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Curriculum Details for
Family Math

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Practitioner Expert
Content Expert
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Content Expert Reviewer

Janet Vignaly
Janet Vignaly is a licensed mathematics teacher who taught high school algebra and geometry in Boston, Massachusetts and also worked with students in afterschool settings for extra help in math. Previously, she worked for four years in Nairobi, Kenya, as a primary school science and math teacher. There she also helped develop literacy and feeding programs for children in impoverished settings. She received her Masters degree from the Teacher Education Program with a focus on mathematics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


  • This reviewer focused on three components of the Family Math series: Family Math, Family Math II: Achieving Success in Mathematics, and The Middle School Years.
  • Topics usually taught in an abstract manner, such as factors, line segments, estimation, functions, and algebraic equations are used as part of games.
  • Such topics are introduced as faster ways to solve puzzles or discovered through exploration with manipulatives.    
  • Ideas in the books are varied in content and enjoyable to read.


Academic Skills
  • Algebraic and abstract thinking
  • Number sense, including fractions, positive and negative integers, multiples and factors
  • Geometry, including lines and line segments
  • Probability, specifically within the context of game playing strategy.
Study Skills
  • Using charts to organize data
  • Different ways of learning and organizing
Non-Academic Skills
  • Determination
  • Creativity
  • Self-reliance
  • Understanding math as it applies beyond a strict classroom setting

Alignment to Standards

Curriculum addresses National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards. Aligns well with most state standards and covers the expectations of the frameworks more deeply than most activity-based curriculum.


No formal assessments incorporated into the curriculum, although general suggestions for assessment, including performance assessment and portfolios, are included.


  • Family Math is adequately structured but is open to creativity.
  • Teachers may choose which topics and activities to run and in what order, according to students’ needs.
  • Content is entirely predefined by the books. Teachers do not need to add their own content, although they may tailor some of the ideas in the books to the content they wish to teach.

Addressing Diverse Student Needs

  • Curriculum is adaptable to students with different skill levels. For example, teachers can give groups more or less help or feedback, depending on skill level.
  • May be difficult to adapt to behavioral issues, if the response is to isolate students who are struggling work with others, as it would be difficult for a child to work on the activities on his or her own.
  • A teacher could also use an activity as a challenge to engage a student mentally and help him or her cool off after an incident.
  • Because the activities are so engaging, the teacher may be freed up to deal with behavioral issues as they occur.
Developmental level
  • All three curriculum reviewed are geared toward a specific age range, with additional age guidelines given for each activity.
  • Content is well-tailored to the developmental needs of the age group, as activities are given extension questions for more challenge or accessibility. Several of the more challenging activities remind the teacher that the student may not be ready for the topic, and it can be dropped and revisited later.
Learning Styles Addressed
  • Spatial learning; e.g. students measure the lengths of their shadows at different times.
  • Interpersonal learning: activities require students work with each other; e.g. students see immediate feedback on their guesses in various games, and are encouraged to discuss strategies.
  • Artistic learning; e.g. students plan and measure framing a picture, including colors and shapes.
  • Some activities, such as Mayan Mathematics, explore the mathematics of other cultures.
  • Throughout the books there are pictures of Black, Latino and white families, physically abled and disabled people, and characters with names from different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Some activities require students to translate words into algebraic expressions, which can be difficult especially for students whose primary language is not English.

Strengths and Challenges

Strongest Features
  • After instructions are introduced by the teacher, lessons are entirely student-directed.
  • Curriculum offers a variety of ways for students to engage in the topics, allowing them to gain familiarity and experience without having to drill or perform hundreds of problems.
  • Emphasis on group work and discussion trains students to break down multi-step and complex problems.
  • Game-like and exploratory environment encourages students to persist when faced with challenges.
Challenges and Drawbacks
  • Since Family Math is activity-rich, it is necessary to acquire a variety of props and set aside adequate time for planning. Material lists are, however, laid out for the instructor so there is no guesswork.
  • Answers are not given, so instructors need to be well-versed in the activities.

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