Mankato Homeschooling Examiner, MN: Alicia Bayer
Hands-On Equations makes algebra easy (and fun!)
When our family received the Hands-On Equations algebra system for review, I wasn't sure how well my three older kids would master it -- or put up with it. At 7, 10 and 12, they have had little to no experience with formal math curricula (though plenty of math instruction through nontraditional means) and had no prior experience with algebra. To my pleasant surprise, they not only mastered it but really enjoyed it.
Our math instruction (and instruction in all other areas) has always been relaxed in our homeschool. Our kids have learned math through real life (such as using money and measurements), games (such as Mythmatical Battles card game and Timez Attack computer game), fun word problems (my husband is particularly good at giving out "mad scientist" story problems such as "A mad scientist makes some cats with four tails. If he makes 6 of them and bring along his old cat with one tail, how many tails will he have total?") and math discussions, just to name some of the ways we teach the subject here.
Despite the lack of formal curricula (or perhaps because of it), our kids tend to do well at math and two of them consider it a favorite subject. Our oldest daughter (Victoria, 12) claims to hate the subject, though she'll happily do it for fun. For instance, I'll ask how much a pair of jeans will be if it's $18 and there's a 20% off sale. That sort of math is enjoyable for her, but forget about asking for any kind of sit-down math work. Ten-year-old Anna loves math and frequently asks me to write up pages of problems for her. Seven-year-old Jack also enjoys playing with math, though we haven't done as much of it yet.
When the Hands-On Equations kit arrived, I called Victoria and Anna in and we watched the video together. In the video, different people (typically children) demonstrated with a scale and manipulatives how to do algebra problems. The problems started out very basic and progressed to quite complicated ones. After each lesson, the kids were instructed to use their manipulatives and laminated scale to solve a page of problems.
Both girls were able to grasp the idea after watching the video, with a little additional instruction from me. They enjoyed using the manipulatives to do the math and got every answer correct. As the lessons progressed, they became easier and easier to grasp. Anna kept asking to do more and even Victoria seemed to be enjoying hersllf (even if she wouldn't admit it).
The program is designed for children in grades 3 through 8 -- which is much younger than algebra is traditionally taught in Minnesota public schools, where it is introduced in 5th grade but not a focus until 8th. My girls just completed grades 4 and 6, so they were squarely in the middle of the suggested grade range. They were both able to do the lessons equally well -- quickly and easily.
Later, I asked my husband to sit down and do the lessons with my 7-year-old, Jack. As a first-grader (soon to be second-grader), I knew he was younger than the target age but I thought he might enjoy it and I was curious how he'd do.
They sat down to do one lesson and ended up completing the entire first level. Jack aced it, and loved doing it.
The levels progress to more and more complicated problems, but they remain simple with this system. Even I (who have not taken an algebra class in decades!) was able to easily do problems like:
2 (x+2) + 3x - x = x + 16
For another homeschool mom's perspective, see this review from Livingmath.net.
The materials can be purchased as a complete kit or separately.
The basic kit, which costs $34.95, includes the manuals for all three levels, a set of worksheets and answer key, flat laminated balance and one set of student game pieces.
The complete home packet, which costs $115 or $125 (depending on if you order VHS or DVD) includes all of the above plus the Instructional Video Manual in DVD or VHS format and a Verbal Problems Book.
This is discounted from the price to purchase all of the components individually. The company says, "This special price is offered at the request of Julie Brennan and the Living Math website due to the high interest expressed by home educators."
While you can purchase the kit without the videos, I really recommend the video series. The children in the video do an especially good job of demonstrating the concepts easily and quickly, and make the system nearly effortless to use. It's especially nice if you are rusty in your algebra (as I was) or like having most of the work done for you (which appeals to me too!).
It is also possible to pay "a nominal fee" for specific video demos on the site if you don't get the DVD but need help with a certain section, or to purchase a pass to view lessons or groups of lessons in a certain level for a number of days. This can be an affordable option if you plan to move through the material quickly with your children, use it to review or if you only need the video lessons for more advanced problems.
I am a frugal homeschooler and tend to seek out programs that are free or very low cost, or simply do it myself. That said, this is a program that's worth the cost to me because of how simple it has made a subject that can seem so complicated. Algebra really is easy with this system and our whole family enjoyed it. We're looking forward to completing the series and continuing on with algebra for fun!