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Math-U-See

An Interview with Dan and Angie Sinclair, Math-U-See Representatives

March 29, 1999

The following interview was conducted live on a chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie. Dan and Angie Sinclair are the Math-U-See Distributors for California and Arizona. They have been representing Math-U-See for two years. They are based in Oceanside, California, where they homeschool their three children. One of the greatest joys they receive in home schooling is to see the light go on inside their children's head when they understand a new concept. One of the greatest joys they receive as Math-U-See reps is hearing that Math-U-See helped other parents see the light go on in their children!

Math-U-See is the top ranked manipulative based math program in the home schooling market according to a survey by Practical Home Schooling magazine in 1998. Can you tell us how you started selling Math-U-See?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: In 1997 we moved from North Carolina to California due to a job opportunity. Once we arrived the job we moved for disappeared, we went three months without Dan having a job. . .

During this time Angie met the lady who was the Math-U-See (MUS) Representative for the area. Angie, being the organizational expert that she is, helped that rep to run the business. After a short period of time the rep told us that she had decided to stop being the representative and asked if we would like to take over. . .

We petitioned Steve Demme, creator of MUS, and were given the exclusive distributorship for California and Arizona on November 1, 1997. Since then we have had tremendous success helping others to start understanding math. Many parents tell us that math is their child's favorite subject thanks to MUS. We like to hear that.

Can you tell us what is the difference between Math-U-See and other programs?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: The differences depend on the program you are comparing MUS to but, there are some differences that I consider to be critical.

  1. MUS is designed not just to teach your child, it is also designed to help you become a math tutor. This is done through the videos which demonstrate how each concept should be taught. Many parents learn how to really do math using this program (I DID).
  2. The program is designed for home schoolers by a home schooling dad (Steve Demme). This is VERY different from most other programs that were originally designed for the classroom.
  3. Not teaching to the test. MUS does not teach to any standardized tests. This means that MUS teaches math in a systematic approach for mastery. There are four levels to math; counting, addition, multiplication and exponents.

In each of these areas there are opposites to what is being taught. Example: the opposite to addition is subtraction. The way MUS teaches subtraction is from the standpoint of mastery in addition. Subtraction is just the opposite of addition, thus once addition is mastered then subtraction is much easier to understand.

Programs that start addition, jump in to subtraction then start multiplication without mastery of the addition facts are just asking for trouble. MUS teaches math so that the student can use math in a practical way in everyday life.

When the student reaches the upper grades, where testing becomes important for college, most MUS students are ahead of their public school peers and thus are ahead of the test.

As an example I can use our own son who is nine. He started in the Foundations level and in now on lesson eleven in Advanced (7th and 8th grade). His first math scores were above average. He will be taking the CAT in May and we are highly confident that he will score well above his grade level.

While I can't guarantee any of you similar results, I can tell you that we have had many, many other families tell us similar stories about their children. Remember you are the tutor and only you can determine what is best for your child.

Is it a complete curriculum?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: MUS is complete from the introduction of numbers (Introductions level) to Algebra II, which is the high school requirement to enter college. Mr. Demme is currently working on Trigonometry, which might be out in the fall of this year.

MUS is what I call a multi-year program. This means that each level contains more than one school years worth of work, thus the cost is spread out. Every level has a Teachers Manual, Student Book, Video(s) and Manipulatives that are required to teach each level.

Are the only manipulatives the blocks and the fraction overlays?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: No, there are also Algebra/Decimal Inserts. These are what makes Algebra come to life!

How do I decide where to place my child, especially if I'm currently using another program?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: There are two ways. You can have your child take the on-line placement test found on the MUS web page. Or, you can call your local distributor and they will gladly help you to place your child.

Can my older child just watch the video and teach herself?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Mary, please forgive me if I get a little passionate about this specific question. In answer to your question yes, your child can watch the video and possibly teach themselves. Do I or would I recommend it? Absolutely not.

I do not know about all of you in the audience today but, I would venture to guess that most of you are home schooling because you want your child to have an education given at home with you as the teacher . If this is the case, why would any of us want to turn over a text book to our child and say "here teach yourself, I am here if you have questions."

We are the parents and tutors of our children. We must be involved in all aspects of their learning. Many parents are not good in math therefore they don't want to have to teach their children or look bad when we might not know how to show them.

Often times we get questions from parents in the upper grade levels who do not understand what is being taught because they stopped tutoring. The first question we will ask a caller is "Did you watch the video" Surprisingly often the answer is no, my child did and he can't get the answer.

