If you’re looking for a rigorous, but approachable, multisensory math program that can help foster a deep understanding of math concepts and that can teach students to think more flexibly and creatively about the math problems they encounter, Math in Focus might be the curriculum for you.
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What Is Math In Focus
First introduced in 2009, Math in Focus is a math curriculum produced by Marshall Cavendish and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that is based on the internationally recognized Singapore Math method for teaching math.
Math in Focus is essentially the US version of My Pals are Here, a series of math texts that have been widely adopted by Singapore’s primary schools.
A mastery math program, Math in Focus combines a conceptual focus on math instruction with hands-on learning and manipulative work to help students build stronger math knowledge, skills and problem solving ability.
The program is offered for both homeschools and for traditional classroom use and is aligned to Common Core and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards.
What Grades Is Math In Focus Intended For?
Math in Focus is primarily designed to be a curriculum for students in grades K-8, covering topics from basic number sense to pre-Algebra.
Math in Focus is divided up along traditional grade levels, with books available for grades 1, 2, 3 and so on.
As a result, in contrast to programs that use letters or names for their math programs, such as Life with Fred or Math U See for example, it is a little bit easier for homeschooling parents to know where to start with the program.
That said, Math in Focus is (at least partially) intended to be used as a homeschool program and can, therefore, be used by those studying outside the intended grade levels, that is by precocious students and those who are behind and need to brush up on the fundamentals a bit more.
The only thing that homeschooling parents might have to be careful about is, as with other traditionally grade-structured textbook series, is that some students might feel a bit awkward if working above or below their intended level as the books make fairly obvious references to grade levels.
As the Singapore math method tends to produce curricula that are a bit more advanced than traditional US public schools, it can be a little tricky for parents switching into the program from another to figure out which level of Math in Focus is most appropriate for their student to start with.
Luckily, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offers placement tests for every grade of the curriculum that parents can download and use to see if their student is ready to start a particular level.
These placement tests are free and available on the company’s website and, usually, most retailer websites, as well.
The placement tests are full-color, printable PDFs that usually contain a combination of word problems and straight computational math questions, and provide an answer key and scoring rubric (a score of 80 indicates a student might be ready for the next level up).
The tests are pretty straightforward and easy to administer, and can be quite helpful although parents should be aware that the tests are somewhat long (20-30 questions) and that they may need to step in and help students read and understand word problems at the earlier grades.
Math In Focus Approach To Math
As with other curricula based on the Singapore approach, such as Singapore Math, Math in Focus is a mastery math program.
A mastery approach means that students learn one topic of math at a time, delving into it (and its related sub-topics) over many lessons, only moving onto another topic once the student has reached a certain level of understanding and skill proficiency (mastery).
With Math in Focus, as in the example below, a student might work on a chapter concerning multiplying and dividing decimals over a period of a couple weeks.
Lessons might start with learning to multiply tenths and hundredths by whole numbers, then move on to larger multiplications, then spend a couple lessons learning to divide decimals by whole numbers, then move on to dividing by larger numbers, doing estimations and finally learning to apply decimal operations in real world situations and with multi-step word problems.
Proficiency is then tested and students then move on to another topic completely, in this case to the concept of percents.
This mastery approach stands in contrast to traditional, spiral math curricula, such as Saxon Math or Teaching Textbooks, which tend to teach a little bit of one topic, move on to another and then revisit the first topic in more depth at a later point.
As a whole, a mastery math curriculum can be very beneficial for many students.
It allows them to really focus on one topic at a time and gives them enough time to really dive deeply into it, a good alternative to students who get frustrated by math programs that rotate through different topics frequently.
On the downside, spending several lessons on a single topic of math can bore or frustrate some students, who may appreciate the relative freshness of a spiral curriculum’s rotating lessons.
Similarly, pure mastery programs aren’t known for their inclusion of a lot of revision and practice of past concepts. Typically, once proficiency in a topic is reached it isn’t really touched upon again.
As a result, some students may come to forget part (or all) of what they have learned months ago.
Helpfully, to address this concern with its mastery approach, we found that Math in Focus has included some elements of a spiral curriculum.
