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Author Archives: Steve Demme

Steve and his wife Sandra have been married since 1979. They have been blessed with four sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren. Steve addresses a variety of topics at conferences to encourage parents as they seek to build families of faith. His messages are rooted in scripture, illustrated from personal experience, and filled with practical application. He has served in full or part time pastoral ministry for many years after graduating from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. A former math teacher who has taught at all levels of math in public, private, and Christian schools, Steve is also the founder of Math-U-See.

My name is Steve Demme, and I’m the author of Math-U-See. If you’ve used Math-U-See, you are familiar with my face. I’ve got five questions that I get asked frequently at homeschool conventions.

1) Why Do You Look Different?

The short answer is that I shaved off my mustache a couple years ago. I also shaved my head in 2006. I was at a Joni and Friends family retreat, and they were trying to raise money for their recreation fund. They thought, “Why don’t we contribute to see Steve’s head shaved?” My wife said she liked it better, so I’ve been bald since 2006.

If you’re using Pre-Algebra or higher, you’ll see me bald in the Math-U-See videos. If you’re using Primer through Zeta, I still have a semblance of hair, although not much.

2) What Do We Do When My Children Are Behind?

I give this speech a lot: You are never behind. Your children are where they are. Comparison is not a happy thing, and I don’t think it’s healthy on any front.

Math is a sequential subject; if you want to teach children properly, you need to find out what they know and start there. You don’t want to go by how old they are; you want to go by how comfortable they feel with a concept and if they have mastered it fully. When I say math is a sequential subject, I mean that you need to be able to do learn mathematical concepts in order. In order to do division, you have to be able to multiply and understand place value and subtraction.

Since math is sequential and you need a strong foundation, I think it’s really important that people new to Math-U-See use our homeschool placement tool.

One of our customer service representatives uses the illustration of the game Jenga. If you’ve never seen it, Jenga involves wooden blocks that you stack up in a column and you pull out randomly one at a time. Sometimes you can have a pretty big structure, but yet you’ve got these gaps in here, and all of a sudden, the whole structure comes tumbling down. One of the things that we like to do is not only find out what you know, but if there are any holes and gaps and then fill in those little pieces. If you have a good foundation, the upper level math is not difficult.

I was a high school math teacher, and I found out that a lot of my students were very weak in fractions and in multiplication, which then made algebra and geometry difficult. Those two subjects are not difficult, but they’re very difficult if you have holes in your mathematical foundation and you miss some pieces. So fill in the pieces, and you’ll do much better in the upper level math.

3) Why Are There No Grade Levels in Math-U-See?

I originally wrote Math-U-See for tutors, and let me see if I can explain the difference.

A tutor is someone that teaches a child using curriculum, and a classroom teacher uses a curriculum to teach children. The curriculum is everything for a classroom teacher, because they have pressure from a principal, a superintendent, and a school board telling them that they have to finish a certain amount of material every year.

A tutor, on the other hand, follows the child’s eyes. I found out that I do a lot better teaching when I’m sitting across the desk, one-on-one, and I can watch a student’s eyes; I can see when that little “aha” moment happens and they understand math.

4) Does Math-U-See Follow a Spiral Approach?

I think some definitions are needed here because most of the time, when people say, “spiral,” what they’re referring to is a curriculum that just moves over and over and over, and it keeps moving pretty quickly between lessons.

The idea behind the spiral approach is that after you do something a few times one day, you’re going to do three problems on another thing the next day, etc. A couple weeks later you’re going to do some more on the same concept, and you just keep spiraling around these topics. The goal is that at the end of 1-5 years, you will have learned all of the concepts.

Math-U-See is not a spiral approach; we give you the opportunity to take whatever time you need to teach one new topic. We are going to build the problem, write it, and say it. This might take 2-4 days; whatever it takes. This is where the real teaching takes place: between the student and the parent, who knows their kid better than anybody else.