Once they watch the video and are tutoring their child again, then the child can ask questions and the parent knows where the child is and can answer questions with confidence. Parents I urge you, no matter what the subject, stay involved in tutoring your children.

We must ensure that our children master the concepts and processes being taught. Tests are not enough, only you can see when the light goes on in your child's mind telling you that she has the answer.

MUS provides you with videos that are designed to help YOU to be a tutor. A lot of children watch the videos with their parents. Steve is an excellent teacher and many children love the way he presents thing.

This makes MUS fun and interesting to kids. After they have watched the video together they can then go on to the Teacher's Manual and work out some of the practice problems together. This makes it easy and fun for all!

Are both the teacher's guides and the videos necessary?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Yes, the video and teachers manual complement each other. You need both in order to do this program.

Are the blocks just for younger kids? What if my kid hates manipulatives and just wants to do it in his/her head?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: The base set of manipulative blocks are used from Introductions through Basic Algebra and Geometry (If you have never seen Algebra done with manipulatives before this is really neat!).

So, no they are not for just the younger kids like in other programs. Also, MUS uses manipulatives in every lesson. Most other programs only have manipulatives for certain lessons.

As far as the kid who hates manipulatives. The MUS program is designed to teach your child how to do math concretely first and abstractly second. For children whose preferred style is abstract first, MUS is a great.

It may be a little time consuming for them versus the abstract learning style but, they will learn the concept AND the process. Most abstract learners know how to get the answer, but not why they got the answer. MUS teaches both. Once they have learned the concept concretely, then they can easily go on to the written abstract work.

If an abstract learner can demonstrate that they can do the work with the manipulatives then let them go on to the abstract with or without the blocks. The blocks are there to show them "how" and "why" they are doing the math.

Do I need one or two sets of blocks? And how do the block sets fit together? What if I already have Cuisenaire rods, or Mortensen blocks?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: If you have one child one set of blocks should be enough. With more than one child you may want to consider having additional blocks. We recommend that with three or more you get the supplementary set. The second set is a different mix of the same blocks found in the base set. The second set allows you to build some of the larger problems.

In regards to the Cuisenaire Rods and Mortenson Blocks I have pulled the following from a post on the MUS Forum that was done by Kitty Foster, the rep in Texas, she does an excellent job explaining.

Mortensen manipulatives are the only ones that will EASILY integrate into the MUS program. There are many difficulties in using Cuisenaire rods with MUS, all of which you could probably get around if you are willing to put forth the effort. The following characteristics are what make MUS manipulatives unique when compared to Cuisenaire:

  1. MUS blocks have raised grids AND color to identify the number of the rod. So, especially when you subtract, you can count how many you have left, since, at that point, you will get no help from the color of the rod. If you can count, you never have to guess with MUS!
  2. MUS blocks have hollow compartments on the opposite side from the grids. This side is the one you use to subtract, but at the more abstract level, this side represents the NEGATIVE value of the number. For example, you can illustrate adding a plus 5 and a negative 8 very easily.
  3. Because of the raised grids and hollow compartments, MUS blocks snap together, allowing children to build with them. Beyond two rows high, therefore, they will not come tumbling down, but will stay upright.
  4. MUS blocks can be converted from base 10 (arithmetic) to base X (algebra) by snapping inserts to the backs of the ten bars and hundred squares. These rods then represent +X, -X, and X-squared. There are also inserts that allow you to use the same rods to build and perform the four basic operations with decimals.
  5. MUS blocks match the colors of the fraction overlays and make transition into the teaching of fractions smooth. The fraction overlays are critical in teaching fractions. Most of this instruction is introduced in the Intermediate level.

How do thirty six lessons cover two years?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Good question. MUS is designed to teach your child math. The concepts have been broken down in to 36 - 40 lessons. Each lesson is designed to take about two weeks. Some lessons will go faster and some will go slower.

Based on a 36 week school year this would be two years of math. Remember, because you are home schooling you probably will go faster than this, but it is up to you to ensure that your child has mastered the concept being taught before moving on to the next lesson.

It looks like the Algebra program might not use the manipulatives as much. What makes it better than another publisher's Algebra program?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: In the Basic Algebra and Geometry (BAG) level the manipulatives are used less than in the other levels. In Algebra II there are no manipulatives at this time. Once the concept of "X" is mastered then the use of manipulatives is reduced because math builds upon itself.