Lessons typically begin with a review and test of related past concepts, and there are optional assessment guides (discussed below) that include specific assessments of previous concepts.
A key part of the Singapore math approach, and thus a key part of Math in Focus, is its focus on developing a conceptual understanding of math.
In other words, with Math in Focus students will spend a lot of time working on understanding the why of math – i.e. why math functions work, why and how certain formulas are developed, why certain strategies are used, and how to analyze problems to understand the underlying logic behind them.
The goal of this conceptual approach is to help students develop a better understanding of math and why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to be able translate their knowledge and skills to better handle novel and complex problems when they arise.
As a result, a large part of Math in Focus centers around developing strong mathematical reasoning and critical thinking skills.
In other words, rather than seeing a page after page of straight arithmetic/computational problems, students typically spend more time problem solving and answering multi-step/word problems, as well as learning to be comfortable using multiple approaches and strategies to solve problems.
This emphasis on conceptual understanding and critical thinking is very different from traditional, procedural math programs, such as Saxon or CLE Math, where students spend more time learning how to do math – that is, learning to solve math problems quickly and accurately – which tend to focus more on things like memorizing math facts, learning particular steps and procedures for solving problems and generally doing a lot more computational math exercises.
One concern that parents have with conceptual problems is that they tend to offer fewer opportunities for drill and practice compared to procedural programs, which tend to focus more on drilling skills and knowledge and helping students answer questions efficiently.
Some students prefer not to do quite as much drill, revision and practice, rolling their eyes pointedly when another page of arithmetic exercises appears in their workbooks, and appreciate the lack of drill and kill in curricula such as Math in Focus.
Other students, however, do best when given the opportunity to practice, practice and practice again what they have learned.
And while it is perhaps true that Math in Focus lessons may not have quite as much pure drill as a more procedural math program, it does have quite a bit and parents can purchase an additional book filled with extra practice, as well as enrichment and remediation lessons and exercises.
One thing that helps Singapore-based curricula stand out is in the way they introduce math concepts.
Until about the age of 12, kids aren’t really all that great at dealing with and understanding abstract concepts and ideas – something that math, with its symbols, puzzles and equations, is filled with.
The way in which they engage with new ideas tends to be more linked to things they can directly see, hear or touch- that is, concrete things.
The Singapore method helps students better grasp abstract math ideas (and build a stronger foundation in math) through what they call the CPA (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) Learning Process.
The CPA process is central to Math in Focus’ teaching, sequentially taking kids form a physical/hands-on understanding of math ideas to being able to handle them when written as symbols or as part of an equation.
Concrete – With Math in Focus, students are usually introduced to a math concept in a concrete way, that is in a way that lets them touch, create or otherwise experience a math idea through the use of physical objects.
These can be as formal as using manipulatives, which we discuss below, or simply using stars, coins, flowers, blocks, plastic shapes or other household objects to represent certain math problems.
Pictorial – As a student begins to understand the math topic a little more, parents can then introduce drawings and models that represent the concept, in place of physical items.
At first these might be simple drawings (adding and subtracting drawn submarines, for example), but they soon develop into more complex strategies that students can use again and again, such as number bonds (which help students understand how numbers can split or being combined to form new ones) or bar modeling, where numbers can be represented as bars to help students figure out various word and number problems.
Abstract – In the final stage of the CPA process, students are introduced to a topic as standard mathematical notation, i.e. using symbols and equations, and begin to work with them in their most abstract forms.
As part of the Concrete part of the CPA Method, a big part of Math in Focus is its use of hands-on, tactile learning and the use of manipulatives, something that helps separates it from more traditional math programs.
Most lessons in the series include hands-on exercises, where students get to handle something, move around or do something physical in an attempt to make math concepts a little more “real” and understandable for them.
For example, students might look something up on the internet, come up with a story, play a game with numbers, draw something and so on.
More than its hands-on activities, we would argue, Math in Focus frequently weaves the use of manipulatives in its teaching.
At any given time, parents might introduce concepts in math through the use of place value chips, number/decimal/fraction tiles, toy clocks, counting sticks and cubes, balance scales, dice, play money and much, much more.
