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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Review of Algebra for Breakfast, a Supplemental Math Program

Did you know that it’s possible to close your eyes and actually feel algebraic expressions with your fingers? Algebra for Breakfast is a video-based Math Enrichment program that teaches conceptual understanding through multiple forms of sensory input.  We recently had the opportunity to try out and review the Grades 5/6 level of this program.

Algebra for BreakfastAlgebra For Breakfast math supplement
What if math instruction were fun, made sense, and wasn’t based upon years of drill and kill arithmetic practice? What if kids could intuitively grasp complex algebraic concepts as easily as they can build and understand the area of a rectangle? This is what Algebra for Breakfast is all about.

The set up of this program is simple:

  1. Watch a video, following along with Bob Hazen as he teaches the concepts. You’ll want to get out your math manipulatives at this point
  2. Work through the carefully crafted worksheets.

Each video is under 15 minutes and most lessons have taken us less than 30 minutes to complete. Not every lesson has a video and some have multiple videos or an additional short video aimed at parents to direct your attention towards potential issues or other important points.

Topics Covered

Topics include: count-ability, operation sense, variable & constants, polynomial factoring, integers, exponents, and more. Yes, you can learn all these thing with math manipulatives.  You’ll find a list of topics here.

There are two levels: Grades 3/4 and Grades 5/6.

The method of delivery is the same, but the content covered is different and is designed to be developmentally appropriate for the level, with about 40 or so lessons per level (there is overlap between the levels). Older kids struggling with algebra may also benefit from Algebra for Breakfast.

Content delivery

Algebra for Breakfast is a monthly online subscription. Videos are streamed through the website. Worksheets and answer keys can be downloaded and printed. A full math manipulative set, Math Dice, and a skip counting CD are also an integral part to this program and can be purchased at the same time. You can find detailed purchasing options for Grades 5/6 here.
Content is unlocked over time. When you purchase your subscription, you’ll receive immediate access to “prep” videos that will show you how to make some math cards, plus various games that you can play with the cards and with the Math Dice. Once you have received your math manipulatives in the mail, you’ll inform AFB with a special code, and the lessons themselves will start to unlock progressively until you have full access to all the lessons in the level after 60 days. You’ll continue to have full access for as long as you keep up your monthly subscription.

The online interface is easy to use.

Once you log in, you’ll see tabs on the left for accessing the content.

algebra for breakfast screenshot menu

Select a tab to see a list of lessons.
algebra for breakfast screenshot
And select a lesson to go that page.
algebra for breakfast lesson page 1algebra for breakfast lesson page 2
Most, but not all, lessons will have a short (1-2 minute) intro video with Bob speaking directly to you, explaining what the lesson is about. 
algebra for breakfast lesson intro
These intro videos are well lit with good sound quality.
Most lessons also have a video of Bob working with kids in a classroom on the concept he is covering.
algebra for breakfast lesson video
Some of these teaching videos are edited to include inset close ups (love this!), but some are not. We felt that the sound and video quality on these was lacking. While Bob is wearing a mike (as you can see in this screenshot), there’s a lot of background noise in many of the videos, primarily from students getting out and sliding math manipulatives across desks or tables (it sounds like fingernails on chalkboard), and this noise is pretty distracting in some places.
On more than one occasion, we had difficulty reading what Bob was writing on the whiteboard due to glare and/or a dry erase marker that wasn’t dark enough.
We found that sometimes our streaming would hang up, but this is a hazard with streaming content in general.  I would love to see an option for temporarily downloading a video into a separate window ahead of time so that the video wouldn’t hang up in the middle when it runs out of buffer.
On one occasion, we had a video that refused to play beyond the halfway mark (it would stop and start over again). I never figured out why this happened, but we have not run into that particular issue again.

When you are ready, open the worksheets in a separate tab (or download them) and print them out.

algebra for breakfast worksheet

Many of the worksheets are hands-on activities that may or may not require writing from your kiddos. Sometimes they will build, say, or show you something with blocks and you will need to verify or correct each problem before they move on. 

Bob often refers to the principle of “SWYS, WWYS”: Say What You See, Write What You Say!

The use of multiple modes of sensory input is excellent for cementing concepts and demonstrating true understanding---this is the strength of Algebra for Breakfast.

I’ve been using the Grades 5/6 level with my 11-year-old as a math supplement 3 times a week. My 13-year-old has been joining us, as math is an area that she sometimes struggles in. Sometimes we literally do Algebra for Breakfast while eating breakfast.

What do we think of Algebra for Breakfast?

Bob Hazen understands that sometimes kids need to actually experience math, see it, and touch it, in order to get it.  His goal is to get them to explore and discover patterns, develop a strong number sense, and create mental pictures of the concepts. Algebra for Breakfast excels in doing this.

To that end, most of the lessons involve what is essentially guided play with math blocks, which makes it seems “easy” in the sense that you aren’t tackling a page of dull math problems.

If you have a child who is “allergic” to manipulatives (my 13-year-old is), this may not be a welcome addition to your math regimen, but I think most kids can benefit from this approach.  They love some of the card games (including Integer War) and they thought factoring polynomials with blocks was kinda fun---I have Algebra for Breakfast to thank for that.

After years of teaching math to my kids, I can see where he’s going with each lesson and how it fits into the whole. I like what I see.

So, playing with blocks, strong conceptual understanding, fun with polynomials…what’s not to like?

My kids grumble a lot over the videos. I don’t normally pay much attention to grumbling over math, but I would love to see updated or edited teaching videos. The video and sound quality interfere with the delivery of the content.

I would recommend using videos to train yourself and then doing the activities with your children. Mine have just found the difficulty reading the whiteboard and the loud background noises to be too distracting, so doing the teaching myself may prove less frustrating overall, but it does add a layer of teacher prep for me. I would much prefer to watch and learn alongside my children.

Overall, I think the content is good and worthwhile, I’m just iffy on the delivery.

Visit Algebra for Breakfast for more information, or visit the Crew blog for more reviews of Grades 3/4 and Grades 5/6.

Bob Hazen's Algebra Lessons {Algebra for Breakfast Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

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