying to teach them all at the same time, you’re a classroom now. And here’s what happens in a classroom. In a classroom, you end up kind of keying into usually the smartest kid. I’m sorry to say that, but that’s what usually happens. Then the slowest kid is going to just fall by the wayside. And they’ve learned by now that they’re a little slower, and they’re going to start to shut down. And in any classroom situation, you’re going to have those people that you’re tracking with, those kids that you’re losing, and it’s just not healthy. It’s not efficient. It’s not effective. So figure out a way that you can spend one-on-one time. So let’s say that I have my oldest boy, Isaac. So I’m going to meet with him. We’re going to go over the new material. I’m going to do a bunch of problems. He’s going to do some problems. We’re going to work back and forth until I feel like he understands it. And I don’t know how to tell you how I know, but when you work with your kids, you learn what works for which kid. One kid, you might have to say a whole lot. Another kid, you can get to show him with the blocks, and he goes, “Oh.” And another kid, you need to make it real. You need to make something practical, or else it’s not going to resonate. So I can do that with my one son, and I’m only going to spend 15 or 20 minutes with him. Now, the next day or two, I might have a quick review. But pretty much, once I get him started, he’s going to be able to do the problem sheets in the book. And I can have him over here on the side. I could keep an eye on him, but now I have another opportunity to focus on son number two. So I’m working with son number two, and I do the exact same thing. So you don’t have to spend one-on-one time five days in a row with each kid. Just get them started, and then while they’re tracking and reinforcing and practicing and doing worksheets, then you have opportunities to work with the next children. And the other thing you can do is– this is part of the blessing of a one-room schoolhouse is that these other kids aren’t deaf. They’re still hearing. So when you’re teaching the older one, the next couple are hearing it. And by the time you get them down the line, it’s not the first time they’ve heard it. And sometimes that older child can step in and help the younger ones. So that’s another strategy that might work. But it does require some management skills. There’s no getting around it. It requires some administrative skills. And talk to Gretchen and Sue and some others because they’ve got lots more wisdom than I do because I’m a dad. And it was really hard for me to be consistently teaching even my own kids. My wife is the one who’s very systematic and disciplined and diligent. And I like to just zoom in and inspire people and then zoom out and do my thing. So my wife and I have a really good dynamic.
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:27.357
That’s awesome. And so one of the things that I see with you, though – and I have seen evolve in the 8 years that we’ve had the opportunity to work together – is how much you enjoy that one on one interaction with a student with the manipulatives and watching the light go off in their eyes. And I think if you’re not teaching math one on one with your own children, you’re missing that opportunity to see that light.
Steve Demme: 00:16:55.519
When I go to conferences, I love sitting at the booth, but I always sit across as you know. I always sit across from the children because I need to see their eyes. And once I connect with them and I start seeing what works, I just do incrementally small things to get their confidence up. And confidence is huge and attitude is huge. And yeah, I love teaching kids at conferences. I like the one on one. But I couldn’t do that every day, Moms.
Gretchen Roe: 00:17:28.452
Well, I want to add Liam from Washington to ask you a question. And I love the fact that we actually had children asking questions of you. So he wanted to know what was your favorite curriculum to teach.
Steve Demme: 00:17:45.127
You mean, in Math-U-See?
Gretchen Roe: 00:17:48.096
I don’t know. He said, Mr. Demme, what was your favorite curriculum to teach?
Steve Demme: 00:17:52.686
Well, the Math-U-See was my favorite.
Gretchen Roe: 00:17:56.510
Maybe he means what level of Math-U-See.
Steve Demme: 00:18:00.682
It could be. I’m going to give you two answers for that. One of the things that I liked teaching my family was the Bible. And we used to read a chapter of the Bible almost every day, let’s say four or five days out of a week. That was a really good week. But we would read a chapter. And I loved teaching the Bible to my kids. I liked learning history. I’m a really– I just like to know why we do what we do, where things come from. When I go to a conference, I usually figure out what was the city, why was that city named that. When I meet people and they tell me their name, like Liam, I would say, what does Liam mean? So I just like teaching almost anything. Now, in the Math-U-See– boy, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question before.
Gretchen Roe: 00:19:02.849
I think it’s a great question. That’s why I wanted to ask you.