A Math-U-See teacher watches the videos, reads the instruction manual, and then communicates it to the student. When the student finally gets it, you go to the practice pages in the student book, because you still need to practice math until it becomes second nature. You’ll notice in your workbooks that you have 2-3 pages of material just on the new topic; if you need more, we have a worksheet generator on our website that you can use.

(Please note: The worksheet generator is available for most lessons for Alpha through PreAlgebra.)

When you feel like he gets it, then you go to the systematic review pages. This is a cumulative review of everything you’ve had up to that point. Math itself isn’t cumulative, but we’re going to make sure that the student understands the concepts. We just spent time learning a new topic, and we do review topics that we’ve covered in the past.

5) Why Are We Struggling with Math-U-See?

If you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you’ve had some difficulty with Math-U-See. When somebody comes up to me and says, “We’re struggling,” my first question that I ask them is always, “How do you teach a lesson? Walk me through. What does it look like when you teach a lesson?”

I usually discover that people are struggling because they’re either not watching the Math-U-See videos, using the manipulatives, or moving at their child’s pace. Sometimes it’s because of a fear of being behind, and they want to finish the level they’re in.

The teacher has to use the Math-U-See program the way it was designed to be successful. If you don’t watch the videos, but you do use the manipulatives and move at the student’s pace, it’s Math-You-Almost-Saw, not Math-U-See. You need to make sure that you utilize all three components.

If you have children that really like worksheets, but don’t want to get their fingers dirty on the blocks, you need to negotiate. Maybe say something like, “Just show me 2-3 problems a day to show me that you understand how to use the blocks.” If you’ve got some kids that love the blocks and want to build all day, but don’t want to do their worksheets, you could say, “The only reason we’re using the blocks is to make sense of the worksheets, so you need to figure out how to do math without blocks.” We’re not going to use the blocks forever; they’re just a tool to help us understand how to math on paper and in our head.

Schedule a Math-U-See Consultation

Intrigued? We’re not going to be falsely modest – Math-U-See is a great program and we’d love to see what you think. Let us talk to you about your unique situation and learn for yourself what Math-U-See can do for you.

Memorizing Math Facts with Steve Demme [Video]

In a recent Math-U-See webinar our founder Steve Demme took some time to talk about Math-U-See’s philosophy in his own words. He also provides some great strategies for nailing down those math facts. Here’s what he had to say:

I’m going to start with a quick summary of the Math-U-See philosophy. This will be helpful for those who don’t know about Math-U-See, as well as current customers.

One of the goals of Math-U-See is to teach students to understand math as well as know how to do it. In Math-U-See, we have 30 lessons per level. In what I would call the general math or the elementary level, we start in Alpha, which is just single-digit adding and subtracting. I’ll be referring to that book a lot today. And then we do Beta, which is multiple-digit adding and subtracting. And then we teach Gamma, which is all multiplication from facts all the way through multiple-digit multiplication. Those three books, though, are the first three in our series, and each of those books have 30 lessons; Math-U-See typically only teaches one topic per lesson.

What we want you to do is to master the material in each lesson, so you move through the book progressively. You’re moving from a position of confidence, because you’ll have mastered this, and then you’re only going to learn one new thing each lesson. Some textbooks give you three or four topics per lesson, and they’ll go all over over the place, and we’re not going to do that. We’re going to give you one thing at a time, and usually, those are pretty bite-sized chunks. If you can focus on one lesson at a time, get the material in that lesson before you move to the next lesson, you’re going to have a happy kid, you’re going to have a confident kid, and you’re going to have a student that really has had a chance to build up his self-esteem.

When we teach math facts (download free math facts activities here), we spread out the addition facts over several different lessons. I’m going to go through the addition sequence, but this whole concept of Math-U-See is line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Math-U-See provides several different ways that we can teach math fact memorization; I’ll be showing you this later.

