I would be willing to bet that this is probably the most asked question when a parent asks about Math-U-See. Weekly I speak with more than one parent who is trying to wrap their mind around where their child would fall within the Math-U-See curriculum. To tell the truth, it is one of my favorite questions, because I personally believe that the fact that Math-U-See does not have grade level correspondence is one of the most brilliant things about the curriculum (besides manipulative blocks, concise lessons, and Steve!)
Officially, this is what Demme Learning says about our structure:
The Greek names express sequence without indicating grade level. Math is sequential in nature. The purpose of grade levels is to organize large groups of students into smaller groups based on age rather than skill level. One of the distinct elements of Math-U-See is that we are based on developing sequential learning skills, according to the nature of math. Our sequence progresses according to skill level rather than grade level.
Why would this be a brilliant move for a company whose goal is to create lifelong learners? Math by its very nature is sequential and cumulative. In fact, one of my fantastic colleagues says that “in math, instead of going from the unknown to the unknown we master the concept so that students move from the known to the next logical step.” We teach mathematics conceptually, meaning you know how to do calculation, why you are doing it, and when a particular calculation is appropriate. We teach to mastery; the student becomes the teacher when they can teach a concept back to their instructor. We teach math sequentially, expecting a student to have full understanding of one level of mathematics before progressing to the next.
Because Math-U-See uses the Greek letters for levels, it allows us to meet a child where their needs are – not just at their age. Not a week goes by that I don’t have a conversation with a parent who has a child struggling with math, and when we discuss the why, it turns out that they have missed something fundamental in their earlier instruction. The very necessity that schools must move on mathematically when the majority of the class is ready means that there will be students who still have a “fuzzy” understanding of what they are doing at any given grade level.
It would be almost impossible to say to a 13- or 14-year-old student, “You need to go back and relearn to mastery what you missed as a third grader.” But we CAN say to that student, “You need to go back and master the concepts that are taught at the Gamma level.” The amazing thing is that when children DO master their mathematics, the tears and tantrums disappear, the negative attitude about “doing math” goes away, and the student’s confidence is restored. I am so glad that Math-U-See does not have “grade levels” for their materials. It means that we can truly be student-centric, and create an individual approach to mathematics based on each student’s needs.
Here is the other tremendous secret of Math-U-See. Parents who may have had a negative experience with math in their own lives learn right along with their students. They no longer fear teaching math, because they see it, too. Parents frequently say to us, “If only someone had taught ME mathematics this way!” And I totally understand – because I was the math-phobic parent. And Math-U-See changed that for me, too. Someday, I might even tell you the story.
If you have a student who dislikes math, there is a reason. We at Math-U-See have the tools to help you discover why they dislike it, and change not only their attitude towards mathematics, but perhaps yours as well. Come over to our way of mastery and see how liberating it can be not to have a grade level designation for your mathematics.