I was already somewhat familiar with the Critical Thinking Company, having used the Mind Benders Logic Puzzles with both of my boys. Prior to this review, I had looked at some of their other products for math and reading, but never used any of them. For this review, we got to check out Balance Math Teaches Algebra.
The mission of the Critical Thinking Company is to “empower the mind” of students without using drill and memorization. Balance Math does this by teaching Algebraic concepts using “puzzles” that students solve. In order to use this book, students will need to understand how a balance scale works, but don’t worry if you don’t have one handy!! The book actually begins with problems that illustrate this concept, and there is another reference page in the back students can refer to if needed.
Lessons start of with simple equations (i.e. if X=50, then what does XX=?). The problems each have an illustration and a “proof” that students fill out as they complete the problem. The proof simply explains the illustration using words, and walks students through solving the problem. This is very useful for getting the hang of things as you begin working through this book. As you move through the book, problems get more complex, and students begin to solve multi-step equations (some even involving fractions 🙂 ).
The age guidelines for this book are 4th-12th+. I think that if you had an advanced 4th or 5th grader, they would do well with this, but other students this age would likely need a lot of parental support, at least at first. I was always good at algebra, but I had to read through the first six proofs a few times to wrap my head around how balance math works.
I used this program with my 8th grade son, who is struggling his way through pre-algebra at the moment. He is simply not a “mathy” kid. He doesn’t do really poorly at math, but it does take him more time to get concepts, and for some reason, algebra is just not “clicking” with him (geometry, well that’s another story!). When I showed him this book, at first, he was really confused. But, after I went through the first few pages with him, he did really start to “get” it. It was like visualizing the idea of the balance scale just helped the concepts to make sense!
He still did need my support as he got into the multi-step problems, but even then, after I helped with a couple, he was fine. Now, the first time I had him do algebra from his textbook after this, he did use scratch paper to draw a “balance” scale of his own to work out the problem, but he got the right answer, so I am definitely not going to complain!
Balance Math Teaches Algebra costs $14.99, and contains about 50 pages of activities. I don’t think it could be used as a stand-alone math program, but it would definitely work as a supplement, especially if you have a “visual” learner who is struggling with algebra. You could also use it as summer program, if you wanted to just give your kids some “light” work to practice with. There are also other levels of Balance Math you can use as well. I think $14.99 is a great price for something that helps your child to understand a concept they have been struggling with! It is great to see the relief in their eyes when they “get” it!!
You can learn more about Balance Math Teaches Algebra and other Critical Thinking Company products here:
To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this, and other CTC products, click here:
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.