Both the hands-on activities and manipulative use can help students better grasp some of the more abstract concepts of math by letting them touch and explore using their physical representations.
As such, with hands-on, verbal and written learning, Math in Focus can be said to be a very multisensory math program that can suit many different types of students, including more tactile learners.
One thing that’s interesting is that, while the use of standard manipulatives is reduced a bit at the upper levels of the program (starting in grade 5 or so), the program still makes use of them occasionally, and its lessons are therefore a little more hands-on than programs that tend to limit their use to earlier grades (such as Saxon, Abeka and others).
On the downside, it does mean that parents will have to purchase (or otherwise find), store and organize various manipulatives along with the various textbooks and guides that the curriculum requires, which can require a bit more organizational skill from parents to keep things from getting messy.
Similarly, parents might have to glance ahead before a lesson to make sure they have all the appropriate manipulatives and hands-on activity materials ready before starting, meaning there can be a little more prep work involved compared to a straight verbal-written textbook approach.
What Is Required To Teach The Curriculum?
Math in Focus’ overall structure is very similar to Singapore Math in that each grade is divided into two semesters, A and B, such that there is a Math in Focus 1A/1B, 2A/2B, 3A/3B and so on.
To teach a full year of Math in Focus, parents will largely need
Each semester of the course (4A, for example) has three components to it:
- A Teacher’s Edition
- A Student Edition
- And a Student Workbook (except for 2020 editions)
With Math in Focus’ homeschool packages, these are sold together with the parent working out of the Teacher’s Edition and the student using their textbook and workbook.
In addition to these main components, there are also optional extra practice books, assessment books, books for enrichment and books to help with remediation, should a student fall behind a bit.
The teacher’s edition of Math in Focus is somewhat similar to a classroom teacher’s manual or guide.
A full color, hardcover and spiral bound book written to the teacher/parent, it is quite nice and contains full lesson plans that provide parents with everything they need to teach each concept.
In addition to the lesson plans, like a traditional classroom Teacher’s Guide, the Math in Focus Teacher’s Editions help parents organize all the different components, books and exercises of the course – kind of like a handy core resource.
They contain overall instructions for the course, as well as chapter specific information such as student objectives, required skills, skill development goals for every lesson, a materials list, and pictures of relevant pages in the student workbook (with answers).
They also offer a lot of helpful information that new homeschoolers (or those who are a little rusty at math) might find useful, such as tips for teaching certain concepts, common student errors, best practices, and instructions for using manipulatives.
They also offer periodic suggestions for helping students who are struggling with the material, which is kind of nice and can help make Math in Focus more usable for students who are having a harder time with the subject .
Interestingly, the Teacher’s Editions also contain charts for each chapter in the course, called Chapter Planning Guides.
These provide a nice overall view of a chapter’s lessons, including suggested lesson pacing information and materials/resources needed.
While perhaps a bit overkill for some homeschools in terms of the information laid out, they can serve as something of a quick and handy resource for parents getting used to teaching with Math in Focus.
The student textbook (or Student Edition in 2020 versions of the program) is pretty much as one might imagine it, and forms the core of student learning for the program.
It is a full color, illustrated hardcover textbook that follows the same pace and sequence of the Teacher’s Edition and is largely where students will be working and following along during lessons.
Directed to the student, the textbooks contain chapter reviews, various diagrams and examples, exercises and individual practice that students will look at and work on throughout their lessons.
Interestingly, the textbooks contain a fair amount of step by step instruction for every concept such that, in the later years especially, students can work more independently and even take a shot at learning material on their own.
There is a good deal of overlap between the Teacher’s Edition’s lesson instruction and that provided by the Student Editions, however it is important to note that the textbooks don’t contain ready answer keys, teaching tips, remediation ideas or the concrete introduction of concepts (such as instructions for manipulatives use).
As a result, although parents might be tempted to solely work from the Student Editions to save some money, it can be a little more difficult since they will have to work out how to correct student responses and teach concepts with the CPA process, and they generally won’t have a lot of helpful tips and resources available to them while they do so.
As a result, we would recommend that most parents purchase the Teacher’s Edition as well as the textbooks and workbooks.
