Mastering Miquon: Top Ten Tips

cuisenaire rods
Image via Wikipedia

[Rescued from my old blog.]

I love Miquon math, but the program does feel odd to many homeschoolers, especially at first. It is so different from the math most of us grew up with that it takes time for the teacher to adjust. DJ asked for Miquon advice at a forum I frequent, but I thought enough people might find these tips useful to justify an expanded repost. If you have more advice on teaching Miquon, please chime in!

First, the Basics

(1) Use the Lab Sheet Annotations. When you are ready to start a section in your workbook, read that section’s intro in the Lab Sheets, so you as the teacher have a good background. You will find games and teaching activities, too, so be sure to check back and refresh your memory when you get back to that section in the next book.

Also, the Lab Sheets contain mini images of the worksheet pages, on which you can write the answers, if you wish. A few worksheets have answers given. Some people recommend getting a complete set of workbooks for the teacher to work through, so you can try out all the pages before teaching them, but I’ve never bothered to do that.

By the way, not all the sections are included in each workbook, so don’t worry that your book is missing pages. Here is a Scope and Sequence chart showing which sections are in which books. The only sections that show up in every book are Subtraction and Multiplication.

(2) Miquon math requires the use of Cuisenaire rods. Until you get used to the rods, your first step in working any pages should be to make a “stairstep” pattern at one edge of your work area. This helps you see which rod is longer or shorter than the next, so you will begin to recognize their number value. Your student will learn these relationships faster than you do, but just keep building the stairsteps for yourself until you don’t need them any longer.

[WARNING: Do not draw lines or write numbers on the rods! There will be times when they do not have their normal values. For instance, the yellow might represent “one”, which would make the red block “2/5”.]

Experimenting with Math

(3) Think of the worksheets as math lab experiments. You are trying out the ideas with your child to see what happens. They aren’t like quiz sheets that your student has to do alone; they are cooperative explorations. Sometimes dd needs help with everything on the sheet, so we talk it all through together. Other times I only have to discuss one or two problems, and she’ll figure the rest out on her own. And there are a few sheets where she needs no help at all.

As you work through the pages, be sure to translate the math symbols into ordinary English words. This translation is one of the most difficult things for children. The concepts of adding or multiplying are not nearly as difficult as remembering that the symbol “+” means “put this rod and that together to make a longer line,” but when the symbol is tipped over (“×”) it means “use this many of that size rod.” Or if you’re working with fractions, “find this size part of that amount.”

Of course, you do want to use the math terms, but also explain them in English over and over and over until your child knows them automatically — and periodically after that, as a refresher.

(4) The worksheets do not have to be done in order. If something is too hard for your child, skip it and come back later. Some concepts are easier, and some are more challenging. Children vary in their mental maturity. Sometimes even a month or two will be enough to make a huge difference in the child’s ability to understand a concept.

You can also go on to a higher level book and then come back to the earlier book. If a student is really enjoying fractions, for instance, he may want to do all the fraction pages in two or three books before going on to a different topic. Let your child control the pace. Some people take the pages out of the workbooks and put them in folders by category, and then they let the student choose what category to do today.

We keep the books together because loose pages would get lost in our house, but we use bookmarks to keep track of where we are working. We may have two or three bookmarks in one book so we can alternate between the more challenging pages (like multiplication or combined operations) and the more fun pages (arrow games, mapping, clock arithmetic).

Playing with Math Ideas

(5) The blocks and other manipulatives should always be available — Miquon is a hands-on program — but the student is not forced to use them. My kids do not like manipulatives, so they will try to do everything in their heads, and I have found that Miquon and Singapore math are both great at building mental math skills. But whenever dd stumbles, I remind her, “Can you show this with the blocks? How can you figure it out?”

Counting on fingers is also allowed. Fingers are built-in manipulatives.

The rod track is helpful, a highly-recommended extra purchase. It can double as a number line, but its main use is to quickly add up a “train” of blocks. For instance, to find 18÷3, you can put an orange and a brown rod end-to-end and then try to find three rods of a single color that make the same length train. Or you can use the rod track and skip straight to the “find three rods” step. Try three yellows: too short. Try three blues: too long. Try three dark greens: just right! 18÷3=6.

