When Maria of Homeschool Math Blog asked if I would review her Math Mammoth curriculum, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always enjoyed her blog posts, and I liked the worksheets I had seen on her website. (Maria gives away more than 300 pages absolutely free!)
She sent me her then-new 4th grade worktexts, and Kitten and I dug in.
Well, that was longer ago than I care to admit. But of course, it takes quite a bit of daily use before one can be absolutely sure of one’s opinion about a homeschool program — or at least, it does for me. Too many times a homeschool resource will look great in the catalog, and we’ll start it with high hopes only to bog down in the day-to-day grind and abandon it after a few weeks or months. So I wanted to give Math Mammoth a thorough workout before I wrote this review.
And all excuses aside, I really am a pro at crastinating…
My aim is to help parents and teachers teach math so our children and students can really understand what is going on. I’ve strived to explain the concepts so that both the teacher and the student can “get it” by reading the explanations in the books.
Math Mammoth books are worktexts, which means the explanations are included alongside the practice problems. (Worktext = workbook + textbook in one.) The program is structured as a systematic progression of topics with an emphasis on conceptual understanding and mastery of skills.
The Math Mammoth program is organized in a variety of ways, to make it easy for parents and teachers to buy exactly what we need. The books are color coded:
For this review, Kitten and I worked through the Light Blue Series books 4A and 4B, which cover the first and second semester of 4th grade math. Topics include:
- multi-step word problems and order of operations
- multi-digit multiplication
- long division and its applications
- problem solving using multiplication and division
- conversions between measuring units
- developing conceptual understanding of fractions and decimals
- geometry topics such as measuring angles, drawing polygons & circles, perimeter, and area of rectangles
There are no teacher’s manuals, but a User Guide that accompanies the book covers the basic principles of teaching with Math Mammoth and offers tips on getting started with the program. Each chapter begins with a page or two of notes to the teacher, summarizing the material and offering suggestions. Maria includes a variety of links (which are also available at her website) to online resources, enrichment websites, and games related to the topic at hand.
The worktext pages are not divided into daily lessons but are arranged according to the amount of practice required to master the concept at hand. Some subtopics may need only a page, while others span several pages. Kitten averaged about 2 pages per day, which was a good pace for finishing both books in a school year, even though we took frequent days off for Math Club or other activities.
The Math Mammoth program includes cumulative review pages and tests. Since I don’t do testing or give grades in elementary school, we skipped most of these.
I always designed the lessons in the books so that they would teach BOTH the parent and the child the processes and concepts of elementary math. Thus, the books contain very clear explanations, lots of visual exercises and pattern exercises that help children see the structure of mathematics and clearly understand the concepts of mathematics, instead of just memorizing rules.
— Maria Miller
[Click on each image below to see sample problems.]
What I Liked
I love the variety of problems Maria has included in her Math Mammoth books. Kitten especially appreciated the algebra problems, because algebra has always seemed more like a game to her than like schoolwork. Solving algebra problems in elementary school will make any student feel smart.
I was pleased with the quantity of problems, too — not so many that Kitten felt overwhelmed, but enough to give her plenty of practice on each concept.
I like the visually uncluttered pages with the work broken into “bite-sized” boxes. Pictorial models (including bar diagrams) are used as needed to illustrate concepts, but there are no extraneous pictures merely for decoration. The pages do not have the childish feel that some elementary textbooks have, so they could be used for remediation without insulting an older student.
I love the emphasis on mental math and the continual interaction between topics, both of which I believe help build a deeper understanding of math. Maria explains not only “how to do it” but also “why it works that way.” The books seem to me to have a nearly-perfect balance between theory and practice, concept and drill.
What I Didn’t Like
My biggest problem with Math Mammoth is not with the worktexts themselves — it’s the frequent references to the program as “self-teaching” (or “practically self-teaching”), both on Maria’s website and in other reviews. Kitten is a good math student, but the explanations in the worktext were too concise for her. She tended to skim over them, assuming she understood but missing important points, and then she would get frustrated when she made a mistake or got stuck on the practice problems.
