September 26, 2012

I’ve been wanting to write a review on this program for a while, but I struggled with whether I’d be able to seem impartial. I was one of those math students growing up that quickly memorized whatever algorithm was necessary to pass the math test, excelled at the test, then quickly dumped all the information from my brain the next day. I decided to go with a different approach homeschooling my kids.

And cue Hands on Equations. This manipulative system builds an algebraic foundation using the basic premise that an equation is like a balance scale with the equal sign as the fulcrum. I am embarrassed to say that it was an aha moment for me to guide my kids through the concept that if you added something to one side you have to add it to the other to make it remain equal. I mean, surely I could have thought this through—but I hadn’t really ever put that much thought in to solving a math equation. Those pawns seemed downright magical to me—and my children seemed like amazing math whizzes while under their power.

The Hands on Equation Deluxe Home Set – this is the set I have.

Last year I taught this for a small co-op with my kids and a few others and all of the kids caught on to it quickly and enjoyed going through the lessons. Warning: it is somewhat humbling to be outpaced by a 12 year old racing through an equation to ask you “Is this right?” before you’ve made it through the second step.

Many math programs claim to be good for either struggling students or gifted students but I found that both my “mathy” kid and my “I hate mathy” kid enjoyed and learned from this system.

I highly recommend making sure you get a kit that includes the verbal problems book. While some of the kids raced through the regular lessons I was always able to provide a challenge with the verbal equations. Some of the problems were basic enough that the kids could look at them and mentally answer them within a few seconds, but after teaching them how to set up these easy problems using the Hands on Equations manipulatives, they were soon able to use the program to answer word problems such as “Jen has 6 fewer dimes than three times the number that Helen has. If two-thirds of the number of dimes that Jen has is increased by 12, the result will be the number of dimes Helen has, increased by 18. How many dimes does each have initially?” I admit to having to look at the pictorial solutions for some of these problems (yay for teacher’s keys!).

I did not end up using the DVD as much as I anticipated I would. I am glad I have it, but if cost is an issue and you feel comfortable learning from text, the instructions for each lesson are really laid out very clearly in the manuals.

Just recently I discovered that there was a new app based on the Hands on Equation system. My kids are starting on pre-algebra this year and have finished all three levels of the hands on equations program but the app immediately appealed to me as a refresher course.

I was able to receive a promotional copy of the app so my kids could try it out. It is very basic and straightforward—but this is not a complaint! The balance scale and pawns were quickly recognizable for them. I love that there are video lessons included.

I think this app could be used completely stand alone if you do not have the manipulataive system. It may require a bit of parental involvement (which requires a parent to understand how the system works) but other than that it pretty much completely reproduces the three levels of the program.

The one thing I found lacking in the program was the ability to have multiple students working in the same level at the same time. I was able to work around this by just starting my mathy kid at a higher level, but if I had wanted them both to be working simultaneously at the same level it would have been a frustration. Perhaps they will add this feature in updates. (Hands-On Equations 1, 2 and 3 now have this feature, so that several students can use the same device and the app will keep track of the progress made by each student!)

I would also love to see either some verbal problems added to the levels or perhaps offered as a separate app. I hope if they do come out with this they also add a feature that will provide hints on setting them up!

Do I recommend the Hands on Equation app? Definitely. It is straightforward and no frills, but I’ve found that sometimes the apps with the most frills are a bit distracting and we end up wading through lots of glitz to get to the educational part of the program. If I had to choose between the app and the manipulatives I’d probably pick the original manipulative based program, but at less than $20 for all three levels, the app provides a cost effective way to use the program.

Hands on Equations has been the math “curriculum” that I most enthusiastically recommend. Although my kids went through the program as 6th and 7th graders, we could have started it when they were younger even if we needed to go through the levels slower. I think older kids who have already struggled with algebra might have things suddenly click after working with these manipulatives.

I LOVE Hands on Equations! There’s never been an approach to math that my kid has “gotten” so quickly. I hadn’t planned to, but now I will definitely check out the app. Thanks for the thorough review!