While at the GHC convention last June, I met the author of the Mastering Essential Math Skills workbooks, Richard Fisher. He surprised me by sending me home with a stack of the workbooks. The boys have started working through the problem solving book, while I have started brushing up on Algebra; never one of my favorite subjects but I figure I should at least try before outsourcing it.
He says, that you can do each lesson in about twenty minutes - that's just something I had to see for myself. We seem to spend well over an hour at a time fighting and screaming over math because one boy wants to go faster, and the other one needs to go slower. And these are twins. Genetically identical, but completely different.
The books are straightforward, and I like the visual layout. It isn't cluttered with random pictures, nor packed with problem after problem making your eyes spin. There is enough practice to keep skills sharp, while explaining and expanding knowledge at a pace that's doesn't overwhelm but moves at a pace that gets kids learning and understanding math.
Book 1, Book 2, Pre-Algebra Concepts and No-Nonsense Algebra have videos that you can access via a code provided in the book. For my math-phobic boy, the videos have been invaluable in helping him find confidence in math, where he had little before. My math loving boy loves the books and videos because it allows him to go at a pace that's comfortable for him without having to wait for his brother. Students do the sample problems alongside Mr. Fisher, and are able to hear and see the explanations as they do the work. They boys can pause, rewind and fast-forward to the place they need, and move forward from there. We all like the videos, because Mr. Fisher explains everything very carefully, and doesn't rush students through anything.
Each lesson in the book is concise and focuses on one math skill with a small amount of review of previous skills, so students never lose what they've gained while they're learning new things. This has been huge for my less-than-confident boy because he doesn't feel pushed at a speed that makes him uncomfortable, and is instead building confidence by the day. This is a far cry from what we were experiencing before, and I'm happy to see the change. While we love Life of Fred, I think it didn't push him to focus enough on the math.
Book 1 is suitable for 4th-5th grade students, Book 2 is for middle grades through high school, Pre-Algebra comes after that and they'll finish the series with No-Nonsense Algebra. Each book takes about a year to complete, depending on the pace at which your kids work.
There is also a set of books just for extra practice and review of each area: Whole Numbers & Integers, Fractions, Decimals & Percents, Geometry, and Problem Solving. These don't have videos, but each lesson includes a few review problems at the top of the page, along with newer concepts in the second section. We've also been working through the Problem Solving book together, and we really can finish a page in about 20 minutes, when we don't get distracted.
The fights over math have subsided, and we can move smoothly through most lessons. The books range from about $12-$24, they're consumable but you could use it as a textbook if money is an issue. Just write all the problems down on a sheet of paper, and it's good practice for math anyhow! They're available both through the website MathEssentials.net and on Amazon.
Update 10/27/2016: We've been working with these for a while now, and I am still impressed at the quality of instruction in both the videos and books. It's truly a bargain at the price.
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