Algebra for Breakfast Review

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Algebra for Breakfast is an online membership site, based on base ten blocks, created by Bob Hazen. The website states that the program is for 3th-6th graders. The cost of the program runs $22 per month with content dripping to the student over the course of 90 days. While Bob does not mention Mortensen Math on his website, he was clearly Mortensen trained, it's his mother tongue. Even a casual observer will note the similarities between Crewton Ramone's House of Math and Algebra for Breakfast.

The website states that this program grew out of Hazen's Summer Algebra Institute camps where he continued to develop and expand his teaching beyond the base ten blocks by noticing 6 key principles that hold all of algebra together. Having taken the teacher training with Crewton Ramone and also having watched a lot of video of Crewton Ramone, the six principles were not clear as having been developed directly by Bob or separate from Mortensen. What is very clear, from all my research, is that Jerry Mortensen knew how to teach people to teach math.

My review will take place in 2 parts. The first is my general impression of the site itself. A screencast from inside the members area follows this review. The second part of the review is related to the content. I signed a non-compete/non-disclosure agreement, so I will limit my remarks to the quality of the teaching, content and its appropriateness for different situations. 

Website and navigation: The website itself is very simple to navigate. All components for each lesson are contained on one page. There is a form for questions on each lesson. When completed, simply hit your browser's back button to go to the next lessons. The video itself is well done. The audio quality is good. There isn't a lot in the video to distract a student. The lessons are video of Bob giving the same lessons before a class. As far as the site itself, there is little to complain about. It would be nice to have a members forum and it would also be nice if there was a way to track progress inside the members area, even if the lesson link simply changed color. Those issues are not serious enough to turn me off to the program.

Content: This is where I have mixed feelings. My gut instinct is that there is not enough material in Algebra for Breakfast to warrant its use for regular users of base ten blocks. Bob Hazen calls it supplemental. He thinks the program is best used 2 lessons a week. If you are using base ten blocks as your primary teaching tool, you will cover much of what Bob covers long before Bob covers it. However, that does not mean the content itself is not worth the cost. What I would love to see is an option for purchasing the program all at once or speeding up the drip time.

Bob has this whole idea of micro-lessons and slowly increasing the degree of difficulty down pat. He has the ability to ask the right questions and keep an entire classroom engaged. This is where I see the real value of the program. Ben Rogers is constantly talking about guided discovery. Some parents walk away from his training still wondering how to do that. Bob knows. I watched several videos and thought, "Yep, I can see how if I teach this it will solve that confusion down the road." And, "Oh, I hadn't even thought of teaching this separately, but that makes a lot of sense now that I see it." Bob lays a strong foundation for future understanding in math. I suspect the best use of Algebra for Breakfast is parent/teacher training. Even if you have to wait out the 90 days to get all the material it is only $66. But I would still like to see the option to purchase the material all at once. For people who plan to use blocks with an older student, this would make a wonderful first introduction to base ten blocks.

The other place I can see the benefit of Algebra for Breakfast is with a student who is either struggling with math or is already turned off by math. Bob has an unassuming air about him. The lessons are easy, which means it will give a struggling student the opportunity to build confidence. One should  not assume that easy is the same as worthless. Algebra for Breakfast introduces some serious math topics in a simple, non-threatening manner. While we won't be using it, I have no hesitation recommending it to the right person or to the right parent. The content is solid. In its present form, I don't think it is for most parents who are using any kind of blocks in their regular teaching of math. If you spend much time with Crewton Ramone you are going to cover the same material much more quickly.

Subjects covered can be found here.

[youtube id="A-tLHt9lcAk"]
  • Bob Hazen says:

    Clarifications: where Sonya wrote, “If you are using base ten blocks as your primary teaching tool, you will cover much of what Bob covers long before Bob covers it” –
    • The reference to “base ten blocks” carries with it the connotation of covering base ten arithmetic per se (perhaps this was merely an unfortunate choice of phrasing).
    • So, to clarify, in Algebra For Breakfast, we focus on an algebraic approach to math, so we DON’T do typical “base ten block” activities such as base ten place value, base ten regrouping (borrowing and carrying), two-digit or three-digit multiplication, base ten division, etc.
    • But we DO cover in very deep, memorable ways the VERY substantive algebra topics that Sonya mentioned in the link – unknown numbers (variables), polynomial identification, polynomial addition, quadratic factoring, binomial multiplication, operations with integers (+, –, and x of positive and negative whole numbers), and more. Plus all of this algebra is presented in ways that make better it easier to understand arithmetic.

    • Sonya Post says:

      Yes, Bob, that was an unfortunate phrasing. I wore the above review with a particular audience in mind. Not thinking this was going to impact more people than a small little group of math block junkies. Most people do not have the same experience I have with these things. I might rewrite this review in light of that or do a follow-up to this review.

      It is now several months after reviewing your site and I see much more wisdom in your approach than I did then. It was actually a throwaway comment you made that got me thinking about it. When someone asked you if you would use trig to teach basic math, you just dismissed the idea. There may be legitimate reasons for introducing trig to 8-year-olds or even younger, but there are bigger fish to fry. We are not factoring polynomials much anymore, even if my 5-year-old thinks they are fun. Factoring polynomials are seen more like candy, an occasional treat. I only have so much time and that time needs to be spent laying a strong foundation.

      In any event, given that you can make this stuff easy enough for a 5-year-old, I can whole heartedly give my approval to those who want to use Algebra For Breakfast with older children.

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