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Math U See Alternative for Struggling 1st grader (x-posted from K-8)

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Hi everyone! 


The parents over on the K-8 board recommended I cross post this over here, I'd appreciate any wisdom!


I have been searching around and coming up with some good info already from old threads but thought I'd post my exact situation and see what you all think!


I have a 7 year old first grader who is during Math U See Alpha.  We made it though approximately lesson 10, which is adding 8.  She hasn't "mastered" all the facts before that but she can always do them with the blocks.  She has no problem with the blocks in front of her and she's asked to add two numbers.  We have gone painfully slowly through this lesson because all along the way I have tried to get her to memorize the facts from each lesson.  


But, unless it is adding +1 she NEEDS the blocks.  She can't add 2 in her mind or memorize the facts. We drilled for a while on the +2 facts to see if she could memorize them and I kind of came to the conclusion that she just couldn't.  She would know them with the flashcards after lots of drill, but then the next day it would be on her worksheet, or I'd bring up a "real life" example with a fact I thought she "knew" (like oh look, you have 5 crackers, what if I gave you two more?) and she would have no idea and just guess.  


Sometimes I say look at your fingers (adding on my fingers was really helpful for me as a kid, I don't know if its bad or not) and I even tried teaching her some methods to add on her fingers, and she could NOT do it.  She didn't understand that one hand is ALWAYS five and so the next hand you "count on" from 5.  So for example I'd say "5+2.  try it on your fingers"  she'd hold up 5 and then 2 and then have to start from 1 and count all 7 fingers, even after showing her many many times that you don't need to start from one because you know 5 is a hand. 


Another thing is when the problems are the "Solve for the Unknown" variety, she chokes.  Every time they come up I have to walk her through how to do them.  Once I do one (painful) with her, she can do the rest, but whenever she sees ___ + 4 = 10 or whatever, she will inevitably write "14" if I don't point out to her that its different, and then once I do, it's like she's never seen it before and she panics.  


I am struggling because I know Math U See is "mastery" based but she just is not mastering it.  I feel like I'm at the point where I need to decide, AM I trying to get her to master this?  Because if I am , I can't move on to the next lesson.  And if I don't focus on mastering lessons 1-10, then is she going to not "get" the rest of Alpha?    And if I don't need her to master these facts now, then what should I do?  Switch to another curriculum?  If so, which one?  


A few other things:


1.  I need plans to help me know what to do every day during math time.  Saying "work on adding up to 10" is helpful, but I need to know like what do I do each day to know we are making progress in the math she needs to know in 1st grade?  my personality is such that I love being told a plan by an "authority", and then putting that plan into action.  Not so good at making my own plan.


2.  She has serious math anxiety.  She complains of stomach aches every day before math and if she has the slightest bump in the road, she cries.  She doesn't like it...and sometimes has complete meltdowns.


3.  Times we have taken "breaks" from Alpha to play math games (we have the right start math games set and math dice jr.) it is like starting from scratch when we try to go back to Alpha.  It doesn't stick.  And games are tricky because of the next thing...


4.  I have a 5 year old who is in kindergarten and is already "better" at math than her older sister which is really tough.  I don't compare them on purpose and obviously don't praise one above the other,  but they are both in Math U See and I could see right away the difference in my 5 year old. She just gets it.  She can think about numbers in her mind.  She has breezed through Primer and I have been trying to slow her down because I haven't wanted her to catch up to or pass her older sister.  So that is a factor in curriculum choice...should I switch my 7 year old so she doesn't see her sister passing her by in Alpha? My 5 year old can already do it.  She watches her older sister's math lessons and is chomping at the bit with answers she has figured out in her head.  I can't help but feel "proud" of her natural math ability and frustrated by her older sister's "lack".  I know this is terrible of me to think.  No one told me about this particular aspect of homeschooling, where the younger might be better at something than the older...before this I just had complete confidence that all my kids were going to take to all their schoolwork easily, like I did as a kid.  I'd love some wisdom about this.  I check my attitude every day about this because I really don't want this to become an issue.


I am thinking of just starting day 1 of First Grade Math all over with my 7 year old, starting with a new curriculum. But I just don't know which one to try and it REALLY overwhelms me, it can't be anything where I have to figure it out what to do every day, it needs to be easy to figure out how to teach.  I am fine spending tons of time teaching it, but not ok with being confused myself on what I'm supposed to teach.  I like the videos and teachers book of Math U See a lot.  So something along those lines but not geared around memorization?  Or maybe its ok to just keep going in Alpha without memorization?  That would take a lot of the pressure off of both of us!


 Math, more than anything, has made me think about sending her to public school.  I just feel like I'm failing her!  And then I get frustrated, and sad to say, sometimes angry  :(  I also know I need to make this a matter of prayer and patience and encouragement.