Steve Demme: 00:19:06.099
Yeah. I don’t know. Finding factors, I think, was fascinating to me. That’s what got me on Math-U-See in the first place, was I was a high school math teacher, teaching trinomial factoring. And then one night I saw somebody using manipulatives to illustrate what I’ve been really working hard to teach in a classroom with just numbers on paper and chalk on a board. And when I saw it, well, I couldn’t wait to get home and I walked into my– we’re still married. But I walked into my bedroom at midnight and I turned on the lights and I threw blocks on the bed, and I woke up my wife, and I said, wake up, I got to show you how to factor trinomials. And then in the morning – my kids were seven and five – and they woke up and I taught them how to do it in about 15 minutes. And that was inspiring to me. So seeing algebra might be the high point.
Gretchen Roe: 00:19:59.863
It’s always fun to watch you teach no matter what you’re teaching because you make it so relatable to any child regardless of their age. And to watch those eyes light up when they get it is just so gratifying. It’s really neat. So this is a good question that we get asked a whole bunch in customer service, and so I’m looking for Steve Demme’s answer to this. It says, “My seven-year-old shows mastery but struggles when we move on. So how do I know that she’s truly mastered a concept?
Steve Demme: 00:20:42.777
That might be the million dollar question. And I would love to pass the buck on this one, [laughter] but you’ve already passed this but now I got to–
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:50.835
I got to pin Steve.
Steve Demme: 00:20:52.769
Yeah. Can I just go back just a fuzz?
Gretchen Roe: 00:21:00.465
Steve Demme: 00:21:02.077
One of the biggest things that I learned when teaching my– well, I’ll just say one of my sons. I won’t tell you which one. But we used to struggle because by Thursday or Friday he was starting to get it and then by Monday I had to start over. And it was very frustrating to me, I took it very personally, I wasn’t good, and then I had to apologize and he crying and I’m upset and it was tough. We did take time outs on each other. So I know what it means to teach and you finally see the lightbulb go on but if you just take a day or two off, you have to redo it again. And it’s extremely frustrating to everybody. So one of the things that I did is I went to a friend of mine who’s a much better learning guy than I am, and I asked him for some advice. And here’s what he suggested. “When you get it to a good place on Friday and you come back to class on Monday, don’t just assume that they have it. Start over with a review.” But instead of saying, “Let’s just do one problem together,” he encouraged me to do four or five problems again. And I almost thought that that wasn’t fair because when I was growing up I only got 1 or 2 examples and then 25 for homework. And he was saying, “Do the opposite. Model it.” So let’s say we’re doing double digit multiplication. So what I would do is I would build it, write it, say it, solve it. Build it, write it, say it, solve it and do four or five problems even though we’d already done them the previous week. And that really made a huge difference for a couple of different reasons. One of them was, obviously, he already knows I’m going to be stressed if he doesn’t remember the stuff from the previous week. So if we’re going to start off on Monday and he doesn’t have to show me anything, he just has to sit there and smile and watch me. He’s able to learn it better, he’s not stressed, I’m not stressed. And it gave us a strategy, and we were able then to move forward with confidence because after I do four or five, all of a sudden he would say, “Let me try one,” because then it would come back. So that really helped us, this whole idea of modeling. And I have found that that that works for almost any topic. Any time a child starts getting stressed, any time they start getting anxious, their math part of their brain is shutting down. And to get rid of that stress and anxiety just say, “I’m going to do your homework for you today and then we’ll pick it up again tomorrow. Boy, that was a real major in our experience as a family, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:24:06.194
That’s amazing. And I’ve heard you talk about that before, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you tell that story quite in that context, so that is really terrific. So many parents mention the B-word, “behind”. Can you talk about– I know I’ve heard Steve talk several times about, “You’re not behind,” but I would like you to give the Steve Demme explanation of how that’s not applicable when we homeschool.
Steve Demme: 00:24:36.369
Okay. God help me here. So– [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:24:43.129
I’ll pray for you while we’re doing this.