That said, working solely from the Student Edition may be an option for parents who are more skilled at math and/or more familiar with the Singapore approach.
Printed in black and white, the student workbook is a consumable resource and contains the practice problems, exercises and puzzles that students work on after and during lessons.
The books are illustrated and filled with the various types of problems that Math in Focus is known for. Depending on the level they may contain simple computation exercises or complex problems solving and multi step word problems.
While the workbooks contain little in the way of instructions (they are meant to accompany the student books), they do contain short reminders on how to solve problems and about certain concepts, which can be helpful as students will largely be working on their own with these books.
It is important to note, however, that 2020 editions do not have a workbook as most of the material has been folded into the Student Edition.
A hands-on math program, Math in Focus does use manipulatives (counting blocks, place value chips, teaching clocks, scales, play money, etc.) to help students better understand abstract math ideas.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as well as many retailers selling the course, offers ready manipulative kits that contain the items that parents will need to teach the program.
Typically these are offered as K-5 kits, which can be a little expensive to buy but fairly convenient for those planning to use the program for some time, as well as smaller, and less expensive, grade specific kits.
Interestingly, and something we appreciate, the Math in Focus Teacher’s Edition offers a chart with ideas on how to use common household items as stand-in manipulatives during lessons, which can help parents save a little money if they need to.
In addition to the main books, Math in Focus has a variety of optional and supplemental resources that parents can make use of.
Extra Practice Book
Math in Focus offers a dedicated book that is filled with a couple hundred pages of different practice problems that are linked to each chapter in a semester.
A softcover workbook, these are designed to give students a little extra practice on each concept and generally offer a mix of computational problems, word problems and multistep problems.
The exercises contained in the Extra Practice books are generally similar to those found in the main program, with lots of conceptual problems and puzzles alongside standard arithmetic and computation.
By providing students with more opportunity to practice their math, the idea is that these books can help some students reinforce learning and help develop more skill fluency (the ability to solve math problems quickly and effectively) than with the textbooks and workbooks alone.
We feel that these extra practice books can address a common issue that parents have with conceptual math programs like Math in Focus, namely a relative lack of dedicated practice and drill compared to procedural math programs.
The Math in Focus Assessment Books contain a variety of tests and quizzes that parents can administer for assessment or just extra practice, should they so choose.
These books are filled with different tests and quizzes (and solution keys), including diagnostic pre- and post-tests for each chapter,as well as midterms and finals and more and can be a great way to integrate formal testing into a homeschool program.
Because some tests, such as the pre-tests, are cumulative in nature, they can add an extra, almost spiral review component to lessons, i.e. providing students with the opportunity to review and practice past concepts and addressing an issue that some parents have with mastery learning.
For students who are a little more gifted in math and who want to take the learning a little deeper, Math in Focus also offers specific books for enrichment.
Like the Extra Practice books, these Enrichment books more or less follow the main curriculum, but provide a variety of more challenging problem solving exercises, word problems and puzzles, helping students deepen their understanding of the course material and letting them further hone their critical thinking skills.
For students who need a little more help with their learning or who are struggling, Math in Focus offers Reteach guides that offer extra instruction, tips and tricks for parents and remedial practice exercises that let students keep working on the topics that give them trouble and fill in any knowledge or skill gaps that may exist.
Blackline Activity Book
Something that is a little interesting is that Math in Focus also offers an optional Blackline book for each semester.
For parents and students who are fans of get up and go math learning, these books contain extra activities and projects that can be used to further supplement those found in the Teacher’s Edition and Student Book, sort of like extra practice for fans of hands-on learning.
These activities can include “simple” multi step problems, various projects, reflections, experiments and data recording, explorations of real life problems and more.
Math in Focus Technology Resources
In addition to their supplemental books, Math in Focus does offer a few technological resources to help parents teach the program, a bit more than most other traditional math programs we’ve seen.
Much of the resources are aimed at teachers, offering CDs filled with Teacher’s Resources for example, but some are available to homeschoolers as well.
There are, for example, digital or virtual manipulatives, available online as a CD.
