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RightStart™ Math

Publisher: Activities for Learning
Author: Dr. Joan A. Cotter
Review last updated: August 2015
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RightStart Level A

RightStart™ is an intriguing program, comprised of Levels A through E plus Level G, corresponding roughly to a program for kindergarten up into junior high. Level F is due in 2017. Levels A through D (published in 2013-2015) are available in the revised second edition, and the second edition of Level E is due in the summer of 2016. Level G does not need to be revised and remains as the first edition. At this time, first editions for all levels except F are still available, but I recommend the second editions for most situations.

The second edition is more user-friendly than the first edition. The scope and sequence and presentation have both been adjusted to reflect new discoveries about how children learn and to better align with the more advanced scope and sequence of most newer math programs. This is particularly evident in Level A where the first edition has 77 lessons while the second edition has 132. The additional lessons address topics such as subtraction and fractions.

The scope and sequence is a bit different than other programs, and children should move through it at their own pace rather than treating each book as equivalent to a particular grade level. The scope and sequence is very advanced in some areas, so you might find that your child needs to work in what might be considered a lower level book. Remedial students might start at a lower level.

First edition books require students who are shifting into the program past Level B to complete the appropriate lessons in the separate Transition Lessons book to learn the methodology of this program. (The first 19 lessons in Transition Lessons are completed before starting Level C. The next 15 are also completed if a student will be starting in Level D. The last 21 transition lessons are labeled as to when they should be used with students starting into Level E.) The second edition courses build in review lessons at the beginning of each course that will familiarize those new to the program with its unique methodology. This eliminates the need for the Transition Lessons for those beginning with the second editions.

Levels A through E use the same set of manipulatives, all of which are non-consumable. So you need to purchase the book bundle for a level and the set of manipulatives if you don't already have them. While the initial cost seems high, keep in mind that the investment is spread out over years. Additional children who will use the program need only a new book of worksheets, which is very inexpensive. (If you purchase the ebook for worksheets, that expense also disappears.)

Levels A through E

One of the hallmarks of this program for Levels A through E is the AL abacus, a specially designed abacus used throughout program. This particular abacus highlights a key feature of the program: its technique of teaching children to visualize numbers rather than counting. Children learn to quickly spot groups of five and think in terms of "five plus." This same sort of visualization (called subitizing) is used in other ways throughout the program.

But the abacus and visualizing are not the only things unique to this program. Designed by Dr. Joan A. Cotter, this program incorporates methods based upon research about how children learn. Like many other programs it is multisensory—using manipulatives, teacher-directed conversation, experiential learning, oral responses, constructed solutions (with manipulatives), games, and written work. However, the variety of manipulatives and the ways in which they are used, coupled with an unusual scope and sequence set this program apart from others.

RightStart uses a number of different approaches for teaching almost every concept. For example, in one lesson, children learn to solve simple equations like 3 + 4 with tally sticks, then with the abacus, then on the worksheet. They might use the math balance and the abacus in another lesson, then the balance, tiles, and a geared clock in another lesson. Simple card games are also incorporated into the curriculum.

RightStart covers the Common Core State Standards as a minimum but goes beyond the standards with advanced mathematical thinking and pacing such as we find in Singapore Math. Many concepts are introduced earlier than in other program and are taught in more depth at younger levels. It's an ambitious program!

For example, Level A (second edition) teaches addition and subtraction facts through 18, place value up to the thousands, mental addition, fractional units up to 1/10, telling time to the half hour, money (pennies, nickels, and dimes), measurement in both inches and centimeters, and geometry concepts such as cubes, cylinders, parallel, and perpendicular, This level includes an original song/book/CD, Yellow is the Sun to teach counting, visual number recognition (subitizing), and working with units of five. This ties in directly to instruction using the AL abacus.

Level B (second edition) spends a significant amount of time on addition and subtraction, but it also introduces multiplication as arrays. As early as Lesson 27, students are adding numbers such as 40 + 10. They also learn about topics such as even and odd numbers, skip counting, the concepts of hundreds and thousands, parallel and diagonal lines, rectangles, right triangles, equilateral triangles, symmetry, addition with carrying, patterns, transformations, values of coins, perimeter, measurement, time telling, fractions (up through writing equations such as ½ of 12 = 6), and creating bar graphs.