One question I get a lot is what the parent is responsible for in the math instruction. Math-U-See is just a curriculum, and you are the teacher. What Math-U-See does is give you the information and the tools so that you can present them to your student for the best success; I think this is a cooperative effort. You can even have your kids watch the Math-U-See videos with you, if you like. You know your child, and you know best how they learn, how fast or how slow you should go, and where they need help and reinforcement. I’m counting on your expertise to apply it properly, and you’re counting on our expertise to give you the tools to each math.

One of the things that we do at Math-U-See is to give you several different ways to teach, and you have to choose which one fits your student the best, which one clicks. Teach to a child’s strengths, but build up their weaknesses.

How would I apply this?

If I have a child that’s an auditory learner, I would be doing a lot of auditory input. Instead of just using blocks all the time, I’d be doing a lot of verbalizing the information. I would say, “3+3 is the same as 6. 3+3 = 6. 6 is the same as 3+3.” I’d be putting that into their ears, because if they learn better with the ear, then you want to teach that way.

If a child is a visual learner, the same thing happens. I would teach them visually. I’d find something that works for them and they go, “Oh, I get it. That’s just really helpful.” But I would continue to verbalize, at the same time.

If the building helps your child the most, maybe lean a little bit that way, when you’re emphasizing the new material. If verbalization is helpful, great. But most math that children are going to see is going to be written, and that’s why you need to take this, verbalize it, and illustrate it. Whichever one of these is going to help you the most, great, and maybe your child learns better. We have a family where I live, and they’re a singing family; they make songs out of everything, whether they’re studying geography, grammar skills, etc., and it seems to work for them. You might have a family that you can’t do anything with, unless there’s some kind of a story. For example, one of the facts that I teach, I learned from a boy named Josh, who said, “I ate and ate ’til I was sick on the floor. 8×8 is 64.” I wish I could make a poem up, and I spent hours one day trying to think of poetry for 7×7, 7×6, some of the hardest facts that you teach, and didn’t some up with anything. If you can think of little mnemonics or poems for math that really works for you, post them in the comments.

Memorizing Math Facts Video

Let me just show how we teach in a short 19-minute video; I’m going to go through the addition facts.

Probably the biggest obstacle I find among parents, is the pressure to conform to what their peers or educators think they should be covering, and when. Let your child have the time that he needs and to learn the information that he needs. It’s much more important that you move at the child’s pace than to conform to outside influences. Don’t worry about being behind; focus on teaching your child at their pace.

Video Transcript

I do the 1s first, then I do the 2s, then I do the 9s, then the 8s, and the doubles, doubles +1 making 10, making 9 and there you go. Now, I’m going to through it.

This is just something I came up with, but when we’re learning to use the blocks, one of the first things that we learn in Primer, in Alpha, is that we can replace. Instead of having three individual pieces, we want to use a three bar. Keep going here. If I were to show 3+3 with just individual pieces, some students will say, “One, two, three, four, five.” First of all, I have to define addition. To me, that’s not addition, that’s counting. And addition is when you say, “3+2 is the same as or equals 5. 3+2 = 5.”

To help with that concept, that’s why we have blocks that represent the different quantities. There’s the 2 block, there’s the 3 block, so 3+2, and that would be the same as 5. And we build it, and then we notice that it’s even two lines the same length, which is why we explain, “We have two lines the same length,” to show that they are equal or the same. 3+2 is the same as 5.

[1:48] Once a child can count to nine, he learns all of his unit pieces. There’s 2, 3, 4, 5. There’s 6, 7, 8. There’s the one 1-9 pieces. When you’re teaching +1, we just take this and we say, “Oh, 2+1 is 3. 4+1 is the same as 5.” And for each time you do it, you build it, you write it, you say it. But usually, the ones are not too difficult to teach, but this is a good time to learn the symbolism. Here, we have 6+1, two lines the same length, is the same as 7.

You build it, write it, say it. And as you’re teaching this, start looking for patterns, to see how your students are learning better. From you saying it, or from them watching it, or from them writing it? And try to figure out what works best for your child.

