“A complete K-12 math curriculum with strong hands-on learning and well-taught, easy to understand instructional videos, Math U See is a solid option to consider for homeschooling parents looking for proven math lessons that can deliver results and won’t end in tears”
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What is Math U See?
Created by Steve Demme in the late 1980s, Math U See is a K-12 math curriculum that uses videos, workbooks and a strong emphasis on manipulative blocks to teach kids math skills and concepts.
With its hands-on, multi-sensory learning and straightforward instructional videos, Math U See has become a popular math curriculum with homeschools and co-ops around the country in recent years.
What Grades or Ages is Math U See Intended For?
Math U See is a complete math program that covers K-12 math.
Unlike the majority of math curricula out whose material more or less is broken up according to individual grade level, i.e. Grades K-12, Math U See groups its various levels according to skill.
This approach means that, at the elementary school level at least, its books consequently have a rather unique naming system, eschewing numbers (which might be confused for grade levels) in favor of the Latin alphabet.
Each book tends to focus on a particular math topic or “theme,” although they tend to introduce a variety of other related concepts and topics in math as well.
Taken as a whole, and despite their unusual naming convention, the learning does progress sequentially and logically through math concepts.
|Book||Overall Theme||Some Topics Covered|
|Primer||Introducing Math||Reading/writing numbers, basic addition/subtraction, counting fluency, time, basic shapes, etc|
|Alpha||Single-Digit Addition and Subtraction||Single-digit addition and subtraction, place value, unknown addends, times, shapes, skip counting, measurements, etc.|
|Beta||Multiple-Digit Addition and Subtraction||Multiple-digit addition/subtraction, place value, perimeter, basic plots/graphs, currency, estimation, etc.|
|Gamma||Multiplication||Multiplication for single and multiple-digit numbers, multiplying, adding, and subtracting currency and time, data interpretation, basic fractions, word problems, etc.|
|Delta||Division||Division, place value, order of operations, Roman numerals, adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing currency and units, angles, area/volume, basic geometry (rays, lines), etc.|
|Epsilon||Fractions||Equivalent fractions, operations with fractions, mixed numbers, factoring, order of operations, decimal conversions, area/circumference, quadrilaterals, number lines, plots and coordinates, etc.|
|Zeta||Decimals and Percents||Decimals, percents and fractions, exponents, negative numbers, algebraic expressions, plane geometry, ratios, geometric symbols, etc.|
While it can all get a little confusing with all this Latin, this aptitude or skills-based approach can actually be quite beneficial to students.
For one thing, working by skill fits more logically and naturally with the concept of mastery and developing proficiency.
For another, by focusing on ability rather than grade, students are encouraged to work at their own pace, spending time working on closing skill and knowledge gaps.
It also focuses testing solely on skill development rather than anything else, like a grade or age relationship.
Finally, this approach can also be very helpful to the self-esteem of students who are behind, as they won’t have a constant reminder of how they compare to their peers.
Conversely, it can also encourage advanced students to keep working as they won’t have to worry about getting “too far ahead” of their peers.
On the downside, however, this unusual course progression can make it a bit harder to keep track of and compare how your learning is fitting with standards, if that’s important to you.
And it does make it a bit more difficult to jump into Math U See if you come from another curriculum, since parents can’t use grade level as a rough guide to know where to start. This necessitates to some degree the use of placement tests, which Math U See helpfully provides.
Similarly It can make it a bit trickier to switch to another, grade-level based curriculum should parents so choose.
Middle and High School Math
After Elementary school, things get less confusing and Math U See tends to follow a standard naming practice, presumably because math for grades 8+ tend to be grouped around a single subject anyway.
As you might expect from a complete curriculum, Math U See offers books that cover the spectrum of grades 8-12 math in the following sequence:
|Book||Ex. of Topics Covered|
|Pre-Algebra||Negative numbers, exponents, factoring, ratios, unknowns, associative, commutative and distributive properties, polynomials, volume, area, Pythagorean theorem etc.|
|Algebra 1||Solving inequalities and equations, exponents, square roots, unit multipliers, and metric conversions, scientific notation, line and conic graphing, polynomials, etc.|
|Geometry||Lines, angles, area, perimeter, volume, geometric language and applications, Pythagorean theorem, axioms, and postulates, congruency, and similarity, some trigonometry, some Algebra review, etc.|
|Algebra 2||Expands on Algebra 1 – advanced factoring, imaginary and complex numbers, conjugate numbers, the binomial theorem, quadratic formula, conic geometry, vectors, motion problems, etc.|
|Pre-Calculus||Trigonometry, ratios, trigonometric identities, laws of trigonometry, radian measure, polar equations, functions, sequences, series, and limits, graphing, some more advanced Algebra, etc.|
|Calculus||Limits, continuity, derivatives and antiderivatives, differentiation, definite/indefinite integrals, logs and exponentials, chain rule, L’Hôpital’s Rule, differential equations, optimization and practical applications of calculus, etc.|
As you can see, Math U See covers all the main topics involved up to grade 12 math.
