Manipulatives’ power: Harness students’ tendency toward concrete objects with Math U See

I have always been decent at math, but it has never been a favorite subject of mine.  In the past, I did relatively well on the math sections of standardized tests, but after approximately seven months with Brainjogging, I took the GRE and was absolutely shocked to find that I scored higher on the math section of the test than on the language section.  This was the first time in the history of my life that my math skills have exceeded my language faculties; I was an English major, for Pete’s sake!  While teaching with Brainjogging, I spent several months teaching math to one of my eighth grade students.  We started with simple math – addition, subtraction – and progressed to more difficult operations.

While my math skills improved by leaps and bounds, this child’s math skills would increase and then, after a few days of Brainjogging sporadically, they would regress.  We went through a seemingly endless cycle of the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back.”  And then Shirley Pennebaker, Brainjogging’s author and founder, stumbled across Math U See, a manipulative-based math program created by Steve Demme.  Manipulative tools are absolutely amazing teaching tools, particularly for children with learning disabilities or visual and tactile learners.

I received the Math U See book and manual prior to receiving the manipulatives, and proceeded to work through the first two chapters with this student without using manipulatives.  The chid was very much her same self: some days were stunningly successful, others were frustratingly stalled.  There were days when she mixed up operations and signs, or misread problems and made seemingly careless mistakes – and then the manipulatives arrived.

Math U See's starter block set contains blocks representing the numbers one through ten.

Using the manipulatives, I went back through the first two chapters of the Math U See Pre-Algebra manual with this child.  Her scores improved approximately twofold with the inclusion of Math U See’s manipulative blocks.  She blazed through chapters one, two, three and four.  This child recently took a standardized math exam; her scores placed her as a tenth grade student in her eighth month.   I am immensely proud of this student; she has taken herself to another level, intellectually, and Math U See helped her get there!

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