[3:01] Once we’ve done the 1 facts, then we’re going to do the 2s.. We have 2+4 and we can see that’s the same length as 6. 4+2=6. We can do all the different facts that way. 6+2 is the same as 8. 3+2 is the same as 5. 2+2 is four. You build it, you write it, you say it. Now, we’re going to have a whole lesson, just the 2 facts, which if we’ve already learned the 1 facts, means there’s only 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 facts. And that shouldn’t be difficult. Take the time that you need. When you’re learning the 2s and the 1s, focus on the symbolism. You can do that horizontally. You can do it vertically. I forget exactly what lesson I teach this incredible concept of commutative property. Here it is. Don’t blink. 3+2 is the same as 2+3. And this is something that’s important for kids to learn, though, because if they don’t have that visual, sometimes they think that 2+3 and 3+2 are two different math facts, so this is going to save them a lot of work.

[4:27] There were nine of these facts, eight of these facts. And in our textbook, we have these graphs of all of the possible combinations of facts. And up in the corner, we have the 1+1, 1+2, 1+3, all the way down to 1+9. And then, across, we have the grid. We have 2+1, 2+2, 2+3. And then we have 3+1, 3+2, 3+3, and they’re all the way down, and all the way over. And it turns out there’s about 100 addition facts.

[5:06] Now, after you learn these one facts, which we did first, we want to encourage the kids to color them, to see what they’ve accomplished, and we’re going to quickly take chunks out of this chart, to show how much we’ve accomplished. Something else we have on the website, is we have a free worksheet generator. Let’s say that you do all the practice pages in the lesson on +2 and it’s not enough, you can generate more worksheets for practice, but that’s just written. Some of ’em, you want to just talk about for the auditory learner. Some, you want to make sure that they’re building them.

[5:41] And we have an online drill program. Let’s say that your child knows their facts. You know that he knows that 7+2 is 9, but maybe he’s not quick enough, or maybe he just needs a little bit more confidence or competition. We have an online drill program, where you can design it according to your student’s needs. These are things that we’re just giving you more and more tools. Find out what works for your students and go from there.

[6:12] Now, once they’ve done the 1s, the 2s, they’ve learned the commutative property, they know how to write an addition problem horizontally, vertically, the 9s are next. And what I tell the story of the 9s is…See, 9, I don’t know if you can tell, but he’s…This is one of the customers, gave us this great story, and they said, “9 is green with envy, ’cause 9 really wants to be 10.” ‘Cause in the base 10 system, that is the kingpin. Everybody wants to be 10, which is why we call it the base 10 or decimal system. 9 needs one more to be a 10. Knowing that, we say, “9, every time I turn around, he sneaks over and grabs one from the units.” So we had 9+4, and now, we have 10+3.

[7:16] And if you do several of these problems, and what’s neat is…I always felt a little badly that I wasn’t teaching this to the student myself just because one of the neat things is discovery education, which the big word for it is inductive. Deductive is when you continue to give facts, and then they parrot them back. But inductive is when you let the student discover patterns for themselves. A nicer way… I don’t know if it’s just nicer, but it’s just my nature. I would rather discover something, than to have everybody tell me everything all the time. People in my family know this. If you have 9+4, and then you do 9+7, and he figures out that that’s 16, and you have 9+5, and they figure out that’s 14, it won’t be long before he’s going to discover that this number’s always one less than this number. Notice that? A little pattern there. You can teach it or let them discover it.

[8:16] Another way to teach this, which is what we try to make it fun, we tell the students that’s a vacuum nozzle, and it makes a…

[Vacuum Noise]

Because Mr. Nine is…

[Vacuum Noise]

He’s always taking one from the units. This makes a little learning device. Another way…See, I told you, we’re going to give you multiple ways. Nine plus four… You can also teach it, not with the unit pieces, but with the unit bar, and nine plus four is the same as 10 plus three. And if you do several of these problems with this, you’re going to discover the same concept, right?