The virtual manipulatives are pretty cool, and offer parents and students the ability to use and manipulate different blocks, chips, scales and so on during a lesson and on a screen, rather than having them cluttering up their learning space.
They also allow parents and students to digitally interact with some of the visual models that the Singapore math approach is known for, such as bar models and number bonds, which is kind of cool.
How It Works
Although the Student Editions do contain quite a bit of information and math instruction, Math in Focus is intended to be primarily a parent/teacher-led curriculum, with parents providing instruction and guidance using the Teacher’s Edition and students following along in the Student Book and doing work in the related workbooks.
As mentioned previously, with the homeschool editions each year’s learning is divided into two semesters (A and B), and each semester’s book contains several chapters, each of which is centered around a particular concept or topic in math (a chapter about operations with decimals, a chapter on surface area and so on)..
Every chapter is then divided into a number of lessons, which themselves center on a particular skill or idea. For example, in Math in Focus 4A a chapter on Fractions and Mixed Numbers will have several lessons touching on:
- Adding fractions
- Subtracting fractions
- Mixed numbers
- Improper fractions
- Renaming improper fractions and mixed numbers
- Renaming whole numbers
- Fractions of sets
- Real world problems with fractions
As can be seen, Math in Focus’ mastery method means that students tend to spend a lot of time working on a single topic, typically diving into a concept in greater depth and detail than they might with another curriculum.
Chapters and lessons in Math in Focus tend to follow a particular structure through all grades of the course, providing a level of consistency that some students (and parents) find helpful.
Every chapter starts with a Chapter Introduction, where parents are given an overview (called the Big Idea) of what skills students will be working on and what will be required.
There is also an Opener, a sort of brief dialogue that can help parents briefly introduce a concept to students in a way that makes sense to them.
Students then have a review of any key skills or knowledge that they will need (Recall Prior Knowledge).
This is followed by a Quick Check, which is a short series of exercises that test previous learning to make sure that students are ready to start learning a concept, i.e. that there are no immediate skill or knowledge gaps that will make things confusing.
Following the Chapter Introduction, parents and students move on to the teaching portion of the program.
Before starting a chapters’ lessons, there is usually a sort of warm up exercise where students briefly practice some of the more essential skills they might need in the following lessons, usually with a hands-on activity or manipulative work.
The first couple lessons tend to be centered around direct teaching of the concept.
Parents explain concepts to the student, teaching from the Teacher’s Edition and often using manipulatives at first to explore concepts in their most concrete form, before moving on to pictorial and written forms.
Parents and students then turn to the Student Editions for some further exploration and guided practice, where students do some exercises with the help of the parent, who provides essential guidance and explanations as necessary.
Along the way, some lessons include various activities, such as:
- Various Hands-on Activities
- Let’s Practice – where students do some practice exercises
- Let’s Explore – where students investigate concepts and discuss alternative strategies to problems)
- Real World Problems – where students explore math as it pertains to real world issues)
- Put on Your Thinking Cap – that offer opportunities for students to take their learning a little deeper with some more challenging problems, with the workbook often encouraging students to think about things differently or to use different strategies to solve problems
- Math Journal – which is a little journaling exercise where students think about and write down their understanding of math concepts, new vocabulary, their thoughts, etc.
- And more
Overall, the lessons in Math in Focus are pretty consistent and do a good job at providing a fairly in-depth but straightforward exploration of math concepts.
The lessons themselves are generally pretty multisensory.
There are frequent back and forth discussions woven into the lessons, various workbook exercises, and lots of hands-on learning to be had throughout.
In addition, by using manipulatives, visuals and diagrams (in the Student Editions), the program does a pretty good job at providing straightforward and easy to grasp explanations of math that can allow students to successfully tackle more complex math concepts.
Similarly, lessons are very sequential and help guide students gently through the process of conceptual understanding and developing skill fluency.
Concepts are introduced with the CPA approach, students and parents then work together with guided practice and then students begin to gradually take on more independent practice until they are doing workbook exercises on their own.
As a result, learning can be a little less intimidating than with other curricula, even when dealing with more complex topics.
As can be expected of a program based on the Singapore math approach, critical thinking and logic are highly emphasized in this program’s lessons.
