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.