[9:00] Once we’ve done the nines, if you need more practice sheets, go to the online drill. We’ve done the word problems in the book. Then you’ve done seven more facts on our grid. We color it to encourage ourselves and encourage our students. Then we’re going to do the eight facts, which I’m not going to take a lot more time with that, because it’s the same way we teach the nines, except, I don’t know if you can tell this, but eight, we call Chocol-8, eight needs two to be 10, and I don’t know if it’s providentially or what, but there’s two vacuum nozzles here, and eight needs to…

[Vacuum Noise]

[Vacuum Noise]

From the other number. If you had 8+5, for example, you have 8+5 is the same as 10+3. That’s always two less. 8+5 is one 10, three units. You could use the individual pieces. You could use the unit bars. Build it, write it, say it. I hope that works.

[10:07] Now, we even have songs in the “Skip Count,” an addition facts songbook, which we recommend that you get when you buy Alpha through Gamma, if you haven’t already. And there are even songs for these. And fortunately, oh, I just saw the songbook sitting there. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to sing one of these songs, but I’m going to do it, just because you’re online today. Let’s see if we can find the songs for adding plus eight. I need my spectacles. The tune is “London Bridge is Falling Down.” “Eight plus three is onety-one, 10 plus one, onety-one. Eight plus three is onety-one, isn’t adding fun?” Okay, that’s the verse. The chorus is, “Chocolate-8 is taking two, not from me, just for you. Chocolate-8 is taking two with his vacuum.” Now, I wrote these songs, so don’t be too critical. This is not going to make the Emmys or whatever, but we do have songs, if that will help you. And there’s even… See? It’s like a vacuum cleaner on wheels and he’s always taking two. You have some coloring book to go with it. If I could make these scratch and sniff blocks, if they would help you, I’d do that. I’m just always trying to think of ways to help you learn math better.

[11:36] Okay, so that takes care of the 8s. We’ve done 6 facts now. By the way, if you add these up, you’ve done 30 of the 55 facts, because there’s not really 100, because since you’re learning the commutative property, you don’t have to learn…If you’re learning 8+3 over here, you don’t have to learn 3+8 over there. If you look on our big chart in our books, you really only have to learn 55 facts. We’re over half done. Then we do the doubles. Oops, shouldn’t have erased that. Let me go back to my thing here. The doubles, and I have my own theories on this, but I don’t have a research paper to document it. But I think the doubles might be the easiest facts to teach, because…My theory is, is because of board games and games that we play that have dice, that have dominoes. And for some reason, if you’ve already learned two plus two, nine plus nine, eight plus eight, there’s only five facts to be teaching, and that would be three plus three, four plus four, all the way up to seven plus seven.

[12:48] Each one of those, you build it, you take two threes, that’s the same as six. You take two sevens, it’s the same as 14. You build it, write it, say it, practice it, apply it, and it comes out. You learn those. Then you have doubles plus one. Now, doubles plus one is, if you know that three plus three equals six, and you’ve mastered that in one lesson, and two lessons later, we’re going to come in and say three plus four, that’s one more than three plus three, so there are the… You’re going to learn three plus four, you’re going to learn four plus five, five plus six, and six plus seven. You’re going to have four facts there to learn using that method.

[13:41] And then we have making 10. Now, there’s only three new facts here, that you haven’t learned with the previous methods, the plus twos, nines, eights, and all that. But this making 10 might be one of the most important fact sets, or sets of facts that you teach. And this is, “How many different ways can you make 10?” Which I usually do, by saying, “Well, we’re building a wall and it’s gotta be 10 units long. And we’ve run out of the 10 bars, so what two pieces can we stick together… ” The blocks do snap together… “That will make 10?” Well, eight plus two will work, seven plus three will work, nine plus one will work, six plus four will work, five plus five will work. Oh, so then we can say, “Five plus five.” Well, we’ve already learned that, because of the doubles. We have eight plus two here, we have nine plus one here. We’ve already learned those, because of adding plus one and plus nine. The only new ones, really, are four plus six and three plus seven. Just two new facts. But learning all of them, using this method, sometimes this is called the family method. This would be called the 10s family, some books will use that. And we’re going to do all of our 10 facts that way.

