Sunday, July 29, 2012

Math Essentials: Pre-Algebra -- A TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review

Have you ever heard of Math Essentials? I had not heard of them last month when I learned that the Schoolhouse Review Crew would have the opportunity to review some of their math programs, so I headed over to their website to learn about them.

Math Essentials was created by Richard W. Fisher, a 5th/6th Grade Math instructor in a California public school district.  Mr. Fisher ("Rick") has created a system to teach Math that only takes 20 minutes a day, and his system has had great results.  Fisher's materials can be used with elementary, middle, and even high school students to very quickly improve their math skills and bring them to Algebra readiness.  His materials are also helpful for students for whom English is not their first language. In addition, the author is accessible! He posts his phone number right there on his website, and while I myself did not call him, a fellow Crew-mate said he returned a weekend phone call within an hour!

The Math Essentials series includes the following resources:
  • Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 1 and DVD: $33.95;
  • Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 2 and DVD: $33.95;
  • Pre-Algebra Concepts, book and DVD: $33.95; and
  • No-Nonsense Algebra, book and on-line video course: $27.95
Math Essentials also carries specific skills books to focus on:
  • Decimals and Percents (book, no DVD, $11.95);
  • Fractions (book, no DVD, $11.95); and
  • Geometry (book, no DVD, $11.95).
There are also prices for the first set without DVD, as well as prices for classroom bundles (less per book). After experiencing the Pre-Algebra Concepts book with DVD, I personally recommend that you go with the DVD wherever you can, if you can afford to. (This would correspond to the on-line video, for the No-Nonsense Algebra.)

Summer is busy, and it is difficult to sit down and do schoolwork when there are so many other things calling for your attention, but my son understood before summer started that I wanted some daily math from him (so his mind doesn't turn into green jello, I told him).  So when I received Math Essentials Pre-Algebra, we sat down in front of the television with the DVD running on the screen. There is a great introduction directly to the student (as well as one to the parent/teacher, which I watched separately), as well as a section called "How to Use This Book" (Introduction part 2...). (See Table of Contents HERE.)

The student will, each day, watch the DVD session for the day (most days), do a section of Review Exercises,  read the Helpful Hints section, do 10 math problems, and then complete a section of practical application called "Problem Solving".  You can see a Sample Page HERE.  (This is page 19 in the Pre-Algebra book.)  
  • The Pre-Algebra Concepts book is a soft-cover book with 96 pages, which can be completed in about one semester.
  • Since Rick Fisher is encouraging the students to write each day's materials out on clean paper, this is an ideal time to wean them from writing in their workbook, which would make it reusable for siblings or for resale.
  • Every one to three weeks there is a page that is the equivalent of a test or a quiz.
  • There is not a DVD lesson for EVERY page in the book, but it is easy to tell whether or not the next DVD session is for the next page, or whether the page is related only to the previous DVD session. If the student doesn't remember the material, he/she can watch the DVD session again.
  • I like that the DVDs are done by a man. Sad but true, those of us moms who are homeschooling boys often have boys that want some of their instruction to be done by a man. I always like it when I can give him a program that is taught by a man.
  • I like the way Rick Fisher lays out the instructions for my son, right at the beginning, telling my son that he needs to start each class with two sharp pencils, his book, and two blank sheets of paper, and that he needs to write on his paper what Rick writes on the board.
  • I like the balance this program his of a little review, a little new material, and a little practical application. 
  • I like that the estimated daily time is 20 minutes. My son isn't arguing over 20 minutes of math a day. (Well, actually, he is arguing over that extra five minutes, because I asked him for 15 minutes a day, and this program asks for 20, but once we get going he usually isn't looking at the clock.)
  • Well, I haven't found anything I don't like, except what I'm about to write below in "What I Would Like"...
  • I hope that Rick Fisher gets a DVD done for Geometry soon, and that I can get a copy of it. In addition to the Pre-Algebra Concepts, I also received the book for Geometry, but it doesn't have a DVD with it. For us that might be the difference that keeps us from getting it done...
  • I think the Math Essentials ordering page would be nicer if each book was clickable to its own page... Just sayin'... That would have made it easier for me to link up each book in my review, anyway...
I really like this program. I like Rick Fisher's confidence that the Mastering Essentials programs make

Just so you know, I found this ran much smoother (with my particular student), if I watched the DVD myself in advance before my son's "class". It gave me a "heads up", an opportunity to understand the material before it was presented to my son. This way, if he asked any questions, I already knew the answer, or knew I could say, "Just wait and see if he tells you in the video."

Now, while I like this program, my son finds it slow. He gets dramatic, play-snoring to suggest it put him to sleep. And then when it is time to do the exercises, I find he has taken down all the notes, but still needs my help to understand what he has written down. But he IS getting it, with a little help.  (And I would say this is his personal learning issue, not something that is a fault with the program.)

If Math Essentials materials are really all I need to cover Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry, then I wasted some money on something I already in April for this fall (::sigh::), but I won't make the same mistake next year...  I am currently still skeptical and not certain this book really covers everything my son needs to be prepared for Algebra I next year.  If I find I am satisfied with this program, then I consider this to be an amazingly affordable program for upper-school math, and I will plan to purchase No-Nonsense Algebra for his next year's program!
I received a copy of Mastering Essential Math Skills Pre-Algebra Concepts (book with DVD)  and a Geometry (book) in exchange for my review of the Pre-Algebra Concepts book and DVD. I did not receive any other compensation. The contents of this review are my personal opinion; I was not told what to say.

This has been a TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review.

To see more TOS Schoolhouse Reviews, click on the link below.


  1. We loved this product too! From the crew!

  2. So are you still loving these books? We loved Mastering Essential Math Skills, but now am looking for Pre-Algebra material. What we are using isn't working so I am in search....Did you finish Pre-Algebra and move to Algebra?

  3. I am still working on the Pre-Algebra. I am combining the Horizons program that I had purchased with some other options. Horizons was going too fast for my son (I thought I was going to see his head explode). I switched him to daily IXL work at the 8th grade level, which looks the most like the Pre-Calculus topics. IXL expires on 11/2/12 for me, so I'll be switching back to Mastering Math Essentials to try to get my son up to speed.

    He really started having trouble when I was trying to help him understand solving equations to a place where x = a number. Especially where you subtract or add to both sides, not even getting to multiplication or division. He just doesn't want to write down his work, and I am requiring it. Whenever he is on his own he's trying to take short cuts that don't work for him.

    He is also still not understanding positive and negative intergers adequately. So I had to slow way down.