Once a concept is introduced and explained, students are challenged with unique and interesting problems, including real-life applications of math, and generally there is a strong push to help students explore alternative approaches and strategies to math problems, something that is typically missing in many competing math programs.
As a result, we feel that Math in Focus really helps promote flexibility, creativity and independent thought in math, which in turn can produce stronger math students who are more comfortable dealing with novel or unusual math problems.
One thing we really liked about Math in Focus is that it made a strong effort to integrate the review and practice of previously learned concepts, something that is often missing in mastery math programs.
Each chapter begins with a skill review and check, and before starting lessons students can do some warm up exercises to work on key, fundamental skills.
Parents can, of course, add to this with pre- and post- chapter assessments, benchmarks and the Extra Practice books.
On the downside, with Teacher’s Editions, manipulatives, Student Editions and student workbooks, as well as any household goods or resources needed for some hands-on activities and games, there can be a lot going on in any given week that can require a little more organization and preparation from parents in order to stay on top of things when teaching.
In addition, like other programs based on the Singapore math approach (such as Singapore Math), the way in which Math in Focus deals with and teaches math can be very different for parents.
The CPA approach, its emphasis on conceptual learning and critical thinking, and its encouragement of different strategies and approaches to solving math problems can be very different from the traditional, procedural math programs that many parents grew up with.
As a result, there can be a bit of a learning curve to the program.
Parents may need to spend some time getting familiar with Math in Place, its educational philosophy and its method of teaching before starting in order to feel comfortable.
How Rigorous Is Math In Focus?
As with other curricula based on the Singapore math approach, Math in Focus is a fairly rigorous math program.
It is a very conceptual math program, placing a stronger emphasis on teaching students math theory and concepts (as far as K-8 math goes) and, rather than provide students with a single, step by step approach to solving problems, challenges them to develop their critical thinking skills so they can analyze, reason through and approach problem sets in different ways.
In more practical terms, this means the program contains a good deal of word and complex multi-step problems that students will have to work through, rather than more straightforward computational problem sets.
In terms of its scope and sequence, much like Singapore Math, Math in Focus tends to introduce topics earlier than with other programs.
With all that said, with its CPA approach, tips for remediation activities and extra practice/reteach books, we believe Math in Focus is very configurable as a program and can be used by students of all abilities who are interested in developing stronger, conceptual math skills.
How Easy Is Math In Focus To Teach?
In general, Math in Focus shouldn’t be too hard for homeschooling parents to teach.
The lesson plans are pretty thoughtfully laid out, moving from teaching to practice and back again fairly fluidly and providing a lot of details as to where, how and when to use the various components of the program, such as the Student Editions and workbooks.
In addition, the Teacher’s Editions provide a lot in the way of tips and suggestions for teaching, frequently providing parents with an idea of common errors students make, best practices for how to introduce concepts, troubleshooting tips and ideas to both take the learning a little deeper and help students should they need a little extra help.
In terms of scripting, the Teacher’s Editions do a pretty good job at providing a lot of step by step guidance, providing parents with a general idea of how to introduce and explain topics to students and generally guide parents and students through lessons pretty easily.
They also often provide a precise dialogue that parents can follow, particularly when it comes to introducing new concepts.
One thing parents should be aware of is that the Teacher’s Editions can, at times, make use of math terminology without much in the way of explanation for the parent, making the assumption that parents have sufficient experience with (or memory of) K-8 math.
While for the most part parents should be able to figure it out pretty quickly, parents who are a little rustier in their math may need a moment to read things over, particularly at the higher grades.
As mentioned previously, there can be a bit of a learning curve with Math in Focus (as there is with other Singapore method curricula) for some parents, particularly if they grew up learning math using a more traditional approach or if they’ve never used a conceptual or mastery math program before.
Similarly, there can be a little more prep time and organization required on the part of parents, due to the use of several books, manipulatives and different activities in lessons.
That said, once parents get the hang of things, Math in Focus does become fairly easy to use and can be fairly open and go.
One thing that homeschooling parents should be aware of is that, although Math in Focus is partially intended to be used for homeschoolers and those working on math at home, it is largely written for school use and many of its activities and lessons are written for a classroom setting.