[15:19] And then you have making nine. And making nine, you have five plus four, you have three plus six, two plus seven, one plus eight, there’s a couple facts there. When you go through all of these little different patterns, these families of facts, there’s only three facts left. And it’s been a while since I’ve looked, but I’m pretty sure they are three plus five, three plus six… Ugh, I forget the last one. It might be four plus seven. If I’m not mistaken, that might be the only three. And get out your blocks, and build a four plus a seven. You could do three plus five. You could say, “Well, that’s two more than three plus three.” This is actually the fun part, because I like to give those to kids and say, “How are we going to do this? Mr Demme doesn’t have any tricks for this one. We’re on our own,” and let them start to develop their own strategies for problem solving.

[16:21] Now, I teach the addition facts, and while I’m teaching the addition facts, I also, simultaneously, in our books, teach solving for an unknown, which sounds algebraic and complicated, but it’s really not… Let’s say we’re teaching our doubles, or, well, make it tougher… Try doubles. If I’m teaching the doubles, I know that they’re learning three plus three equals six, so I might say, “Something plus three is the same as six.” And then I build it, by pulling out the six, and pulling out a three, and re-verbalizing it, and saying, “Something plus three is the same as six.” Have the students go find the piece that goes in there… Until they do. And now, they’re successful, and they find out, “Oh, it’s a three.” I just have ’em put the three there.

[17:18] Now, at this level, I am not asking a child to find solving for the unknown, by subtracting three from both sides, and doing the additive inverse, da, da, da, da, da. We’ll do that later in Pre-Algebra. But there’s three things that I’m accomplishing, hopefully, by teaching this. Number one, I’m laying a concrete, visual, hands-on foundation for Algebra, that we’ll build on later. Number two, I’m reinforcing addition, just doing it a different way. And the more ways we can do it, sometimes it fills in the gaps in our brain, helps us to remember it better. And the last thing is, every subtraction problem can be re-written as an addition problem. Even though it looks like subtraction, I could say, “What number plus three is the same as six?” Like I just did here, “What number plus three is the same as six?” I’m laying a foundation for Algebra and I’m laying a foundation for subtraction, which is why I personally have chosen not to teach subtraction, until after I’ve mastered addition facts.

[18:25] This is what we’re going to do in Alpha. Most of the book is just teaching the addition facts. Once they’ve been mastered, once you can say, “Hey, what plus three makes 10?” Well, if they already know that seven plus three makes 10, they go, “Oh, seven. Duh.” And then [chuckle].. They don’t say, “Duh,” anymore, that’s an old one. But anyway, you get the point. So Alpha, we’re going to teach single digit addition, and then single digit subtraction. When you finish Alpha, you should have memorized all your addition facts.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

Plan for Math with These 5 Tips

It’s important to have a plan when you’re teaching math; here are some tips that can help you as you plan your year in math.

When I was first hired to teach high school math, I was replacing a teacher who had only covered two chapters of a 12-chapter book. He knew math but was unable to control his classroom, or so I was told. I determined to complete the book and mapped out a plan which would cover all 12 chapters in nine months. We began in September and by May had finished the entire geometry book.

But I never mapped out the whole year when I was teaching my own children math because I was no longer a classroom teacher but a tutor. Classroom teachers move at the book’s pace; tutors move at the student’s pace. Despite the change of pacing, though, it’s still important to have a plan.

Math Planning Tips

Plan to Assess Your Student’s Math Abilities

Before I can teach them something new, I need to know what they know well now. Math builds on itself. Addition is used in multiplication, and subtraction is used in division. If there are areas of weakness in the basic concepts, algebra will be really difficult.

