Algebra for struggling math student – MUS or Jacobs or LOF?

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  • Wings2fly

    Can anyone please share their experience and opinions on teaching Algebra for a struggling math student?  He wants to know why he needs to learn it and needs to see real life examples/applications/ word problems.  He needs lots of practice and review, too.

    I am considering Math U See because of video-based lessons and the good math reviews I have read, and it is recommended by SCM.  We tried Alpha long ago and he didn’t understand with the blocks.  Does that matter now?

    I am also considering Jacob’s because of good reviews, and it is recommended by Richele Baburina.  Do we need the videos?  What do we use for “Algebra II” after this book?

    We used RightStart through level C, then CLE Sunrise through level 703.  I supplemented CLE with Strayer Upton and he stopped asking why we need math.  But now, “why do we need algebra?”  So I need something for him to see its usefulness.  We also supplemented through the years with elementary Life of Fred.  Last year, we used Systematic Mathematics Math Rescue which didn’t “rescue” us as I hoped it would.  We supplemented that with Life of Fred pre-algebra Biology and Economics books, but it was still a struggle.  Can LOF Beginning Algebra be used as a supplement?  It seems that would be too much.  I am not sure about using it as our only math program.   Is it enough?  It is nontraditional and includes the author’s opinions on other topics mixed with the math teachings.

    (I was taught with Saxon.  I did well with it, but I just learned the steps and did it and never asked why we need to know it.  Actually…I thought it was fun, like playing a game or solving a puzzle.)


    Something I heard or read, I can’t remember where, maybe even on the SCM forum… It said something to the effect of learning Algebra is not just about learning math, but about learning how to sequence and break thingss down and follow steps. Teaching your brain to work through problems in a new way. Also teaching yourself to work through difficult subjects/tasks. My daughter is starting Algebra 1 with MUS and math does not come easy to her, so we have been talking about why we learn more challenging math that seems like we rarely use.

    As far as curriculum, we have only used MUS. Blocks are not used in Algebra (or pre algebra) so that would not matter. I have to say that my daughter needs some hand holding and encouragement so it is important that I watch the videos with her so that I am consistent in how he teaches it. I know random “tricks” that I jump to, but I need to make sure I follow his methods when helping her to not confuse her.

    My oldest son math comes easier so I can throw in my little tips/tricks and it does not confuse him.

    Maybe have your son watch the sample video. See if he likes they way they are taught. My kids like him a lot, and even saw him at a homeshool conference and thought it was great, but I also know it is not a one size fits all when it comes to what works.

    I grew up doing Saxon and I have really enjoyed MUS. I did well in math but MUS videos explain math much better than I ever could.


    I like to have one program going, not supplement with extras because, at least for my daughter, she would get confused. I have LOF pre Algebra books, a friend gave them to me, but I have not tried them. I think my son could handle the different methods, but my daughter needs to stick with just one thing 🙂

    Karen Smith

    We recommend MUS because it is the math curriculum we used. 🙂 My sons used Jacobs Geometry before there were videos available for it. Jacobs Geometry is excellent, but we chose not to recommend it because when my boys used it all that was available was the student text and the teacher manual which included notes for the classroom teacher for teaching and the answer key that was just the final answers to the problems, but not the steps to show how the problems were solved. Even though the text is written to the student, we felt that moms would feel more comfortable using a math curriculum that has more “hand holding” than Jacobs has.

    I have not seen Jacobs Algebra but if it is set up the same as the geometry course, then it would be an excellent choice to show why we need to learn algebra.  In Jacobs Geometry there are many examples of the practical use of geometry. I assume that Jacobs Algebra is similar.


    One of mine made it through MUS. The next one did half and finished up with

    My gifted learners did well with MUS or LOF.

    Currently we use Videotext. The explanations are good and all of algebra is taught together, which saves time.

    Hope to Learn

    Hello Wings2Fly!

    After Jacob’s Algebra 1, Jacob recommends his geometry (of course) and then Foerster’s Algebra and Trigonometry: Functions and Applications. 

    David Chandler with Math Without Boarders has excellent video teaching to go with Foerster’s.  In fact, we are doing his supplement with Foerster’s Algebra 1 and enjoying it a lot.  All you see is the whiteboard he’s working on – nothing else to distract you and it’s excellent teaching.

    As for “real life” with algebra, you could consider something like Making it Real by Maria Miller to supplement what ever Algebra you choose:

    Maria Miller has a good article on choosing Algebra curriculum (maybe your son would be receptive to reading it if you think it would help):

    Here is an article with websites with activities to make math real:

    He might be more open to something like Easy Peasy’s Algebra, as it says it’s “hands on” and “real world” math:

    Hope this helps!


    Hope to Learn

    Somehow a different link was on the recommendations for algebra by Maria Miller.   Here is the right link:

    There is also Reveal Math and Springboard, but they are designed for classrooms, but both have more activity based learning.  They both seem clunky on the teaching end to me.



    Paula Spicer

    I can only give my opinion on what we used.  I don’t know anything about MUS or LOF.  However, we used Foerster’s Algebra I and loved it.  The book explained a lot.  We did use Math without borders, David something, to help with some of it.  I will use it for the rest of my kids.  In fact, we are using the Algebra II and trig book now.

    We used Jacob’s Geometry and it was not good.  I can’t say what the algebra is like, but if it’s anything like the geometry, it did not fit us and we won’t use it again.

    I hate throwing another text at you, but I was blown away.  I wish I could have used this text in high school


    Alana Adams

    Two of my boys have used Life of Fred Beginning Algebra.  I was honestly a bit hesitant to use it as their primary text, but I’m so glad that we did.  I would have them complete the lesson and then teach it back to me so that I could be certain that they were really learning. (Ahem…I was a wee bit skeptical).  Sometimes we would have to work thru a lesson together.   But they did it AND they really understood it.  My oldest son (he is 23 and married now) has tutored students at our church’s Christian school using what he learned from Life of Fred.  The students that had been struggling said that they finally understood it!  My boys really enjoyed the LOF books…to the point that the 23 yo borrowed one the higher math books that he hadn’t completed during his homeschool years so that he could go thru it at his own house.  I really had to shift my mindset on how to learn math in order to use LOF, but our experience was definitely positive.


    Thank you all for sharing your experiences with teaching algebra.  I will consider them all.  I like how you use LOF, Alana.

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