Steve Demme: 00:24:44.839
Yeah. So most of the time when I’m at a conference, I get asked this question almost every conference, “What do I do? My daughter, my son, they’re behind.” And so it depends how well I know the person. And this is where I wish we had a screen. I could see your faces now as I’m answering this. But I sometimes smile, and I say, “Behind whom?” or “Where does it say in the Bible that you have to know fractions when you’re 10?” or something. We kind of joke about it. But here’s how I see teaching. My view of teaching is I’m going to first find out what a child knows. I’m going to begin there, and I’m going to move at their pace. That’s it. And if I’m teaching phonics, if I’m teaching geography, it doesn’t make any different what subject, I need to know what the student knows, which, by the way, only a parent really knows these things. Schoolteachers don’t know this. I had 140 students when I was a high school teacher. There is no way that I knew what every kid knew in that classroom. There’s no way. And so I just followed the textbook and tried to get as many as I could to go with me, but that was not really teaching. But now, when a kid would stay after school for one-on-one tutoring, that’s a whole different ball game. So the first thing I want to find out, what do they know? Next thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to start getting their confidence up, and I’m going to move incrementally until they’re tracking with me. I’m going to move at their pace, not the textbook’s pace, not what the school system thinks, not what a standardized test tells me. Teaching is two people. First person knows what they’re talking about, and they teach the child until he knows what you’re talking about, and you move at their pace. And so I already read through a lot of your questions, Gretchen, and there’s all kinds of questions in there about, “They’re behind your peers. They’re behind the kids in the neighborhood. They’re behind the kids in the co-op.” And you can’t let that– you can’t let that impact you. I know you can’t turn it off. You’re going to feel it. Everybody feels it. And if it’s drastic– okay, so if a child is a teenager and they’re still counting on their fingers, yes, that’s a whole different scenario. But homeschooling is this golden opportunity to teach the child right where they are and move at their pace until they become successful. And really, this whole idea of behind is peer pressure, and you’ve got to learn to say no to it. You’ve got to become your child’s advocate. And I remember one of my kids when I was teaching them, and he was behind, you might say, his peers. I knew that because I knew from being in the system. But I looked at him when he couldn’t get multiplication by three, and I said, “I’m not moving to the next topic until you get this and you feel comfortable with it.” And we spent several and then he got it. And we moved to the next topic. And it takes some chutzpah on the part. You have to become your child’s advocate. You need to be in their corner and say, “We’re going to take whatever time it takes until you get this and you’re going to be happy and successful. And don’t worry about the rest of the world.” And by the way, standardized tests have absolutely no value to me at all. I don’t even know if we even gave them to our kids. Maybe we had to at some point, but standardized tests don’t tell you anything except how they compare with some big whatever. And the colleges need them. And just throw them out the window. They’re not diagnostic.
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:44.567
Actually one of the greatest blessings in COVID was so many colleges realized that they didn’t need standardized tests to put together a freshman class, and the freshman class they put together in COVID has done pretty well for themselves. So that’s pretty awesome.
Steve Demme: 00:29:00.558
Yeah. I hope that’s okay.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:03.418
No, I think that’s a terrific answer. And I love it. How can you help kids who have no love for math?
Steve Demme: 00:29:14.013
Fasting. [laughter] No. I’m going to say this. Most of us like what we’re good at. So the reason that we probably don’t like math is because we feel like we’re not good at it. And I think somehow we do need to pray. And we do need to maybe check our own attitude because sometimes attitudes are caught more than they’re taught. And I remember when I was a school teacher, once it was a parent-teacher night and this family came in and this mom and dad looked at me and they said, “We flunked math. Our older daughter flunked math. This child will flunk your class.” Now, everything in me said to me there is no way that girl’s going to flunk my class. I am going to make sure that she passes this class. But I could see what she was coming into the classroom with. She had all this baggage from her family telling her that she was not a math person. And unfortunately, I think that’s kind of a myth in our culture today is I’m a reading person. I’m not a math person. I’m a creative person. I’m not an engineer person. And I don’t buy it. I think that there are people that have a natural inclination towards math. And there are a lot of people that don’t. But you could still learn it if you put in the time. It’s like foreign languages. Anybody can learn a foreign language if you’re willing to do the grunt work and memorize the vocabulary, but there are people, and I’ve met missionaries, who can walk into a town and pretty soon they’re conversing. They just pick up languages. They have a gift. I never had that gift, but I did take foreign language classes in school. I just had to spend more time at it. So number one, I think, let’s say that I got a mom asking that question. Her child doesn’t like math. She probably doesn’t like math or maybe she does a lot. Just say, “Let’s just work together. Let’s be a team here. Let’s help each other. And let’s just keep at it until we learn how to get good at it.” Because once you learn to get good at something, you’re going to find out you like it a lot better. But attitudes are hard. They are. And–
Gretchen Roe: 00:31:43.105
You were the one who taught me to stop–
Steve Demme: 00:31:44.065
–if you can hang around– if you can hang around with people that like a topic, that makes a difference too.