Plan to Move at Your Child’s Pace

Most math curricula were designed to be used in classrooms. I wrote Math-U-See to be used by parents. If your child masters a concept quickly, move to the next topic. If they need a few more days, take whatever time you need to keep them successful and confident.

No one knows your student better than you, the parent. You are uniquely designed to teach your child. Others may help, but you were created for this role.

Plan To Do Math Regularly

A few minutes every day is better than chunks scattered throughout the week. Think of learning math as if you were learning a new language. Regular study helps develop long-term retention of information.

Plan Not To Measure Yourself By Your Peers

Your student is never behind; they are unique. Resist the temptation to push your student beyond their inherent capabilities. Let them move at their own pace.

If you follow these principles, you can also plan on having a happy, confident student.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

Math-U-See Helped Prepare William for College

This summer I attended a dozen homeschool conferences and heard many wonderful testimonials of how Math-U-See had helped families and students. At one conference I was struck by the variety of students who were succeeding using our math program.

I met several students who had used only Math-U-See in high school and were now excelling at the college level and beyond. One of them I will be writing about later in this article.

I also met many parents who shared how their students were experiencing success for the first time. Each of their children had some from of dyscalculia, dyslexia, or dysgraphia. I confessed I did not know why Math-U-See had helped their students. I thought it might have something to do with our multi-sensory approach, but regardless of how it worked I enjoyed rejoicing with them over their happy home!

I first met William Noland when he was a boy who liked math and wanted to meet the math man in the video. This summer I met a confident young man who was pursuing advanced studies in math. Here are a few pictures and his testimony in his own words.

After using Math-U-See for high school, I’ve gone on to major in mathematics in college, and have found that your curriculum prepared me very well for higher mathematics. Having just finished my sophomore year, I’ve already completed my college’s most advanced math courses, and my professors have commented several times on the fact that I focus on the “why” of mathematics rather than simply memorizing formulas, something I think Math-U-See emphasizes very well.

Altogether I think your curriculum prepared me perfectly for the math I’m facing in college, and even the math I hope to face pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. I simply wanted to thank you for teaching kids like me to understand math rather than simply memorizing it. Thank you!

Thank you for coming to the booth and sharing your stories. I knew Math-U-See made sense to me when I wrote it, but it was a delightful confirmation to hear that this program that I authored with God’s help has helped struggling learners and scholars alike.

May you each be blessed.

Finding Hope and Redemption in the Valleys of Life

Read Steve Demme’s personal story of finding hope and redemption and join him for the Special Needs, Struggling Learner Conference in Orlando.

I am looking forward to getting together with others who are experiencing life with a special needs child at the second annual Specials Needs, Struggling Learner Conference in Orlando, November 21-22. I believe this conference will be unique because not only do we have challenges raising these special children, we are seeking to do this while home educating as a family. I always find hope and encouragement being with others who understand this challenging lifestyle.

For the Demme’s, home education was more of a lifestyle than an academic alternative. We tried to do as much as possible as a family, whether learning, working, performing chores, playing in the woods, driving to the post office, or attending church. We were already stretched with three boys 7, 5, and 2 1/2 years old when our son John appeared.

After consulting with a pediatrician, our midwife informed us that she suspected John had Downs Syndrome. At the time we knew very little about the implications of that statement, but on the wall of the birthing room was a plaque that had Romans 6:23:

The gift of God is eternal life.

My wife’s first thought was, I can train this child to live forever.

Our physical struggles began when he was a few months old and contracted an RSV virus which put him in an oxygen tent for several days. While in the hospital the doctors discovered a heart problem. Three months later he had his first of two catheterizations, and at eight months, open heart surgery. This was followed by intestinal surgery at ten months and reflux issues which continue to this day.