My dd’s favorite thing about the rod track is tipping it to make the train “dive” into the storage box. She gets mad if I put the blocks away, rather than letting her do it.

(6) Encourage the child to make up worksheets of his own, modeled after the Miquon sheets, perhaps for you or Dad to work. Kids love to be the teacher — and as we all know, the teacher often learns more than the student. Dd thinks she’s being the boss, but I know she’s reviewing and deepening her understanding. What a deal!

(7) Take time to do other mathy things, like measuring, cooking, and timing things with a stopwatch — or to play with other manipulatives or math games. The Miquon worksheets were just part of a whole math environment. Look at the library for ideas: Family Math, Games for Math, and other books.

Miquon, being discovery-oriented, does not stress drilling math facts. Many parents add some type of math fact practice to balance out the program. I like to play math games to reinforce my children’s workbook learning — take a look at my blog posts filed under the category Mathematics>Activities>Games.

[Photo by smithi1.]

Additional Tips

(8 ) Some people put the Miquon pages into page protectors so their students can work them over and over with erasable markers or crayons. We haven’t done that, but I could see it being fun, especially with a younger child who might need to stretch the program over more years. There are some very challenging pages in the first two books that my dd could benefit from repeating, just so she could think the operations through again.You could also hand-copy or photocopy pages for use in your own homeschool, or make up new pages based on the ones your child has done.

(9) If you want more ideas for teaching the Miquon way, read First Grade Diary, which will describe how Lore Rasmussen taught Miquon math with a variety of students in one first-grade classroom. Fascinating book, even for people who don’t use the Miquon curriculum.

(10) Have fun! Learning math should be a great adventure.

13 thoughts on “Mastering Miquon: Top Ten Tips

  1. This is a great intro page to Miquon Math, which I have forwarded to a few friends that are interested in the program. I used it 15 years ago with my sons and they enjoyed it. It would have been wonderful to have had these internet sites, links to blogs, etc., to calm my fears of trying something ‘new’ and different. Thank you.

  2. I’m glad you find it helpful! Looking back, I see that I hadn’t learned to format articles for the Web when I wrote this. It’s overall very gray — I should do some editing to make it more reader-friendly.

  3. I am using Miquon for my son and love it. He seems to do a lot better with hands-on and interactive learning. I am impressed with what he is being introduced to in this program, and the price is nice. However, Miquon only goes through 3rd grade, so now I am wondering what program to use when he has completed 3rd grade. Any suggestions as to something that would be similar in its approach and not be super-pricey?

  4. I like Singapore Primary Math, but it is not similar to Miquon’s approach. It has some hands-on components (particularly in measuring and geometry), but it is primarily a lesson/workbook system. You might try the Key To ___ series, which is from the same publisher as Miquon. You might also consider looking at Living Math materials.

  5. I am investigating Miquon Math for my kids, who are bored to tears with the repetitiveness of Math-U-See, and I am looking at Miquon. My 7 year old is in the 2nd grade MUS book, in which level should I start him with Miquon? Also, does anyone know if I can adapt the exercises to use the MUS blocks instead of the Cuisenaire rods?

  6. MUS blocks are larger than Cuisenaire rods, and they are divided into sections, right? Being larger, they would not fit on the diagrams where the student is supposed to line up the rods for one reason or another (for example, to measure area). And being divided, they are not so easily converted to stand for other numbers: in Miquon, sometimes a middle-size block is taken as the “1” and the student needs to figure out what the other blocks are based on that.

    I recommend getting a basic set of Cuisenaire rods, since they aren’t all that expensive. But you might be able to get by with the MUS blocks if you really want to. For instance, if you could find graph paper with squares the same size as the MUS blocks, then you could draw areas on that which would match your blocks. My kids didn’t really use the blocks all that often (see point #5 above) — if your student is more of a hands-on thinker, then having the right size blocks may be more important for him.

    As to your first question, you should always start Miquon at the beginning. The series does not follow a standard sequence, and there are advanced concepts in the very first book. You can skip some of the early pages and go quickly through the familiar topics, but you should not skip the whole book.

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