Gretchen Roe: 00:31:50.151
Steve Demme: 00:31:50.649
That’s one of the main things I do when I’m at conferences. I try to help kids to like math. And I show them cool stuff with it until pretty soon I see that little flicker in their eyes so, yeah.
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:04.880
You’re the one who taught me I needed to stop saying, “Oh, I dislike word problems [laughter].” And thankfully, Math-U-See finally got me to the point where word problems don’t scare me anymore, but I think as parents, we have to be sure that we model the right things in front of our children and I know I’ve had to ask for forgiveness and repentance of my kids for not modeling in front of them that they could be adept at mathematics.
Steve Demme: 00:32:32.733
And the thing is, life isn’t doing stuff that you like to do. I mean, this is a huge opportunity to learn some character. And to me, character is doing what you don’t like to do, but doing it anyway. I just did my laundry. I don’t get goosebumps doing my laundry. I just vacuumed my upstairs bedroom. I’ve had COVID for a few weeks, my bedroom looked awful. My poor wife moved out because it was a disaster. I didn’t like doing that, but I’ve learned a long time ago that it’s not going to be done unless I do it. So learning how to do something that you might not have an affinity for or you might not have an inclination towards is still good character training, and it will hold you for the future. Just look upon it as Elizabeth Eliot grew up. If you know Elizabeth Eliot, she was a famous missionary lady and I had the opportunity to know her. And she said in their family growing up, anytime there was something hard to do, the mom would call it GMT, Good Missionary Training. And any time something was hard, GMT. And guess what? All those kids except one became a professor at a Christian college. The rest of them all became missionaries. But they learned how to do the hard things well.
Gretchen Roe: 00:34:03.686
I think that’s probably good advice for anything, not just mathematics regardless. Here’s a question that I have never seen asked before. And so I’m interested to hear what you would say about it, and it is, what about competition math, is there a benefit to that for kids?
Steve Demme: 00:34:32.811
Boy, I wish I had– I wish I could ask more questions to flesh it out.
Gretchen Roe: 00:34:40.466
And that there was a secondary question. It says, “How can homeschool kids join some competition math?” So.
Steve Demme: 00:34:47.884
Well, they have the opportunity to do that. They have something called Math Olympics and things. And there’s things out there that homeschool kids can be involved in their scholarship programs. I don’t know how to find them. But if you want them, they’re there. I remember having them available. Now, one of my sons competed in a–what do they call that? Geography Bee?
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:13.375
Steve Demme: 00:35:13.922
And they’re Spelling Bees. But there are Math Olympics out there that you can do that. And for some kids that are really sharp, and they need some iron sharpening iron, go for it. I think it’s a great idea. And there’s lots of venues for that. We have to look up more for that, Gretchen. I’m not sure where you’d find that. As far as just one on one competition, I have a lot of competitive genes in me. And when I was in school, I didn’t want to understand math, I wanted to be the first one done with math. My homework was usually the first one done. Now, I made lots of dumb mistakes, which is what my parents had to hear at every parent-teacher night. “If your son would just check his work, he would get straight A’s.” but to me, it wasn’t about getting straight As, it was about beating everybody else. [laughter] I think a little competition sometimes is not a bad thing. Yeah.
Gretchen Roe: 00:36:15.750
Right. So in a homeschool family, when you have two children, invariably, the younger one seems to have more going on mathematically than an older student, at least those are the families I end up talking to. So how do you keep competition in the affirmative without the older student feeling like they’re less?