There are some features worth noting, however, that make Math U See a bit different than other Middle and High School math programs.
Most notably, Math U See continues to use manipulatives well into Algebra 1, extending the program’s concrete and hands-on learning to the more abstract concepts introduced in Algebra, which can help kids better grasp the material.
At the high school level, Math U See also begins to introduce “honors” problems and exercises. A bit of a confusing name, these honor problems don’t correspond or map to an honors program, but are more challenging and unusual exercises for kids to challenge themselves with.
In terms of overall curriculum, while Math U See covers all the material needed for Grade 8-12 math, its pace can be a bit more unusual than other programs.
Algebra 1 goes a bit more slowly, for example, and then Algebra 2 reviews the material in more depth and then tends to speed ahead to cover the remainder of the required Algebra material.
Similarly, while Math U See does cover all the topics you might expect (and sometimes more), it doesn’t always go into as much depth as other curricula, covering but not delving deeply into some topics.
For example, in Geometry there isn’t as much in-depth coverage of irregular polygons, tangents, transformations and trigonometry concepts as some other programs out there, leaving them to be covered later in Precalculus.
What’s Included in this Curriculum
As with other homeschool math curricula, Math U See has a few components that parents will need to purchase to get the most out of the program.
In particular, each level of Math U See learning requires a curriculum set that is made up of:
- A hardcover Instruction Manual (with solutions) filled with explanations, teaching tips and lesson suggestions
- Student Pack and Tests, consumable books where students complete their work
- An Instructional DVD taught by the founder, Steve Demme
Math U See instruction manuals are all hardcover, giving them a solid and durable feel to them.
Inside things are laid out pretty clearly, and make teaching from it fairly easy.
There are explanations, diagrams (albeit in black and white), helpful tips and tricks, and suggestions for how to explain and teach various concepts.
There is also an answer key with full solutions, which is quite helpful for parents whose math (especially at the high school level) has become a bit rusty.
Student books, on the other hand, are softcover and black and white and overall have the feel of a standard student workbook.
There aren’t as many visual diagrams to be had compared to some other programs, such as Singapore, which can bore some students and can reduce multisensory learning at higher levels.
The pages are punched and perforated, however, which makes it easy to take them out and put them in a binder for later review.
The videos (available digitally or on DVD) are more or less what you expect from a math instructional video.
Taught by educator and Math U See founder Steve Demme, they consist of him standing in front of the camera (usually with a whiteboard), giving explanations and demonstrating how to use manipulatives to teach a concept.
While the visual effects aren’t anything to write home about, Demme’s explanations are typically very clear, approachable and explain topics in a very common sense way, almost folksy in fact.
The videos are also quite short, with most shorter than 15 minutes in duration.
As such they are a great tool for parents, who often need to brush up on the basics, or even as part of a lesson since the simple explanations can be readily understood by most students.
Math U See generally makes use of colorful, plastic blocks as their main math manipulatives.
Almost like lego, these blocks snap together and form various rectangular shapes so students get a hands-on feel for math and help visualize abstract concepts.
These blocks are made of pretty durable plastic and are fairly strong, which is good since they are meant to last from kindergarten to grade 8.
The storage tray they come in, however, is made of fairly lightweight material and may not last that long, tending to tear or rip over time.
So unless you enjoy having little blocks scattered around your floor, you’ll probably need to use your own storage bins.
At the higher levels there are some other manipulative kits that can be purchased to help with concepts where blocks aren’t ideal.
For example, there are fraction overlays, which are lined transparencies upon which parents can overlay a variety of colorful rectangular sheets to represent various fractions of a whole.
There are also decimal inserts, which is a kit that includes squares, strips and blocks to represent whole numbers and decimal values.
Math U See Digital Learning and Use of Technology
Unlike some other homeschool math curricula, Math U see has pretty successfully made the leap into the digital era.
The company offers digital packs, which are essentially their full sets of Math U See learning materials converted into digital formats and conveniently accessible through a web browser.
For example, the videos are streamable instead of being on DVD and the instruction manuals are in downloadable PDF format.
Unfortunately, being consumable items, student workbooks and tests are still paper only for now, although they can be bolstered by a variety of digital tools the company has created, such as worksheet creators.