Our life became harder. We have since learned that the additional strain of parenting a child with special needs significantly affects marriages. The stress also took a toll on our health. When John was born I was a pastor living in a parsonage. Sandi was homeschooling the two oldest boys, caring for a special needs child, managing a toddler, and trying to support and encourage a needy worn out husband. She came down with candida, chronic fatigue, & Epstein Barr, which took a tremendous toll on her.

I had never gone through a situation of this magnitude and had some sort of emotional breakdown. Usually a people person, I had difficulty meeting people or answering the phone. Within a few months of John’s last surgery, I resigned from all of my obligations in ministry and the workplace, and we moved to a different state to regroup as a family and make a living.

Our hopes were that the change would be good for all of us, but the next year proved to be even harder. When we let down our guard, we fell further than we expected and began to realize life would never be “normal” again.

I now know that difficult situations, suffering, and valley experiences are a normal part of the Christian life. But at the time I just kept hoping that the next surgery, or the next herbal treatment, or the next prayer meeting, would make the difference and we would be back on an even keel.

Even though I had read the Bible cover to cover over 10 times by this time, I missed the significant portions of God’s word that talked about suffering.
• Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
• Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are they that mourn.”
• Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Valleys come with a grief component. I did not know anything about grieving. As a man, I was accustomed to fixing things and finding solutions. But I couldn’t change a chromosome count. This was too big for me. I shut down emotionally and became numb, which took a toll on my wife and children.

Even though I was still following sound biblical disciplines of reading scripture, attending church twice a week, and praying, I did not recover. The turning point came when I sought God in desperation. In hindsight I think I was afraid if I really opened my heart to God, I would fall apart, like Humpty Dumpty.

In my daily bible reading I came across Psalm 55:22:

Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you: he will never suffer the righteous to be moved.

This was, and is, a promise that if I cast my burden upon God, He promised He would sovereignly sustain me, and I would not fall apart.

Kneeling by my bed I began to weep in relief and God met me and my healing began. The hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, has new meaning now.
1. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

I hope to see many of you in Orlando next month where I will be sharing the rest of our journey, the ups and downs, the hopes and the fears, and how God has used John to change our life and make us more like Jesus.

God bless you each in your journey.

Keep in Touch with Steve at Building Faith Families
Podcast

Learning Math Can Be as Sweet as Honey

Years ago I had a class on early education where the author recounted how Rabbis used to make school enjoyable. After a little research I found this article, from which I have chosen a few excerpts.

Around the twelfth century a custom developed in Germany of bringing a child to school for the first time. [. . .] The rabbi reads every letter of the alef-bet and the child repeats after him.

Then the rabbi puts a little honey on the slate and the child licks the honey from the letters with his tongue. A child who licks honey from a slate [. . .] will immediately understand that the Torah is “as sweet as honey”.

Since attitude is a big part of education, let’s do what we can to make learning enjoyable. Here are a few ideas that may help to prime the pump.

Perhaps you could begin every day with what some schools call “free exploration.” Encourage your students to play with their blocks for 10 minutes to begin each class.

Or, take the number of the date, and express it in different ways. For example, if it is September 5th, use the 5 and express that number as 2 + 3 = 5, or 4 + 1 = 5, or 6 – 1 = 5, or 2 x 2 + 1 = 5, or 10 ÷ 2 = 5. You could do this with all of your scholars around the breakfast table and see the older and younger students each use their skill set to contribute a suggestion.

The most important thing we can do as parents is like math ourself. Children tune into what we think about a subject. Attitudes are caught not taught. I hope you had a positive experience with math, but I know that many of you struggled when you were a student.

Think of this as a fresh start, or a new beginning. Pray for God to give you an open mind as you begin the new year. Think of yourself as a co-learner with your children. Remember, you have the advantage of many years of training and a generation of experience applying math in real life situations.

When in doubt, take a deep breath and fake it 🙂 I am sure you will do fine.

Lick the honey and have a good time with math.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.