Steve Demme: 00:36:43.196
Yeah. That’s a really hard one. And I’ve witnessed the same thing at the booth when the number two child will start to– and I just take the mom aside and say, “Make sure you teach them separately.” I wouldn’t even let them get involved competitively. And I would just have the sermon that everybody has different giftings, and it’s really important. We heard a birth order talk, and we had four boys. So that birth order just fit us to the T. And we went to my oldest boy who was reading at a junior high level when he was five. And he could have discouraged his younger brothers with abilities that he had. But yet, we would talk to him. And you know what he did to his credit, the older child would go to them and says, “Yes, I can read better than you, but you can run faster than me.” And I almost crying telling you that right now. But one of the reasons that our kids I think turned out so well is because that oldest boy ended up patiently teaching his younger siblings instead of lording it over them or making races and competing and stuff like that. So we need to encourage each other and build each other up, the Bible says, and yeah.
Gretchen Roe: 00:38:03.171
I think that makes such a tremendous difference. Jennifer’s asked a question in our Q&A and she says she wonders how much time we should be spending on math each day. She did not give me an age. And I know that varies by age, but I also know that you have opinions about that. So I would love to hear them.
Steve Demme: 00:38:23.130
Well, when kids are older, they have a greater capacity. And so when they were doing algebra, I didn’t mind if they spent 45 minutes or an hour on a lesson, but when the kids were younger, 20 minutes max. I don’t want to overwhelm them. If they’re not getting in 20 minutes, something’s askew anyway, we need to go back and figure out how to do it. Because when I wrote Math-U-See, I didn’t put these huge problems in there because you don’t have to do huge problems. If you can do the problems that are in the book, it shouldn’t take you more than 15 or 20 minutes for a lesson, especially if you’re moving at the proper pace. Now, if you’re trying to push, then it’s a whole different scenario. But if you’re moving at your pace and you’re working from mastery and you’re successful, yeah, 20 minutes or so. Now, if you have one of these really sharp older kids that has a greater capacity, let them spend more time on it. But I think it’s counterproductive if you spend too much time on a lesson. So older kids are different, younger kids, not so much.
Gretchen Roe: 00:39:31.236
Yeah. I love it when I think something and you say what I’m thinking. So I’m so glad to hear you say what we always say to parents is sometimes less is more because your brain is still working on it even though you’ve walked away from it, so…
Steve Demme: 00:39:47.939 Okay. So there’s a certain math program out there that I taught before I wrote my own. And any textbook that I’m– every textbook that I’m aware of except Math-U-See was written for classrooms. And classrooms, you have to have a lot of busy work just to keep the people busy and they keep them on task so you can have order in the classroom. And I wrote Math-U-See for tutors and so tutors, you don’t need to do six problems. If you get two or three perfectly, go to the next topic. And I’m really trusting parents. You know when you need more problems and you know when you’ve already got it mastered. So you move it, you make those calls.
Gretchen Roe: 00:40:36.657
I think I heard you say maybe it was last summer that math is a language and nobody learns a language all by themselves. And being able to sit with a student and have them be able to even bounce ideas off of a parent and say, do I understand this? Am I understanding this right? Is sometimes the difference between hesitancy and confidence. And I think that makes a tremendous difference.
Steve Demme: 00:41:05.371
I know one of the questions in the queue was do kids need parents? Yes. They do. Nobody knows you– I mean, the kid better than you. And in fact, when I first wrote Math-U-See, the videos that I made were for the parents. Because I thought, I’ll give you the tools and the understanding, and then you adapt it to your children. And then, of course, we found out that the kids think I’m funny and all that. So it’s okay now if the kids watch the videos. But there’s still a tremendous need for an involved parent and a compassionate parent and work with your kids. Now, when they get older, when you get up into the algebras and the geometry, a lot of these kids can work on their own. They really can. And they can learn how to watch the video and follow the instructions and check the answer keys. And they’ll be fine.
