Thursday, March 11, 2010

Critical Thinking's Balance Benders (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

This has been a pretty quiet "Review Week" so far--I have some new products, but we're not quite ready to post about all of them yet.

Here's one we've been using for the last couple of weeks:
Balance Benders from The Critical Thinking Co.

When I heard that the Review Crew would get to try out products from Critical Thinking, I didn't know if we'd get math, logic or something more unexpected. Balance Benders is kind of all three. We were sent the Beginning Level, aimed at grades 2-6; there are three more difficult levels covering grades 4-12+, 6-12+, and 8-12+. (That's typical of Critical Thinking's books--many of them come in several levels but get more challenging within each book.)

What I discovered is that these are what our family has always called "yogurt cup problems." This dates way back to The Apprentice's first year using Miquon Math, when I rigged up a balance made from yogurt cups. The idea was to play around with combinations of Cuisenaire rods and small objects, learning concepts such as "what you do to one side, you have to do to the other." Our balance never did work perfectly, but it was enough to get the point across, and the name has stuck. In the Miquon series you also get worksheets that show combinations of balls and cubes; you have to figure out things like if one big ball equals four small balls, and one cube equals two big balls, how many small balls would that be?

These are the same sorts of things. Each page has an illustration of a balance holding various combinations of shapes--maybe a square, a triangle and a circle on one side, and two squares and a triangle on the other. (Just for an easy example--there's an actual sample here.) You have to choose which of several statements would always be true about the equation that's illustrated--for example, that a circle equals a square. It's good practice in deductive reasoning, and it's also--at this level--sort of a pre-pre-algebra. Here's a sample from Level 3, for comparison.

Third grader Crayons--who, as I said, has had some Miquon and "yogurt cup" practice with this sort of puzzle--whizzed through about the first twelve pages (of about forty practice pages--the rest are solutions), and then noticed that the questions started to get a bit harder. I don't know if she'd rate these as totally "fun"--she's at a stage where "challenging" doesn't always equal "fun"--but I think they're worthwhile, if only to give her a different kind of math activity (that she doesn't see as math). I think they'd be helpful for elementary students (or maybe older ones, using the higher levels) who are a bit burned out on numbers but who wouldn't be as intimidated by shapes. Since we're not finished the book yet, I'm not sure whether she'll be able to handle the whole thing this year or whether it will start to get a bit beyond her. [UPDATE: Crayons finished the book in late spring, doing a couple of pages a week. The end of the book wasn't a whole lot more difficult than the beginning, at least not beyond mid-elementary capabilities.]

Final Take: An interesting addition to a math program, and not too expensive.

The price: US$9.99 each.

Dewey's Disclaimer: We received this product free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

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