Interestingly, the company has even created digital manipulatives sets, which are app-based and available on iOS and android. Using a tablet, kids can move digital blocks around on the screen much as they would in real life, and can also draw and write on the digital whiteboard background.
Math U See Approach to Math
Math U See and the Mastery Approach
The Math U See method of teaching math is rooted in what’s called the mastery approach.
As opposed to the spiral approach for teaching math, where subjects are taught a little at a time over a longer period, with mastery students delve deeper into individual math topics, only moving on when a student develops and can demonstrate a certain level of proficiency (mastery).
What this means for parents is that with Math U See they will typically spend more time teaching a single math topic, delving deeper into it, working on getting their students to understand it more thoroughly and generally spending a longer amount of time tackling fewer concepts than in a spiral curriculum.
Conceptual Math Learning
As with other mastery approaches, Math U See takes a more conceptual, as opposed to procedural, approach to math.
In other words, Math U See delves deeper into understanding why things are the way they are, and why math functions and algorithms are doing what they’re doing, as opposed to focusing more on how to do the math- i.e. learning, memorizing and applying different rules, math facts and algorithms to solve math problems quickly and correctly.
That said, Math U See has made an effort to also include a fair bit of practice and drill in their lessons.
Each lesson includes a variety of practice problems that students work on until they demonstrate proficiency at the concept. Math U See also offers extra worksheets, optional practice problems and even online drill programs that students can use.
In addition to the practice problems, unlike many other mastery programs, Math U See has integrated a process of continual review, an approach it actually shares with many spiral approaches.
Whereas many other mastery approaches tend to move on after proficiency is reached, with fewer opportunities for going over previously learned material, at the end of every lesson in Math U See there is a section called Systematic Review, where students can shore up their math memory and skills by practicing previously studied math concepts.
While perhaps there is not as much computation and drill as with a more procedural curriculum, such as Saxon Math, there is more drill and practice compared to some other mastery-based curricula out there, such as Singapore Math.
How it Works
In terms of its lessons Math U See follows a particular framework for teaching it calls the 4 Step Approach.
Math U See 4-Step Approach
Step 1: Instructional Video Preparation for Teachers
To make sure they can teach the new concept effectively, in the first step new concepts and topics are explained to parents through the video instructions (either on DVD or digital streaming) and are reinforced by the instructor’s manual.
Lessons are taught by company founder and longtime educator Steve Demme who, lesson by lesson, explains the topic, explores the math concepts behind it and often demonstrates them visually with manipulatives when possible.
Overall, these lessons are pretty short, usually taking somewhere between 5-12 minutes per lesson, as Demme tends to explain concepts pretty thoroughly and concisely.
The tone of the lessons is casual – there’s not a lot of jargon or an undue amount of math vocabulary – and Demme tends to make an effort to explain math concepts in a straightforward and common sense way, with a good deal of visual aid coming from the use of manipulatives, whiteboard drawings or both.
In this way, parents can then use the same teaching methods and explanations to convey the information to the student.
If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your algebra or geometry, for example, these videos can be particularly helpful.
A short example of one of Demme’s video explanations can be seen below.
Step 2: Exploring the New Learning Together
In the second stage, information is conveyed from teacher to student, guided by the instruction manually and ideally using some of the teaching methodology from the videos. We even feel that the videos are presented in a clear enough way to be used by the student as part of the lesson.
To help guide parents in doing so, Math U See uses a Build, Write, Say framework:
Lessons typically start off making heavy use of illustrations and manipulatives, demonstrating and modeling problems for students visiually or in a hands-on way.
Concepts like adding, subtracting, filling in area and more, can be represented by manipulative blocks and brought to life in that way.
Moving on, parents and students are then encouraged to write their approach and solutions down in a step by step manner, reinforcing and formalizing their learning thus far.
As parents and students go through the build and write process, they are also encouraged to talk their way through the logic and sequence to reinforce learning auditorily as well.
All this makes Math U See lessons very interactive between teacher and student.
Rather than being a top down teaching approach, there are lots of opportunities to work together to explore math concepts together.
There is also a great deal of opportunity to slow down and explain things carefully to kids so they can better internalize concepts, and the combination of video, manipulative use, writing and oral summary also makes the lessons quite multisensory.
Step 3: Practice for Mastery
At this step, as you might expect, students move from instruction to practice, working through the various practice pages until they demonstrate that they have learned the concept.
Certain levels also include application and enrichment pages, where students explore new and unusual exercises and sometimes even connect their learning to the real world.