Gretchen Roe: 00:42:04.030
I always think that one of the best pieces of insight I got, you mentioned Sue’s name earlier, was to not have to work through a whole page of math before you realize you’re doing it wrong. To use the answer key and make sure that you’re supposition about how to do something is accurate as you do math instead of having to redo it later. And that was such a revelation for me. And I think as parents, being able to check in to say, do you know what you’re doing? Is it going well for you? Is such a huge difference maker for kids. I think it makes an enormous difference. One parent asked this question, which spoke to me, in particular, because being a good German, my father used to say, you will not die of laziness. What he meant was he was going to chase me around until I did all the things I needed to do. But a parent said, how do we overcome laziness and embrace the challenges of math? I would love to hear your answer to that.
Steve Demme: 00:43:13.634
I really don’t know. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s really it’s a character question. It’s not a math question. Are you going to do stuff even if it’s not fun? And even if you’re not naturally good at it? And are you just going to be diligent? And diligence is one of the character qualities that is really hard to replace. I don’t know if you know this Gretchen, but when I was forming Math-U-See, I rarely asked people if they had a college degree. I rarely ask them how much they knew. Those just weren’t important to me. What I was looking for was, were they diligent? Were they honest? Did they have integrity? Were they teachable? And those were the qualities. And did they have a big heart? Especially when I was looking for customer service people, we used to look for math missionaries we used to call it. We wanted people that just wanted to help people learn math. And we knew that the business aspect would take care of itself if you have the right heart. So all these are– these things I’m talking about though, are invisible: diligence, character, integrity, honesty, a servant heart, teachableness. So I think that if we can encourage our children, regardless of the topic, to develop those character qualities, they’re going to do well, regardless of how well they do academically.
Gretchen Roe: 00:44:51.736
I think one of the things that I have learned in the last eight years in working with families, either on the phone or in a booth or at a conference, is often laziness is the descriptor we apply as parents to a child who has anxiety or hesitancy or a lack of confidence. And so it becomes our responsibility to sort of sort that out and figure out why am I perceiving that you’re lazy in this process when maybe there might be some other issue to hand. So and exploring all of those other things about diligence and character and sticktoitiveness, as my kids would say, is also really important in the process, but. Steve, somebody here ask about their 15-year-old with Down syndrome. And I know this is a particular touchstone for your heart. The question was, is this a program that works well with children with disabilities? And I would love for you to answer that for our audience.
Steve Demme: 00:46:04.216
Boy, I would love to give you this wonderful glowing response. My son has Down syndrome. He’s 34. He works in our shipping department. He does labeling. He puts together block sets. He signs for UPS and FedEx. Math-U-See really didn’t help him very much. Johnny only learns what he knows he’s going to be able to apply. And the idea of learning addition facts never really clicked learning multiplication facts. But we play cards in our home every night, and he makes the scorecard. So it’s important to him that he can write from one to ten. He makes his columns. He knows that aces are wonderful. In fact, I’ll just give you one little glimpse. He’s not a good poker player. [laughter] When he gets aces, he says, “Wow.” [laughter] And so we play cards accordingly. Now, that’s my experience. On the other hand, I have met a plethora of people at conferences whose children have dyslexia, dyscalculia, Downs, autism, they’re on the spectrum. And somehow the fact that they can touch it and hear it and see it and build it and write it. They’re using more of the brain, and they experience a success like they’ve never had before they used Math-U-See. So there’s a ton of testimonies of people that it really did work for them. It just didn’t really help my own son that much other than to give him a job which he loves.
Gretchen Roe: 00:47:49.641
He does. And he’s terrific at it as well. I should say. We have one of our attendees is named Steven. And Steven has been well-known to all of plus at Math-U-See for a number of years because he has literally gone through all of the levels of Math-U-See. And he’s the one who asked the question if you plan any classes beyond calculus because he will have completed five levels of Math-U-See. And I know what your answer is going to be, but I’m not going to stick words in your mouth. So could you please answer for Steven that question?
Steve Demme: 00:48:26.521
Well, Steven, we do have stewardship. So I would encourage you to do that one. I think that’s one of Math-U-See’s best-kept secrets. It’s a Christian approach to personal finance and I just upgraded it significantly in 2018. And as far as other classes, I don’t have any plans to write any more books. My math, I’m maxed out. However, I continued to write other books and I would encourage you though to take correspondence courses and to take classes online because I’ve met students that have used Math-U-See, they finished all of our stuff by the time they were in high school, and then they start taking online classes, and by the time they got to college, they already had 30, 40 credit hours logged on. And they attribute it to the fact that they had a great foundation in Math-U-See and it taught them the concepts that they needed in all the other upper-level stuff. So sorry, Steven.
