Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shiller Math review

We started off the year with A Beka. I bought the full DVD curriculum kit. Another post explains why I've decided not to stick with A Beka. Right now I'm trying to finish this year and I'll be switching. I didn't, however, stick with the Math. My oldest hates math and A Beka's math, while good, is very dry. I felt she needed something different and more hands on for her kinesthetic learning style.
So began the reading about different math programs. I read until I was blue in the face. The main programs I considered most was Singapore, Math U See, Saxon, and Shiller Math. I never could figure out Singapore and I was unsure of the mastery based programs. I felt that my child would need review for it to stick. I was turned off by Math U See after reading that it was video learning. After A Beka DVD, I'm really gun shy about video based learning now. Besides, #1 really prefers that I teach her. It finally came down to Saxon and Shiller. I prayed about it and decided to go with Shiller. We've been using it for about 3 weeks now.

Shiller Math (SM) is Montessori style learning. It's very "hands on" which is what I was looking for. It's manipulative heavy and worksheet light. SM claims that it is an "incremental spiral method."  Even so, some might feel more review is needed. In that case, free worksheets can be found easily online on other websites like http://www.math-drills.com/. I haven't felt that extra worksheets are necessary at this point.
Right now, the whole program consists of two kits. Kit 1 is for roughly ages 4-8. Kit 2 covers ages 9-12. I've heard rumors that a high school kit is being worked on but I have not tried to confirm that. I have the Kit 1 (no download) version that I'm using for my 4 year old and 8 year old. So I will be reviewing only that kit.

When I got the kit in, it was neatly packaged in one large box. I'll not list the manipulatives included since they are listed on the SM website. However, here are some pictures (please keep in mind I'm not a photographer and do not know any fancy camera tricks!):
So far, we've only used the red bag once for a lesson on probability. Under the red bag is the work mat. The work mat is used with every lesson that manipulatives are used. It's quite large (22x37) as you can see compared to my hand. This is supposed to help the child focus on the one space in which they are working. It washes up nicely. I HAD to wash it when we first got it because it smelled strongly like "factory."
Of these items, we've only used the CD, the shapes pieces, and the coins, and the tray that's holding all the contents. The tray seems sturdy and well made as do the shapes pieces. The shapes include squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, diamonds, trapezoids, parallelograms, and hearts. The coins are made of plastic, of course. The CD has 25 songs on it. We've only listened to one song so far (Right, Left song). The 4 year old acted like it was dumb but I heard her singing it later!

All the blue stuff is unit cubes (100 all together), 10's rods(27 all together), 100's flats(27), and a Thousand cube (just one). The green and white grid looking paper in the foreground folds up into more thousands cubes (16 all together).
This seemed a little flimsy to me. We'll see how it holds up over time.

Here are the workbooks. I originally ordered one set thinking I could use them for both kids. As soon as I got the kit in and flipped through them I realized each kid would need their own set. Not all, but quite a bit, of the pages are consumable.
In the front of the book is a Table of Contents. At the back is a Concept Index and Manipulative Index. The concept index groups the concepts covered throughout the book in one place. For example: Probability is covered in lessons 91, 92, and 130. Logic is covered in lessons 16, 18, and 88. The Manipulative index covers the manipulatives used throughout the book in one place. For example: the foam ball is used in lessons 27, 106, and 180. Number tiles are used in lessons 41, 85, and 90.
On the inside of the back cover is a table to record the Date, Minutes worked, Lesson #'s completed, and lessons to revisit.
The first "real" lesson in Book 1 covers circles, triangles, and squares (as in "What is this shape?). The last lesson in Book 3 covers Using Numbers for Letters.
All the lessons are scripted so you don't have to try to figure out what to say. Some would see this as positive, others as a negative. I like it for the days I'm feeling unsure of myself. On the lessons I feel more confident, I read over it and then say it how I want.

This is the answer guide/teacher's manual.
The only problem I see with these is possible typos. For instance, lesson 12, 16, and 20 (in book 1) was completely skipped. I'm not sure if it was done by accident or on purpose. Maybe they were thinking a key was not necessary for those lessons. Not sure.

The Montessori style is all about being positive, positive, positive. And if either parent or child starts feeling frustrated it is stressed to put the math away and come back later. I really love the positive approach to making math fun.
In the Parent Guide the SM ThreeStep Approach is explained. "This is....." "Show me......" and "What is......"
Basically, any time a new concept is introduced the ThreeStep Approach is used. For example: When introducing shapes you would use one of the circles out of the shapes bag to show the child and say "This is a circle." Lay the circle down on the mat (either alone or among other shapes) and say "Show me a circle." Allow the child to pick up or point to the circle. Then say "What is this?"
The Parent Guide, in general, is beneficial and helps with troubleshooting.

This program is not heavy on tests. Tests are included but not so much for a grade. I think it could be more appropriately called a diagnostic review. Basically, at the end of each section (there are 4 sections in Lesson Book 1) there is a review test. If the child misses some answers then you know to cover those particular topics again. These tests are also used to place the child in the program if you won't be starting at the very beginning (like I had to do with my 8 yr old). These tests can also be found on SM's website.

The initial cost of the kit can turn some off. It was the main reason it took me so long to make a decision to just go for it. Each kit (the no download version) cost $399.95. For an extra $100 you can get the downloads of consumables for 5 years. Each additional workbook, if bought alone, costs $79.95. You won't need to buy extra workbooks if you get the download version.
SM does have periodic sales (I got in on that!) and that helps alot. You can also watch the free webinar and get $100 off on a kit. However, I couldn't figure the webinar out so I missed out on that promo. I did get a promo code from Mr. Shiller when I sent an email with a question. His reply back  included the promo code that saved me $100.
In all, if you consider that the kit can be used for 4-5 years and for more than one kid, that isn't too bad.

Overall, I'm very glad I decided to go with SM and I would recommend it to other HS families.
Shiller Math website


  1. I feel your frustration for this whole process. I finally landed with Singapore and Time4Learing a few years ago and now just with Time4Learning. I wish you the best endeavors with evolving.

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