The one thing that Steve Demme said that helped me to understand Algebra was, "Math is a base 10 system, Algebra is a base "X" system. They are both the same except that "X" is an unknown."

The BAG (Basic Algebra and Geometry) level is a full year of Algebra and a full year of Geometry. Some other popular math programs do not even have a geometry program. MUS fully integrates Geometry with Algebra.

How does someone find a MUS representative?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: There are MUS reps around the world in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. You can find your local representatives name and phone number on the MUS web page.

Is there support for the math-challenged parent who might not understand what the video and manual is explaining?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Yes, you will have support! Most of the Reps are available to help you and answer questions. Both Angie and I have gone through the program and can give help in most areas. If we can't help you right then and there we will set up a time to get back with you.

You mentioned a forum on the MUS Web site...is it available to all for general and specific questions?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Yes, the website forum is a great place to post questions.

What if there aren't enough worksheets for each lesson?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: The MUS program is designed to build mastery concretely, using the manipulatives, before ever touching a worksheet. Often times parents are used to a program that required at least one worksheet page per day.

MUS is very different in that we do not require a worksheet per day. In fact, there are usually two or three days were we do not even touch the student book. MUS is all about teaching math and teaching students to enjoy math. We do not want to create math phobics. One big key to the MUS program is the use of the manipulatives.

We use them to teach the students concretely. Once a concept is learned concretely the abstract portion is more easily grasped by the student.

Each lesson contains four worksheets in the student book per lesson. Plus there are additional practice problems and tests in the Teachers Manual. For the majority of people this is plenty of material; however, there are some parents who want more worksheets for their student.

For those parents there are Extra Practice Sheets that include four additional worksheets focused on the actual concepts being taught in each lesson.

How do I remember to keep reviewing measurements, money, temperature, etc. Is this frequently reviewed as it is with Saxon, for instance?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: MUS uses the spiral approach to math. This means that there is review in each lesson of concepts taught in previous lessons. The review is not as strenuous as the other program with regards to money, measurements and temperature.

Audience question: Can Math U See be used a supplemental material for other math programs?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Sure it can; however, it is designed to be a complete program. If you are doing two programs together, they will rarely line up together. This will make more work for you in the long run.

Audience question: I have a 4.5 yr old and would like to start her in MUS...Introductions or Foundations...can you explain the difference?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Sure, Introduction is just as the title indicates. It introduces math from the very beginning with the recognition of numbers. Once a student has completed Introductions they will have covered place value, some addition, time, skip counting and counting up to 100. If your child can recognize their numbers up to 9 and know their value, you could go to Foundations. Everything that is taught in Introductions except number recognition is taught in Foundations. Foundations is a faster pace.

Audience question: My concern is that my daughter is learning the PROCESS of "setting up the rods" a certain way to solve a problem of a given type, but she's not understanding how to USE this process. We do the story problems, but I still feel it's not enough. Without the rods, she's unable to do the problem. What step am I missing?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: In setting up problems we use the manipultatives to teach the concrete portion of the process. If you child is struggling with the blocks then keep working with them. The manipulatives are the key to helping understand the abstract portion of the concept. Do not be afraid of spending several days just working with the blocks.

Audience question: How do you know what level to get? Does it go by ages or ability?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Ability. Math-U-See is designed to meet you and your childs needs where you are at. Dan and Angie {public msg} If you call you representative they will be glad to help you decide where to place your child.

Audience question: My daughter INSISTS on the worksheets so that she can see her progress - I'm trying to wean her from that, but some days we're spending far too long because after we do our activities (sans worksheet) she insists on going on to the "real math" (i.e., worksheet) Any suggestions?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: Well, you are blessed to have a child who loves math. If she can do the math then I have no problem with letting her do the problems in the workbook. BUT, the concept must be mastered before moving on to the next lesson. If you have any younger children, have her teach them. We as parents sometimes put more pressure on our children to do well than is actually necessary.

Audience question: We just purchased the Intermediate level. My son can do almost all of the concepts except the end. Should I still start at the beginning with him?

Dan and Angie Sinclair: I would use the beginning part as a review, just to be sure he had it, then slow down when you come to the new material. Because this is a new program for him you might want to give him lots of successes which the beginning of the book will provide.

Many thanks to the Sinclairs for sharing their thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

Related HomeschoolChristian.com Resources

HomeschoolChristian.com's Math Resource Section