As part of the Say aspect of the framework, students at this point are expected to be able to teach the concept back to the teacher as well as explain their work before moving on.
Step 4: Systematic Review and Lesson Tests
Diverging from some other mastery methods, in order to assess proficiency students begin to work on worksheets that review and drill the new material as well as previous material – a process known as systematic review.
After this, students can be assessed with lesson tests which cover the new concept that has been taught and can give parents a firmer idea of proficiency in order to determine whether they should move on to the next lesson and concept.
How Math U See Compares to Other Math Curricula
Use of Manipulatives
While other programs, like Singapore math and saxon (to a degree), do use manipulatives as part of their learning, Math U See makes far more extensive use of them.
The program uses manipulatives for far longer than others, well into Algebra 1 (Grade 8), which can give more of a hands-on, concrete approach to sometimes abstract material and provide parents with an additional option that may help kids struggling with understanding.
Use of Video instruction
Many math curricula mainly teach from instruction books, expecting parents to refresh their memories from sometimes sparse written material.
And this is fine, if that is how parents learn best.
Math U See, however, also offers parents (and students) video instructions covering both the concepts and offering ideas or approaches to teach them effectively to students.
More review compared to other mastery programs
Unlike other mastery programs that tend to move on after mastering a concept, Math U See integrates a continual review process where previous concepts are touched on again and again during practice, reinforcing learning.
Similarly, especially compared to methods like Singapore, Math U See includes far more drill and worksheets for practice, although a bit less drill than some computationally-focused, spiral math programs.
Ease of teaching
Math U See makes it quite easy to teach the program compared to many of its competitors.
Although the order of books is a little different than parents may be used to, the company does a good job offering placement tests to help figure out where to start.
The videos offer an excellent review of concepts for parents, giving them suggestions on how to teach the material, while the 4-step method provides an effective and focused lesson framework to work through.
That said, Math U See is less scripted and more flexible for teaching than some other programs, like Saxon.
Beyond the 4-step method and suggestions in the instruction manual there is not much scripting and so parents have a great deal of flexibility and freedom to teach and integrate material as they see fit.
Overall, Math U See does a fine job teaching K-12 math and is pretty thorough.
Its curriculum correlates well with Common Core State Standards, so it covers the required math content, and the results speak for themselves: many parents report seeing dramatic improvement in their student’s understanding of and results in math.
That said, it may be considered somewhat less difficult than programs like Singapore, and certainly Beast Academy/Art of Problem solving, where each book can be a grade level ahead of normal curriculum.
Math U See goes a little slower, letting kids focus on one concept per book,, and tends to explain things in a more common sense, less theoretical, way.
In general, there is somewhat less of a focus on word problems, with fewer challenging or unusual exercises and multistep word problems than some of the more enrichment-focused programs.
On the plus side, this makes Math U See a better program for average and struggling math students, as well as those who may not want to study math-heavy subjects or pursue math-heavy careers, since it explains concepts clearly and gives them a firmer understanding of math that can produce more positive outcomes.
On the downside, Math U See on its own may not be enough to be used as an enrichment option for advanced or talented math students, as they may zip through or become bored with the program.
Although to be fair, with its less scripted nature, Math U See does lend itself to be modified with more rigorous or in-depth topic supplements (such as with Mammoth), which means with a little work it can be made as rigorous as parents would like.
Conceptual vs Computational Math Learning
Math U See takes a definite conceptual approach to math learning, placing a stronger emphasis on learning why rather than just how to do math.
And although it does have a good deal of practice involved, it doesn’t place as strong an emphasis on rote memorization/quick recall of math facts and algorithms as do more computationally-oriented math programs, like Saxon.
Is Math U See Common Core Aligned?
Although it teaches for skill and focuses on mastery rather than any particular grade level, Math U See does correlate with common core standards, particularly since its addition of Application and Enrichment exercises to its standard curriculum.
It should be said that this isn’t due to any major realignment of the program, but rather it is more of a natural outcome of taking an approach that emphasizes a conceptual understanding in K-12 math.
Overall, then, Math U See can be used by those who require or want to use a Common Core curriculum and information about how it maps to state standards can be readily found on its website.
Math U See Pros and Cons
Hands-on, multisensory learning
Math U See is a very tactile, hands-on curriculum that integrates the use of manipulatives far more deeply than some other programs.
Combined with video and workbooks, this makes learning math a more multisensory learning experience, and can help kids get a more solid grasp of abstract concepts.
Simple, approachable explanations of math
With its clear, simple and straightforward explanations of math and math concepts, Math U See is often praised by parents for being able to explain math to kids (and teachers) in a way that they can more readily understand.