Thank you!!!!!!!!!

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:grouphug:  :grouphug:  :grouphug:


BTDT.  I completely understand where you are coming from.  I went through similar feelings.  Hang in there.


1.  Her struggles do not mean you have failed as a teacher and it also does not mean a public school setting would fix the issues.

2.  Everything you have been doing with her should work to help her learn if she has no learning issues but she may need more time.  She may need shorter lessons and more time for brain maturity.  You may need to start over, go slower, incorporate MORE time with manipulatives, more connections to real life math, etc.  That's o.k.

3.  She may also be struggling with a learning challenge like dyscalculia.  If so, then you may need to move back even further, start with materials designed specifically to deal with that type of learning challenge, and go even more slowly.  A school would have a hard time doing that since school classrooms are structured more to move a large group of children through the same materials at the same pace.

4.  Don't overstress on this (I realize that is easier said than done).  Just because she may need more time and a slower pace to learn basic math skills right now does not mean she is not capable of learning math or that she will never make it into higher level math.  We all learn at different rates/paces.

5.  Because you are homeschooling her you CAN go more slowly.  You CAN work to meet her needs individually, seek out better ways to approach her weak area.  You have options to help her and meet her where she is at that may not exist in a brick and mortar setting.


Things I would suggest:

  • Seriously consider moving one of your children to a different program so that they are not comparing themselves.  
  • Seriously consider starting your math struggler with the Ronit Bird materials linked below.  Step away from a standard curriculum for a bit and work with the Ronit Bird stuff.  http://www.ronitbird.com/  
  • Start looking into an evaluation.  They can take months or even a year or more to get set up.  If it turns out she does have a specific learning issue tripping her up then you have already started the leg work to get more thorough answers on what the issue is and as a bonus an evaluation may show strengths you didn't know she had.  Often weak areas mask strengths and vice a versa.  If she starts picking things up and doing well you can cancel the evaluation but if she continues to struggle then you have already started the process of getting answers.
  • Take a deep breath.  Learning is often not a smooth process.  It can be spurts and humps and going backwards for a bit. It's o.k.
  • Try really, really hard not to take her struggles personally.  It isn't helpful for either of you.


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If you need something more clearly laid out, more scripted for the teacher, and more structured than Ronit Bird there is also Dynamo math but it is more expensive.  The teacher teaches the lesson with manipulatives, then the student works with the teacher, then the student does an on-line lesson to reinforce what was learned as well to approach the material from a different perspective, then there is a paper based exercise to also reinforce, confirm understanding and approach the material from a different perspective.  Everything is very clearly laid out.  It is teacher intense, though.  You MUST do the teacher led material first.  Otherwise the other parts are practically useless.




Anything you do will need to heavily involve you.  I would not pick something that is more driven by the student.


That being said, you might also look at something like CLE but use the Ronit Bird e-books on the side (start with those then move into CLE maybe).  CLE has a lot of review, is clearly laid out, and the TM is easy for a teacher to use.  The lessons are written more to the student but you could do the new material together on a dry erase board and with manipulatives then work the review problems together in the workbook.



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I second the Ronit Bird recommendations, starting with the Dots book. I worked with a 5th grader who did not "get" numbers. He couldn't understand that the number 5, for example, could be made up of other, smaller numbers (4 and 1, 2 and 3, etc). After a month of Ronit Bird, he was able to play dice games and make 5 out of two numbers, and also do things like 2+2+1. He was seriously excited! Like your daughter, he could do things with blocks, but once they weren't in front of him, he just guessed. He needed the intense focus on numbers being "made up of" other numbers. That skill (subitization) is necessary for all future math, so it's not like you're wasting your time on it... you're building the foundation. 



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Agreeing with the others--this isn't your fault, and she's probably struggling because she has a learning issue, not because she's not capable of learning. Learning issues require specialized instruction, and that kind of instruction is available to homeschoolers.


I think switching curriculum for your kids is a good idea. You do not want to hold your younger one back.


It's okay to be frustrated--finding these things out is a process and reconciling ourselves to a diagnosis (formal or informal--whatever is needed to fix the problem) brings a grief process that everyone here is going through or has gone through. 


If you aren't overly focused on what is "okay" and "not okay" regarding your feelings, it can be easier to extend grace and patience to our non-standard learners through our actions. It's a different kind of attitude check. Everything you said in your post is very, very normal for the folks on this board, and it's okay to feel the stress. Let it move you through the process of figuring things out to help her. You can do this!

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Thinking about this more, maybe check out Developmental Mathematics. Start with level 1 and combine with RB. Your child should not be working on addition facts beyond making 5 if she cannot count on +2. You will need to slow down, maybe work in shorter increments, and make the experience fun. My DD likes hot decaf Chai tea.


