Algebra for Breakfast Review
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.