While this doesn’t affect the learning or the quality of teaching material in any way, it can be an issue for some parents who have had negative experiences with a traditional school system.
Pros And Cons
Rigorous Math Curriculum
Math in Focus, being based on the Singapore math method, offers parents and students a fairly rigorous and thorough math curriculum that can help them develop strong math skills.
The program explores concepts in depth, contains a wide variety of interesting math problems and challenges and really teaches students to think critically about math programs and helps them learn to approach problems from different angles and with different strategies.
Very multisensory with lots of activities
In addition to its discussions, visuals, exercises and formal instruction, Math in Focus uses a wide variety of manipulatives, games and hands-on activities to help students learn and understand math.
As a result, we believe it is a very multisensory math program that is well-suited to a variety of different student learning methods, including tactile learning.
Explains abstract math concepts to students of all abilities
Despite its rigor, the program is still capable of being used by students of all abilities.
Its Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract approach to teaching, as well as its use of models and multisensory hands-on activities, really go a long way in helping students more easily understand abstract and complex math concepts.
Further, the program offers remediation and enrichment tips, as well as a good deal of extra material to help students who need extra challenges, as well as those who need a little more help to understand things.
Can help develop a strong conceptual understanding of math
Math in Focus spends a good deal of time teaching math concepts, different approaches to problem solving and ultimately teaching students the why of math, rather than just the how.
As a result, with Math in Focus, students can develop a stronger understanding of math theory, as well as strong problem solving capabilities, ultimately becoming comfortable reasoning through and working with novel and unusual math problems.
Encourages flexible and creative problem solving in math
Unlike more traditional math programs, where students are taught a single way to quickly and accurately solve math problems, Math in Focus encourages students to find different ways of solving a problem and, ultimately, teaches them different strategies they can use to do so.
As such, the program can get kids thinking more creatively, flexibly and logically when it comes to math, which in turn can help them become better problem solvers.
Mastery approach lets students explore concepts deeply, one at a time
With its mastery approach to teaching math, Math in Focus allows students to take their time when exploring a math concept, letting them dive deeply into the material in order to understand what they’re doing and why before moving on to another topic.
As such, students tend not to feel as rushed or overwhelmed by new concepts in Math in Focus as they might be with a more traditional, spiral curriculum.
Lots of options for supplemental learning
In addition to the main books, Math in Focus offers parents a variety of supplemental learning options that they can integrate into their learning, including an assessment guide, books for extra practice, books for enrichment, books for extra help and books filled with hands-on activities and projects.
Good amount of practice and review compared to other mastery programs
Math in Focus has integrated a skill review, revision and practice of previously learned math concepts into its lessons and exercises.
While perhaps not offering quite as much as a spiral program, students do get more skill-building practice and review with Math in Focus than what more “pure” mastery programs tend to offer .
Can be somewhat expensive
Math in Focus does require a few books and manipulatives, and the program offers a variety of optional books, as well.
In addition, each year’s learning is split into two semesters, meaning parents often have to buy separate A and B materials for each grade, so the cost can add up.
Often costing over $300 per year of learning, Math in Focus can be a little more expensive than some other math programs out there.
Can have a learning curve for parents
The Singapore math method approaches and teaches math in a particular way, which might be quite different from how parents themselves learned math. As a result, there can be something of a learning curve as parents may have to take time to read up on Math in Focus’ teaching method.
Several components to keep track of and organize
Although it depends on the edition (the 2020 edition no longer requires a separate student workbook, for example), in general with Math in Focus parents and students do have to keep track of a student textbook and a teacher’s guide, as well as all the different materials and manipulatives they might require to make use of the program’s various activities and games.
Who Is Math In Focus Ideal For?
Parents looking to help build strong critical thinking and logic skills in math
Math in Focus is a conceptual math program that offers thorough, but still approachable, math learning and, with its strong emphasis on problem solving, flexibility and critical thinking, it can help students develop a deeper and stronger understanding of math.
Students who enjoy learning the why behind math
Some students are content to be taught how to do math problems quickly and efficiently.