RB recommends using manipulatives, drawing a picture, and then using rote memory. Your DD may need to draw herself a number line for awhile and then practice counting on by 2 prior to moving on.

Edited by Heathermomster
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I'm on a keyboard now. :D I cannot over-emphasize the BRILLIANCE of Ronit Bird's approach to beginning number sense. It's going to make MUS look totally hack. Programs for typical kids with no SLDs make so many assumptions about what will click. Number sense is in a totally different part of the brain from conceptual, so you can be BRILLIANT at problem solving and math but not have the number sense piece.


My ds is gifted, but we literally spent a MONTH on a given number using Ronit Bird's Dots ebook. Brilliant, brilliant, revolutionary, fantastic. I mean, what do you want me to say? He was gifted and couldn't understand the number 5. When we finished, and I literally mean we spent a month on this is 5, weeks on this is 3, etc. When we finished and played her free Positive/Negative Turnovers game, he was able to do all addition and subtraction in single digits, including with positive/negative numbers, write equations for them, etc. Ronit Bird's stuff is AMAZING.


Regular math materials rely on assumptions, inferences, etc. Ronit Bird will get to the heart of why it's not clicking and put "ness" to it. My ds had no sense of "three-ness" or "five-ness". The words meant NOTHING to him, and the rods honestly meant nothing. I was like saying Fred plus Suzy equals George. It was that far without meaning. We had to establish meaning for those words.


Also, given her age and some of the other things you said, it's time to get evals and screen for some more things too. Evals are your friend. Eval early and often to avoid grief later. Problems like this don't go away.

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Some kids who don't have dyscalculia simply need manipulatives longer than typical. My SN child struggles with abstract concepts and could do math fine so long as she was using manipulatives rather than symbols. She turns 9 next month and only NOW is able to do pencil and paper calculations even though she understood how to add and subtract a couple years ago using manipulatives.


Her school has written on her IEP that she is allowed to use manipulatives to solve her math problems. I don't know if they will keep that accommodation on the new IEP document but she isn't yet in a standardized testing grade (they adjusted her grade from 3rd to 2nd this fall) so there's really no reason to take it out.

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Dd had (has) similar struggles. We tried lots of different programs (miquon, mm, Saxon, Singapore, etc) and CLE is the best for her so far. I should probably have her do some ronit bird too, but she's keeping up with CLE.


I understand about the younger siblings. Both Dd7 and dd5 have quickly caught up to or surpassed what dd9 is doing. I've deliberately put them in different programs.

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I have taught a lot of math at the college level. Its interesting because I find that students figure this out when they teach it to themselves. I always would come up with a way to get them to teach it to me. Or get them to own the problem they were trying to solve.


I would get a jar or bowl and each day give her two more pennies. everytime she has 5 trade it for a nickle. Then keep putting the pennies in over days. find something she wants that cost a dollar or whatever. See if she can get excited to get to a dollar. Then try it with something else. M&M's whatever something that gets her interested in numbers that she has a personal stake in. So with m&ms there is actually a book that uses it and one that uses legos. But for example start with 5 red m&ms and each day add one green tell her she can eat them all when there are 9. Each day ask her to count them. Then ask her if there is a faster way since she already knows how many red ones are there.


I get frusterated that they are so quick to take away manipulatives. I have advanced work in both math and physics and the first thing they tell you to do is build a model, draw a picture etc. Manipulatives are a nice way to "draw " a picture. Also with one of my kids I need to show more and talk less. The more I try to explain it the worst it gets. I need to find more concrete ways to teach what I am trying to teach.


Also mastery level math has its pluses and minuses. I personally believe a better method is the 60/30/10 method. Each new level is 30 percent review from recent stuff 10 percent review from long ago stuff and 60 percent new. That way it sort of overlaps and builds confidence. I think of it as watering a garden deep. This way over time the important stuff sinks in deep.


My other rule is if after 3 days of trying a technique it crashes then I brainstorm how to switch it up ans teach it a different more colorful or exciting way.


You could look up right brain math from the people who teach snap words I liked that. Also I know it is not popular to talk about core math but they use number lines and models like crazy in some of their videos, websites and books. It might be worth stealing some.ideas from.them. I would start with candy,money and legos myself


For basic addition ans subtraction I once had a student write everything plus in one color and everything minus in one color. Or had them underline it with the color so we could use worksheets.



I also used color in algebra for the variables etc when it clicks often they have to use it for awhile to really cement it.


The brain loves novelty and color

Edited by exercise_guru
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  • 3 weeks later...

MUS didn’t work well for us. Some concepts introduced way too early. I suggest checking into RightStartMath as it is much more hands on, less worksheets and works to build comprehension over simply completion of tasks like MUS. Hope that helps!



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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