My son loves math, but Beast Academy is the only math book that he’s ever begged to read.
After all, most math curricula don’t include problems that start
The combined cost of a slingshot and a grapefruit is $23…
And I’ve certainly never seen any other math book that includes references to Alex Trebek, The Princess Bride, and Star Wars. (Not to mention comic book monsters with distinct personalities, including a two-headed custodian named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)
But, don’t let the humor and the adorable cartoon monsters fool you. Beast Academy is not only a serious math curriculum: it’s the most challenging math program available for these grade levels.
In this review, I’ll explain what makes Beast Academy so different from other programs and help you decide whether it’s a good fit for your family.
(Psst…Have you already decided to use Beast Academy? Click here to receive your 1-page guide to using Beast Academy. )
Beast Academy is published by Art of Problem-Solving as a lead-in to their rigorous middle school and high school textbooks. Eventually, Beast will be a comprehensive curriculum for grades 2-5, with four guides and four practice books per grade. As of this writing, you can buy grade 3, grade 4, and most of grade 5.
Beast Academy Guides
The Beast Academy guides serve as textbooks in the series, but they are unlike any textbook I’ve ever seen before. They are full-color, graphic-novel-style softcover books that tell the story of four “beasts” who attend Beast Academy. We follow the four as they attend classes and puzzle over the problems posed by their instructors. Each of the students and teachers has a distinct personality, with lots of humor sprinkled through the text. My favorite so far is the cover of Guide 3D:
The guides use many everyday contexts and visual representations to encourage children to think deeply and understand what they’re learning. Kids can’t just memorize procedures when they have to apply their learning to so many different situations. For example, here are three different ways that the final chapter of 3B presents the distributive property:
Throughout the guides, stop signs in the text remind kids to stop and solve the problems themselves before they read the characters’ answers. The books often provide multiple solutions to the problems to help kids learn to think about math concepts flexibly.
Each guide is divided into three chapters, with each chapter further divided into short sections that help develop the chapter topic. Rectangles in the guides show when the student should stop and complete the corresponding pages in the practice book.
While the guides introduce the concepts, the real substance of the program is in the practice books. Each chapter has 100-150 practice problems, ranging in difficulty from very basic practice problems to “double-star” problems: challenging multi-step problems that often require quite a bit of time and thought. Overall, Beast Academy has far fewer basic computation problems than other curricula. Instead, basic skills practice is incorporated into the more complex problems.
There are no specific review pages, but previous topics are constantly revisited in new contexts. For example, perimeter and area are introduced in 3A. Then, both topics are reviewed in all three sections of 3B and 3C (in contexts ranging from variables to perfect squares) and again are the focus of the final chapter of 3D.
Support for Parents
In Beast Academy, all of the teaching is done in the guides and practice books, with no teacher’s guides. Instead of teaching lessons, the parent’s role is to discuss the material and encourage and coach the student as he or she tackles difficult problems. At my house, my son and I always read through the guides together, stopping to discuss as we read. I often sit with him as he solves the more difficult problems in the practice book and solve them myself as well so we can compare answers and solution methods.
Unfortunately, there are no teachers’ guides or other helps for parents using Beast Academy. However, the practice books do provide a full solutions guide for all practice problems, sometimes even with multiple solutions. For the starred and double-starred challenge problems, the practice books also provide hints to help kids get started when they’re stuck.
Using Beast Academy requires a very different approach to math than the traditional textbook method.
In some ways, this approach is more relaxed, and in other ways, it is more rigorous. It’s relaxed because the focus is on thinking deeply about fewer problems, without much routine practice. But, it’s more rigorous because it requires children to stretch their brains and apply their knowledge in a variety of ways. These problems aren’t just your typical word problems!
Children who are used to whizzing through a worksheet may be frustrated at first to find that they have to work much harder, and that they may not be able to solve every problem. (It can be hard for parents to watch, too–just ask me how I know!) But learning to struggle builds perseverance and a growth mindset, which pays off a lot in the long run.
How much time does Beast Academy take to teach?
Children typically spend 30-45 minutes per day solving problems. Also plan to spend twenty minutes once or twice a week reading and discussing the guide, and at least five minutes a day discussing the problems your child has solved. If your child needs a lot of support and hand-holding when tackling difficult problems, this could take more time.
What type of learner thrives with Beast Academy?
Beast Academy is a great fit for children who do well in math but are easily bored with lots of repetitive practice. The program requires patience and perseverance for difficult problems, but it also helps to build patience for children to whom it doesn’t come naturally.
I do not recommend Beast Academy for children who struggle in math (and neither do the authors.) If you think the comic book style would appeal to your child, but you’re not sure it would make a great main curriculum for your child, the Guides make a great supplement.
How much does Beast Academy cost?
A full year of guides and practice books (four of each) costs $108. No manipulatives or other resources are needed.
If Beast Academy doesn’t sound like fun for you and your child, don’t use it! There are plenty of other excellent math curricula that follow a more traditional format.
But if your child loves to wrestle with interesting, thought-provoking problems and thrives when concepts are presented with lots of context and visuals, Beast Academy might be a great fit. Despite the cartoon monsters and jokes, it is a thorough, rigorous curriculum that prepares children well for higher-level math.
Updated April 2016.
My curriculum disclaimer: You know your children far better than I do! Please take my advice with a grain of salt and use the samples to decide whether the curriculum is a good fit for you and your child. This review is my honest opinion–I don’t make any money off of any purchase you make. I have previously done a small amount of freelance work for Beast Academy but otherwise do not have any affiliation with the company.