Monday, July 23, 2012

Mastering Essential Math Skills (Review)

This is my very first review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew Team. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing team of bloggers!  

My first review features a great math program called Mastering Essential Math Skills.  It is a program written by Richard W. Fisher, who has over twenty years of teaching experience. He designed these books to help students become algebra-ready in less than one year. 

 I received two books: Mastering Essential Math Skills: Book One for Grades 4 -5 plus the accompanying DVD and Mastering Essential Math Skills: Geometry.   They are recommended for grades 4 -5 but, in my opinion, could be used for advanced 3rd graders or struggling 6th graders as well.

Here’s my first impression:  The workbooks are not fancy.  They are straightforward with no pretty pictures dressing up each page.  I thought this would be a negative for my lover-of-pink-things nine-year-old daughter, but she was fine with it! She was focused on the problems and didn’t seem to notice what wasn’t there.  

Each worksheet has a review section, two speed-drills wheels, the new concept practice section and one word problem.  Notice there are only 10 problems in the new material section on each page.  Fisher believes that the student does not need more problems than that if they know the new material.  He believes, instead, that the student should move on to a new concept once they have mastered each level. 

The speed drills wheel is meant for you, the teacher, to insert a function sign and number in the middle of the circle.  For example, if you insert "+2" in the middle of the circle, your student is to add two to each number in the circle and put the answer in the space provided.  This should be a timed drill for warm-up.  I really like this, as it offers some great mental math practice.  

He then suggests that your students work on the review section and then watch the DVD for the new material, or if you choose not to purchase the DVD, you can then teach the new concept at this point.

Fisher is a no fluff, get-straight-to-the-point kind of teacher.  The DVD includes an introductory teaching session by Fisher himself for each new concept.  Each lesson has him briefly talking directly to the students, “Be sure to have your notebook and two pencils ready to go. Always come to class prepared.”  The screen flips to a whiteboard, where your student will see only the problem itself being worked out.  They are to copy along with him as he writes on the whiteboard.   

After a very quick, five-minute lesson, he tells them to work the problems in the book, remembering “the right side is the right way”, meaning always work from the right side of the problem to the left for an accurate answer.    He then ends his lesson, your student pauses the DVD, and gets to work in the workbook itself. 

My daughter is nine years old, a rising fourth grader, and not a lover of math.  When I told her we were going to be doing this new math program, she was less than happy.   For her first lesson, I had her get a notebook and pencil and sit in from on the computer and follow along to his lecture.  Fisher moves through each session very quickly, and Abbey had a hard time copying the problems down as fast as he did.  To avoid the frustration, I allowed her to pause the DVD and continue once she had caught up.  By the third lesson, she no longer had to pause the DVD, as she had learned to copy faster and keep up with him.  She had adapted and overcome, and was really quite proud of herself.  I saw her self-esteem improve in just a short time. 

While this program calls for twenty minutes a day, I was unsure if that meant my daughter should be through with her lesson in twenty minutes, or that I should only allow her to work for twenty minutes on the new concept.  Because I didn’t want her getting too frustrated, I chose the latter.  While she would be very close to finishing each day after that time, there was only one day that she was able to completely finish the worksheet.   That being said, in just one week’s time I saw her computation speed increase tremendously.  Repetition and review, along with the new concepts building upon one another, made her stay sharp and improve.  

One of the best features of the book for my daughter was the fact that the solutions to all of the new concept problems were in the back of the book.  This created a self-correcting system for her.  She would work her problems and then quickly look in the back of the book to see if she got them right or wrong. She absolutely loved this aspect of the program!

Book One: Grades 4 -5 covers the following concepts:
  • Whole numbers
  • Fractions
  • Decimals
  • Percentages
  • Integers
  • Geometry
  • Charts and graphs
  • Problem solving
  • Ratio and proportions
  • Probability and statistics
  • Number theory and algebra
  • Graphing on number lines and coordinate systems.

The subtitle to Math Essentials is “20 minutes a day to success.”  I love Richard Fisher’s teaching system and I would recommend this math program to anyone looking for a straightforward math curriculum that rapidly builds upon each mastered concept. 
Mastering Essential Math Skills for Grades 4 -5 can be ordered here for $15.95 for the workbook only; $33.95 for the workbook plus the instructional DVD.  Mastering Essential Math Skills Geometry is available for $11.95 per workbook. 

· To see what other Schoolhouse Crew Review Members thought of this same product, click here.

   ***Disclosure: I received this product free of charge in exchange for writing and posting this review. 

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