There is no teacher’s manual to offer alternative explanations or suggest how to present a new topic. This is not a problem for me, of course, and I think that most parents who are confident in their teaching ability will do fine with Math Mammoth. (To help you out, Maria is producing math video lessons. And if you have a question, she is good about answering her email.) But parents who want scripted lessons or detailed guidance should look for a different program.
We had a few minor issues, as well. Kitten often complained that the answer boxes were too small for her handwriting, and I occasionally took dictation for her. Also, she couldn’t understand Maria’s inconsistent use of the equal sign — some exercises include equal signs, while others just show an expression with space for writing the simplified version. A bit of a perfectionist, Kitten felt compelled to write in all the equal signs before working each page.
Finally, our edition of the books had several typos. Kitten enjoyed playing “editor” and finding the mistakes. (Did you spot the error on the subtraction worksheet above?) One advantage of e-books is that it’s easy for the author to make corrections, so I’m sure this is less of a problem with the current edition and will get even better as time goes on.
Kitten and I found the Math Mammoth books perfect for Buddy Math, which is her favorite way to have a math lesson. We sat together on the couch and discussed whatever was on the page, and then we took turns doing the problems out loud, checking each other as we worked.
There is no schedule provided, but we didn’t need one. Our family rule of thumb is to do 10 minutes of math a day per grade level, so Kitten had 40 minutes to fill. This averaged 2-3 pages a day, depending on the topic and on how many conversational rabbit trails we followed.
We often worked these pages at different places in the book for the sake of variety, keeping track of our progress with Post-It bookmarks. Kitten and I are both easily bored, and one page of multi-digit multiplication or long division was all we could handle at a time. So we mixed it up with fractions or geometry.
One reviewer wrote: “This is Singapore Math for the rest of us… The best elements of Singapore — the art of math evident in puzzles and looking at problems from a variety of directions — is still very much intact. It’s just easier to swallow, somehow.”
I think she’s right, and this Singapore Math fan has converted. I still love the Singapore books for their word problems and bar diagram models, but I remember struggling with them when Chickenfoot was learning long division. We ended up dropping the program for several weeks to slog through worksheets from an online generator. Thanks to Math Mammoth, Kitten had a (relatively) easy time mastering long division. I’m impressed!
Buy, or Don’t Buy?
- If you want a scripted math lesson or a detailed teacher’s manual that will walk you through the topics, look elsewhere. You will not be happy with Math Mammoth.
- If you want lessons that include a continual review of past topics (à la Saxon Math), Math Mammoth will not fit your bill.
- If you want a program that you can hand to your child to do independently, I don’t think you will be happy with Math Mammoth, either.
- But if you want an affordable, no-frills program that will cover the basics of math with an emphasis on understanding concepts and enough practice to help your student master the skills (and challenge problems here and there for spice) — then Math Mammoth may be a great match for you.
- And if you are a classroom teacher looking for supplemental worksheets for extra practice or to challenge students who finish assignments quickly, check out the Green or Golden Series.
Putting my money where my mouth is: I bought the Golden 5A and 5B books, which have been a great addition to Kitten’s 5th grade work. I expect we will continue using Math Mammoth as part of our rather eclectic (hodge-podge?) math program for at least the next couple of years.
If you think you may be interested in the Math Mammoth curriculum, be sure to take advantage of Maria’s generous offering of free samples. Try out the lessons and see how you like them. If you are not sure whether you can teach from the program, even after trying the free worksheets, then start with one of the topical Blue Series books, with prices as low as $2.
Additional Math Mammoth Links
- Math Lessons and Teaching Tips
- Is Math Mammoth aligned with any state standards?
- How does Math Mammoth compare with other homeschool math curricula?
- Placement Tests for Math Mammoth Complete Curriculum (Light Blue)
“Follow the money” disclosure: This is not a paid review, but Maria was kind enough to send me a free review copy of the 4th grade books.