This can be a real boon to parents of kids who don’t enjoy or struggle with math concepts, as it can more quickly and easily help build their foundational skills and help their self-confidence in the long run.
Integrates continual review
Unlike many other mastery programs out there that tend to move on after proficiency is reached, Math U See integrates a process whereby previous learning is continually reviewed and practiced, thereby helping solidify learning in the long run,
This can be helpful for students who need more practice over time to develop fluency or who tend to forget concepts as time goes on.
Good balance of concepts and drill/practice
While Math U See stresses the importance of understanding math concepts, i.e. why math is the way it is, with tons of worksheets and questions offered the program also offers considerably more practice and drill in computation than most other conceptual math programs, and can help kids better develop their ability to do math come test time, as well as understand its concepts.
Casual, approachable nature not for everyone
While Math U See does a great job at presenting math in an easy to understand way, it’s not always for everyone.
Kids who are more advanced or have a particular interest or passion for math as a subject may miss out in the sense that they may benefit from a more formal math education, becoming fluent in its unique language, delving deeper into challenging problem sets and enjoying more theoretical explorations of math topics.
Gentler curriculum than some other conceptual options
Sequentially laid out and incremental in nature, Math U See helps kids grasp math faster and more easily than some other programs, with parents often reporting dramatic changes in math results.
That said, with slightly less of an emphasis on high challenging word problems and a slower overall pace, some parents of talented math students have expressed concern that Math U See may not be quite as rigorous as some other conceptual math programs out there, such as Beast Academy and AoPS, particularly when it comes to teaching for enrichment.
Math U See Price
Note: All prices current as of writing and are in USD.
Math U See Universal Sets
Math U See sells complete curriculum sets for (depending on level) between $130 and $188.
For the price, each set includes everything you need to teach that level, including:
- DVD instruction
- Instructors manual
- Student book and tests
- Manipulatives kit
Customers also receive lifetime access to that level’s digital packs, which is helpful (and cost effective) for families of multiple children and those who like to take their time.
Level Up Sets
If you are a parent who has already started teaching with Math U See, when you move on to the next level of the program, you’ll only need to buy a level up set since you’ll already have all the manipulatives you’ll need.
These also include lifetime access to that level’s digital packs and generally cost between $68 and $122.
If you only want to use a digital pack, which isn’t all that recommended, they include access to digital videos and instruction manuals, but not workbooks or tests.
Digital Packs generally cost between $34 and $70.
How does Math U See’s Price Compare to Other Math Programs?
In general, Math U See’s price makes the curriculum set a little more expensive than others, such as Saxon or Singapore Math.
However, unlike those curricula, these sets do come with a manipulatives kit that will last through several years of learning (K-8).
While other programs may sell complete grade kits for a little less, they do force you to buy the manipulative kits separately, which can cost up to a hundred dollars or more, making Math U See far more competitive in terms of value for money.
In terms of the digital packs, there aren’t that many other math curricula that are as up to speed in terms of digitizing their learning, but compared to those that do (Singapore Math, for example), Math U See tends to be more affordable overall.
Who Is Math U See Best For?
Because of its easy and clear instruction, sequential and logical progression of math topics, continual review process and stronger focus on practice and drill, we think Math U See is best for parents looking to develop a stronger foundation in math and who:
- Have a fear of or struggle with learning math
- Learn best with hands-on, tactile approaches
- Like taking their time and exploring math concepts
- Like delving deeply into one topic and exploring it
- Don’t (yet) have a particular interest in higher level math programs or competitions and aren’t yet particularly looking for an advanced math program
Who May It Not Be Best For?
Due to its slightly easier curriculum, with less of a focus on challenging word problems and a more straightforward approach to problem solving, Math U See may not be the curriculum for everyone.
Although it really depends on individual students and their teachers, we think that Math U See may not always be the best or most ideal solution for students and parents who:
- Are looking for a math program that is a grade level ahead of their peers
- Are looking to explore multiple topics per year
- Are really into grade level standardized testing, where a mastery approach may not be ideal
- Who have a particular aptitude for math and grasp problems quickly and easily, without need for manipulatives or repetition
- Who are interested in training for math competitions
- Want a more structured and scripted math program
In these instances, students may benefit from some of the more rigorous and advanced math programs on the market, such as Beast Academy and Art of Problem Solving or Singapore Math (with extra challenge packs).
A complete K-12 math curriculum with strong hands-on learning and well-taught, easy to understand instructional videos, Math U See is a solid option to consider for homeschooling parents looking for proven math lessons that can deliver results and won’t end in tears.
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.