Gretchen Roe: 00:49:29.003
That’s okay. My Duncan asked you that question years ago in Arizona and you said, “Uh, no.” [laughter] You have no intention. So you gave him a much more nuanced answer than that.
Steve Demme: 00:49:41.708
Well, Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his own limitations.” [laughter] I know my limitations.
Gretchen Roe: 00:49:49.686
I think Duncan’s take on it was that you wrote calculus so much more understandably than his college calculus classes that he wanted to see you bring your special touch to those upper-level classes. But Building Faith Families has your heart and your attention now. I should say, for parents who are watching the recording, if you’ve been on the Math-U-See website, you’re saying, “Where is stewardship?” And that can be found on the Building Faith Families website. So we want you to know that that is there. What if you’re not a Math-U-See family, Steve? You’re using another curriculum and you have a child who’s struggling getting what is being taught. How do you step in with a middle school student and become a Math-U-See family?
Steve Demme: 00:50:38.744
It’s pretty seamless. If you just think about this, we’re just going to not assume anything. We’re just going to first give them an assessment. And people like Gretchen and Sue and other customer service can help you that. Because it’s possible to have holes in your understanding of math. So if you’re a middle school student, you might not understand place value perfectly. You might know how to add, you might know how to subtract, but math is one of the few sequential subjects that really does build upon itself. And that’s how I wrote it. So first, we’re going to do place value, and then in alpha and beta, we’re going to do adding and subtracting and regrouping. And then we’re going to do multiplication, which is fast adding of the same number. Then we’re going to do division, which is the inverse of multiplication, and it just makes sense, the approach that Math-U-See did. Now, having said that, so let’s say that you have a middle school student and you come in to Math-U-See and you find out you have some holes, you don’t have to do all of our levels. You just need to fill in those holes. And there is a new product which Gretchen is the expert on, and I notice somebody asked the question called aim that can help fill some of those holes. But I don’t know, I’m not the expert on that. All I know is that you do want to fill those holes because, for example, I was teaching an in-service training for a local school system. During the break, I always found myself standing next to a person who was the 6th-grade math teacher. And I said, how’s it going? And she said, “We’re struggling.” And I said, “With what? And she said, “Division.” Now, to me, the logical question is, how are your students’ multiplication skills? And she said, “We gave up on those because we have to follow the curriculum. So we simply gave all of the students calculators and we kept moving.” And now she wonders why those kids are struggling with division. It’s because they didn’t have the proper foundation in place value and multiplication. And division is oftentimes where people will start to see the holes. So I like the fact that you said middle school because it’s usually middle school kids struggling with multiplication division to start struggling because it turns out it’s not those topics it’s their foundation that is not secure so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:21.064
Steve Demme: 00:53:22.123
And let me just put in one more thing here because I know that people have asked this before. Do you think it’s important to memorize facts? And this is the question I get asked all the time. And I’m going to do the best I can to answer this, but your brain can only keep so much stuff in there at the same time. So when you get to double-digit multiplication, what you should be focusing on is place value and where to write the numbers. But if you are still thinking about what’s three times six, you just got too much going on in your head. And I just can’t tell you enough how important it is, how much more efficient you’re going to be if you know that three times six, eighteen. You don’t have to pray about it, you don’t have to get the blocks out, you don’t have to use your fingers, you don’t have to look up. If you just know three times six, eighteen, boom. So now when we have 35 times 18, and I’m multiplying that three times the. I know what I’m doing. And there’s too much going on in a double-digit multiplication problem if you also have to reinvent each of those multiplication facts by themselves. So you really need to get multiplication down cold as much as anything, and take whatever time it takes to get it. There’s only 55 multiplication facts. Do one a week and in a year you got them.
Gretchen Roe: 00:55:01.796
Absolutely. Now that really is the purpose of the two AIM programs. They were designed for that older student who has a weak foundation to fill in those gaps and help them be mathematically successful. It’s kind of like driving a car with flat tires. You might get where you’re going, but it’s going to be a long journey and a bumpy ride. And so being able to reinflate the tires makes all the difference in the world. And AIM has been that for hundreds and hundreds of families.