Others, however, tend to want to know why they’re being asked to learn or do things and enjoy looking at problems in different ways and trying to find alternative strategies to solve them.
Math in Focus, with its conceptual math focus and emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, can be a great option for the latter.
Students who prefer to learn one thing at a time
Mastery programs, such as Math in Focus, can be a great option for students who don’t really like the constant rotation through different math concepts that typifies spiral learning.
Such students may prefer to tackle one math concept at a time and explore it deeply until they understand, more or less, what it’s all about.
Fans of multisensory and hands-on learning
Math in Focus integrates a lot of manipulatives into its teaching and includes a variety of hands-on activities and games that help students explore math concepts.
As a result, it can be a great program for students who prefer to learn in a more tactile manner.
Students who hate rote memorization and drill
As a more conceptual math program, Math in Focus doesn’t really spend a great deal of time focusing on having students memorize math facts or endlessly practice computational problems.
With its greater focus on problem solving strategies and conceptual understanding, Math in Focus can be a great option for students who hate traditional drill and memorization-based math learning.
Who Is Math In Focus Not Ideal For?
Parents looking for a more traditional, procedural math program
Being a conceptual math program, parents looking for a more traditional and familiar math program may not really enjoy Math in Focus as it tends not to emphasize rote memorization, drill and repetition quite as much as it does critical thinking, developing strong problem solving skills and a strong conceptual understanding of math.
Busy parents looking for a self-study program
Although the Student Textbook/Student Editions of Math in Focus do contain a good deal of instructions that students can read alongside their parents (or on their own), the program is still really intended to be teacher/parent-led.
In general, it requires a good deal of interaction between parent and student and isn’t really designed to be a self-study program.
Students who prefer the novelty and freshness of a spiral curriculum
While some students enjoy learning a single topic at a time, others tend to get bored and may prefer learning a little bit of one topic before moving on to something different, and may do better with a spiral curriculum.
Homeschoolers on a strict budget
Although a high quality math program, Math in Focus isn’t exactly all that cheap to buy and can be a bit much for homeschoolers on a tight budget.
Note: Prices current as of writing. All prices in USD.
As mentioned previously, Math in Focus has a few components to it.
Each grade is split into two semesters (A and B) and each semester has its own Teacher’s Edition, Student Edition and Student Workbook associated with it that parents will have to buy to teach a full year, and this is before including any supplemental materials for the grade, such as Extra Practice books, Assessment Guides and the like.
The most efficient and easiest way for homeschooling families to purchase the materials is through a homeschool package.
These homeschool packages are sold by semester and, while the exact price depends on the grade in question, they typically cost around $150-200 per semester, or about $300-400 per grade before any discounts or sales.
It is important to note that there are several editions of Math in Focus on the market.
As of writing, for example, there are 2015, 2018 and 2020 editions being sold in most retailers, with 2015 and 2018 being most commonly sold to and used by homeschooling families.
With all that said, as with any curriculum, it is always important to check the current pricing and any discounts or sales that may apply.
Is It Worth The Price?
Math in Focus isn’t exactly the cheapest math program around, but we feel it can offer a lot of value for parents and students as a math curriculum.
The program is well-designed and organized, with high quality books and materials that o an excellent job at helping students understand abstract and sometimes complex math with lots of visuals, clear explanations and hands-on activities and games.
As with other Singapore math approaches, Math in Focus offers a rigorous and thorough math curriculum that can get kids understanding math on a deeper level and can get them to think more critically and creatively about solving math problems.
At the same time, through the CPA approach, visual models, manipulatives and hands-on activities, it is still a curriculum that can be used by students of all abilities, offering parents lots of different tips and resources to help make the program more challenging or gentler and more understandable, depending on student needs.
Finally, at all levels in the program, Math in Focus provides students and parents with a variety of activities, games and projects that can help students grasp complex ideas a little more easily while still keeping them interested and engaged in the learning.
If you’re looking for a rigorous, but approachable, multisensory math program that can help foster a deep understanding of math concepts and that can teach students to think more flexibly and creatively about the math problems they encounter, Math in Focus might be the curriculum for you.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.