Review: Algebra for Breakfast

We’re all about finding different ways to make Math fun and easy, so I was happy to be able to review Algebra for Breakfast. I wasn’t sure what level Raine should be on, since we’re on the tail end of fourth grade, so they kindly granted us access to both levels, Grades 3/4 and Grades 5/6.

Algebra for Breakfast
What it is (and who used it)

Algebra for Breakfast (AFB) is an online algebra supplemental program that makes use of manipulatives (it uses Mortensen blocks—more on this later—number cards, 12-sided dice, and regular dice), videos and worksheets to “connect the dots of Math and learn Algebra in a fun and extremely effective way.” You sign up for monthly membership to access the online videos and worksheets; and one option includes the huge box of Mortensen Math Blocks, with dice and skip count songs CD, with the first month for $122, and $22 every month after that. It will be difficult to fully appreciate the lessons without the blocks.

Raine, who just turned 10, and is almost done with fourth grade used the program, although Breeze listened and joined in occasionally.

Watching the video lesson.

The lesson setup

Most of the lessons have a video component, followed by exercises on downloadable worksheets (very few are just worksheets). The videos are of the AFB founder, Bob Hazen conducting a class, so you feel like you’re sitting in that class. Bob explains a concept, mostly using the Mortensen blocks, and he asks the students in the video to follow along with their own sets of blocks. You are also expected to follow along as well. After the video—many are about 9 to 10 minutes long, a few are as short as two minutes—you get to practice what you learned, using the worksheets that you download and print.  Again, the blocks are crucial to the lessons, even when working with most of the worksheets.

Teacher Bob shows how to represent X with the blocks

Our experience: a quick rundown

Before the actual lessons for Raine, there were several video lessons for me (the parent): making a deck of number cards, and how to play the Math games like Addition War, Multiplication War, Integer Addition/Multiplication War, Math Dice Game, and Ten-Twenty-Thirty. These games are fun ways to help the kids look at number relationships, and help drill down foundational math facts. Breeze, who is nearly 7, loves these games also.

The Double Integer War game that Breeze loves.

We tried the first 10 lessons of Grade 3/4 first, which tackled basic concepts like Countables and Uncountables, First Name and Last Name, Are They the Same, Identifying the X-Square, and Skip Counting. Raine found them a bit too easy, so we moved up to Grade 5/6. The lessons were similar, but we quickly moved on to new topics like Over & Up, and Building Rectangles in Algebra. The next set of 10 lessons in Grade 5/6 start to move more into the Algebra that we know and love (or hate, depending on your experience): Trinomial Factoring, x and x2. The third and fourth sets of 10 lessons cover adding positive and negative numbers, multiplying polynomials, binomial factoring, multiplying positive and negative numbers and so on. We’re still on Lessons 11-20 as of this review.

Building rectangles: This square (a special kind of rectangle) represents x-squared + 5x + 6

At first, I let Raine do the lessons on her own. She liked the worksheets, but the videos, not so much. I think she found them a bit boring. So I sat down with her and we went through the videos again. I just kept up a running commentary as we watched—not even a particularly helpful one! “Take out your pieces…” Bob would say. And I’d exclaim by her side, “Quick, get out the pieces!” Then Bob would say, “OK, good job, Josh,” and I would say, “Quick! Josh is done! Come on, come on, do it before Drew!” (Josh and Drew, presumably, are students in Bob’s class, who do not have stage mothers hovering over their shoulders). Raine enjoyed the lessons more this way though, and she learned something, as evidenced by her correct worksheets.

One of the worksheets. Raine did not want to take out the blocks, so she drew them instead.

What we liked

I think I liked Algebra for Breakfast more than Raine did. I have been intentionally restudying Math so I can find ways to make it easier, more fun, and more applicable for my kids. I also don’t want to give them any Math hang-ups like I had when I was in high school and college. So I appreciate the way that AFB makes these abstract concepts tangible. I mean, I finally saw how x2 + 5x + 6 is equal to (x+2)(x+3). Looking for the real-life application of that, however, is another matter. But I digress.

I understand why having the Mortensen blocks are so crucial to the program. Seeing the different colors and sizes, feeling the ridged and smooth textures—these make the abstract real. It’s not just a matter of memorizing some facts; you can actually see those facts. You learn how to manipulate those facts when you build your rectangles, and eventually, you can manipulate them in your head. I liked how AFB brings it all together in the short lessons.

Algebra for Breakfast makes it easy to explain the difference between 3x + 7 and 7x + 3 (they aren't equal!).

At the start, Bob comes off like that strict, scary Math teacher whose class you dreaded to attend (but that could just be me and my issues). But several videos in, I’ve learned to appreciate his teaching style. He sometimes is funny, and the kids in his class seem really engaged.

We also got an album of skip counting songs, and I play it everyday. The kids love it. The skip count songs are also important to help memorize the multiplication facts.

What was so-so

Raine wasn’t too impressed with the videos, and I think it may have more to do with the cinematography (I can’t think of a better term) than the content. The videos have a home movie feel to them, and sometimes the images are unfocused; in one lesson, there were a few seconds that the camera was focused on a corner of the ceiling as Bob was speaking. Blocking was also an issue sometimes—it was hard to see what Bob was building or writing, or what the kids were doing. The sound quality also varied.

The verdict

I really like Algebra for Breakfast. It’s quite a revelation for me. I would like the girls to get into it more, so I figure I can sacrifice a few minutes for silly monologues while Raine watches the videos. I hope Breeze will pick up a few things as well.

Other families have also tried out Algebra for Breakfast. Click below to read about their experiences.


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