Steve Demme: 00:55:29.940
Okay. So your illustration is flat tires. My illustration is basketball. You guys can’t see it, but I’m 6 foot 5, okay? Now, when I play basketball, a long time ago, I can dribble with both hands, I can shoot with both hands, I can pass all kinds of stuff. So when I’m playing basketball, I’m actually looking around the court and seeing who’s open. I can do stuff like that because I’ve mastered the fundamentals. But if every time I go out there, I have to think, take the ball, push to the floor, take the ball, push to the floor. I can’t play the game because I’m too busy working on the fundamentals. So the more you can master the fundamentals, the more it frees you up to understand the big picture of math, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:56:18.451
As long as we’ve been together, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you describe it that way. I love it. I’m going to steal it [laughter] because I think that’s terrific. And I have one more question for you about how would you encourage a child who just wants to get it done, and wants to keep the work in their head instead of writing it out on paper.
Steve Demme: 00:56:39.903
I know. This is a tricky one because in one sense, if a child is smart enough to do it all in their head and they’re getting the correct answer, it’s really hard to debate that kid. We all understand this, okay? And here’s what I would say. I would say “I’m so thankful that you have this ability. You are correct. You have accomplished the objective. However, I am many times older than you, and I know that there’s going to come a time when you’re not going to be able to do it in your head. Guaranteed. So you have to trust me. I’m the parent here. I have wisdom and experience that you have no idea of. I know that’s not going to go over, but that’s the fact.” So what I would say is, “Kudos for you for being able to do it in your head. But I need to see your work. So that I can make sure that it’s not going to hurt you in the future if you’re doing something improperly now. I just need to see it.” And if you’re still butting heads, you can do some compromises like, “Okay. You have four problems. I need to see two of them. And the same thing I work with kids. Kids say, “Why do I need to use blocks? I understand this. I can do it in my head.” And I would say same thing. “You can do all four problems, but I want to see two of the problems with the blocks.” I just know that the blocks help children to understand concepts even if they don’t know that it’s helping them. So I know I’m going to be in a little trouble here. But generally, little girls like to fill out worksheets, and little boys just want to build stuff. And those little boys need to learn how to write. And if their penmanship is so poor, you write for them. But those little girls need to get messy. They need to use some blocks. And trust us, your brain is bigger than just numbers and paper. You need to be able to build it, write it, see it, say it, hear it. If I could make those blocks scratch and sniff, I would.
Gretchen Roe: 00:58:56.180
Awesome. Steve, we’ve come to the top of the hour, and I could spend all afternoon with you, but we did promise families that we would keep this to an hour. So do you have any closing words of wisdom for our families?
Steve Demme: 00:59:10.009
Probably one of the biggest things that I try to communicate to parents at conferences, that’s my opportunity to meet parents face-to-face, it’s just to encourage them to learn along with their kids. And I think a lot of us as homeschool parents, one of the reasons we’re homeschooling is because we didn’t have a wonderful experience growing up ourselves. And some of us have a lot of baggage, and in fact, I think we probably have more baggage than the average person. I know I get in trouble saying that. But some of us are really wounded. And we had horrific experiences in math. We had horrific experiences in our families. There’s abuse. There’s all kinds of stuff. And we don’t want that for our kids. And so take a deep breath, and just learn along with your kids, and enjoy the ride, and give them those opportunities that you and I didn’t have the first time. And my wife and I, we both felt like we’d lost our love for learning when we were in the system. We were just so focused on taking tests and getting scores and doing well in our classes that we had lost just our desire to just like to learn and love to read and ask questions and explore stuff. And so that’s one of the things that we tried to inculcate in our kids, but it came out of our own pain. It came out of our own experiences. So recognize that we all have baggage, but embrace the opportunity, “Hey, I get to do over now. I get to learn along with my kids and we’ve got resources available. We’ve got friends. God himself is going to help us. And let’s go forward together.”
Gretchen Roe: 01:01:06.301
This is Gretchen Roe for The Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can access the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLearning.com/Show or go on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this, especially if you really enjoyed it. [music]
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