TOS Crew Review: Math Essentials (Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 1 and DVD)

A couple weeks ago, I shared a post on keeping math skills fresh over the summer. Even with a one week break, my son admitted that he felt that he had slowed down. With the summer break, I really did not want to overburden him with too much schoolwork, yet wanted him to keep his hard-earned math skills from going to waste. This product review came at the perfect time! Whether you homeschool or not, this is a great company to keep in mind. Read on! Company Information: Math Essentials

Math Essentials is the creation of "America's Math Teacher," Richard Fisher, a math teacher from San Jose, California. Mr. Fisher ,developed this system of teaching over a 20 year period, and it has produced students who have a strong foundation in basic math skills.

His math books are suitable for public/private and homeschool use, covering all the "essentials" that kids need to build a strong foundation in math, in 20 minutes a day. He has books for children grades 4-5 up through Algebra. He also publishes books that focus on specific math areas that kids may have trouble with, such as decimals and percents, fractions, geometry, and problem solving. Check out this page for all that he has available, along with the Table of Contents and sample pages for each book.

Products Reviewed: Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 1 and DVD ($33.95) and Mastering Essential Math Skills: Problem Solving ($11.95)

Each lesson is designed to be completed in 20 minutes a day. Book 1 (132 daily lessons) focuses on whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percentages, integers, geometry, charts and graphs, and problem solving. Each day's lesson is divided into six sections: speed drills on basic math facts (addition and multiplication), review questions, a new lesson with helpful hints, practice problems, individual work, and a word problem. The DVD that is included with the book gives kids (and parents) a way to see the lesson in action, especially if you are not particularly confident in your math skills or teaching ability. At the end of each chapter, there is a day of review on all the concepts in the chapter. At the end of the book, there is a final review. The book is designed to be a system of teaching math skills that are often overlooked. Through review and incrementally building on each lesson, allowing kids to build a strong foundation.  

The 80-page problem solving book is set up in a similar way and covers word problems using graphs, whole number, fraction, decimal and percent problems. And they're not all easy ones! Mr. Fisher guides kids on how to tackle simple one-step problems to problems that require multiple steps.

Age Range (for this product): Grades 4-5

Parental Preparation: Very little is required. I was able to quickly read the introduction in a few minutes and jump right in. If you want to utilize the DVD, there is also a brief introduction that is basically the same information as the workbook.

How We Used It:

Now to preface this, I do need to mention that it is summer. For this reason, I selected book one, although my son is going to be entering sixth grade this fall. My goal was to keep his skills fresh over the summer. To be honest, the "20 minutes a day" was what won me over!

For this review, I scanned the table of contents to find the areas that Matthew either had trouble with or had not covered in his math program last year. We ended up focusing on the chapter on integers. Our current math program did not go into negative numbers, though Matthew had asked me about them. I remember my daughter having trouble with them when she encountered them in pre-algebra, so I thought this would be a good way to start introducing them to him now.

Even though we jumped into the middle of the book, since it was mostly review material for Matthew, he was able to complete the lessons, including learning the new material, in 20 minutes or less (we timed it to verify this statement!). We were at my parents' home and I did not have access to a DVD player to watch the accompanying video, but that did not keep him back in the least.

What We Liked:

  • Each lesson had a little of everything: something old and something new.  
  • They really did take only 20 minutes!
  • No fluff! There was just enough without being tiresome. As Mr. Fisher says in the DVD, kids don't need to do 50 problems to master a concept. Ten a day plus consistent review is plenty. I really like that (and so does Matthew!).
  • As I mentioned above, I was pleased with the thoroughness of the program. Negative numbers are not always introduced in elementary school, but Mr. Fisher explained it in such a way that made it very simple for Matthew to understand.
  • Correcting work is very easy with the answer box on the side of the page.
  • The whole lesson fits on one page, not three!

What We Would Change:

Nothing! It is very well thought-out and organized. But I do have to say this: Matthew is pretty strong in math as it is,  so I don't know how it would work with a child who needs to visually see or manipulate things. There might not be enough explanation for a child (or parent) who struggles with math concepts. On the other hand, it may also be a good thing, as it keeps math lessons manageable and brief.

We did not utilize the DVD that much, but if you are unsure of yourself, there is help in explaining. I just read through the helpful hints on each page and watched Matthew do the sample problems. If he did not get the concept, I think the DVD could help, but it really wasn't necessary for us.

Overall Summary:

There are tons of math programs out there, each with a different philosophy, focus and strength. This is an excellent program for the summer months, but after using this, I am planning to purchase the next book for Matthew to use as his standard text for next year. If he needs extra help, I know I can use his other math program to get additional practice. I am confident that he will be able to cover all that he needs to know for pre-algebra without overkill. All I can say is, I hope Mr. Fisher has more in the works!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of these workbooks at no cost in exchange for my honest opinion.

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