Level C (second edition) begins with review then introduces an “Addition Table” as a tool for helping children understand relationships between addition facts. It continues with topics such as evens and odds, Roman numerals, “trading,” adding several two-digit numbers, adding four-digit numbers, arrays, multiplication, area and perimeter, subtraction with two-digit numbers, geometry related concepts (e.g., drawing horizontal lines and dividing equilateral triangles into fourths), telling time to the minute, money (including making change), measurement, line plots, area plots, working with tangrams, introductory division, fractions, negative numbers, and algebraic thinking.

Level D (second edition) spends a good deal of time on skills that will be needed as students move into more complex math. For example, they become very familiar with multiplication facts as well as patterns of multiples for each number. Then they begin work on factoring. Division with remainders is taught, but less time than I expected is devoted specifically to division. Other topics covered include fractions, measurement in both the metric and U.S. customary systems, geometry (including work with drawing tools), time, money, charts, graphs, and problem-solving skills.

Level E (first edition) continues at this advanced pace, covering up through multiplication of fractions, short division, and long division, while also teaching percents, decimals, square root, mean/median/mode, and probability along with advanced geometry concepts like working on coordinate graphs, perimeter and area of polygons, constructing polygons, measuring and constructing angles, and constructing isometric drawings.

These lists almost misrepresent the content since Dr. Cotter uses her own unique vocabulary for teaching some of these concepts, integrating concepts with each other more than you find in most programs. Her goal is to lay a much stronger foundation in mathematical thinking and understanding.

Each level has a Lessons book and a separate Worksheet book. There is significantly less worksheet activity compared to most programs. Much of the practice and drill takes place through learning activities and games. Because of this, RightStart should work especially well for those who don’t like to do a lot of writing. Worksheet books are available as either printed books or as ebooks. Prices for ebooks are higher than for printed books since pages can be printed out for many students.

RightStart instructs parents to frequently use their math card games that come with the manipulatives set. (Think of the card games as you think of phonics readers for a reading program.) The set includes the Math Card Games book with instructions for more than 300 games plus a DVD with videos demonstrating some of the games.

RightStart Manipulatives Set

The same manipulative set is used throughout Levels A through E (and a few might still be used at higher levels). The basic manipulative set includes the AL Abacus, place value cards, base 10 picture cards, six special card decks for math games, fraction charts, Drawing Board Geometry Set, geoboards, color cubes, colored tiles, calculator, geared clock, math balance, tangrams, centimeter cubes, 4-in-1 ruler, folding meter stick, goniometer (angle measurer), a set of wooden geometry solids, and a set of plastic coins. (Note that the calculator is used infrequently—not as a substitute for mastering computation skills.)

You’ll need to supply some household/school supply items in addition to the items from RightStart. These include such things as scissors, colored pencils, thermometer, digital clock, wide paper, and a measuring tape.

Periodic assessments are included, but these are often interactive using manipulatives as well as written responses, so they don’t seem at all like typical tests.

As you might have guessed, this program requires a great deal of one-on-one or group presentation. This is not a curriculum for independent study in the early grades. The parent/teacher must familiarize him or herself with the methodology and the concepts to be taught in each lesson beforehand. Because the methodology is unique, this will take more prep time when you start into the program, then less as you move along.

I’ve had discussions about the prep time with a few people who have used the program. One mom told me that she thought it unnecessary to really try to understand the methodology before starting. She thinks it works fine if you just prepare and present lesson by lesson. She’s comfortable with picking it up as she goes. Another parent felt the opposite. She wanted a grasp of the “big picture” before she was comfortable starting to teach. I’m in the latter camp. I think this “teaching style” preference is something to consider if you are concerned about prep time. If you can work with it, learning as you go, then your up-front prep time drops considerably.

A free placement test is available on the publisher's website. Please take into consideration the advanced pace and concepts of this program. Because it covers so much and even teaches some concepts not typically taught before junior high or high school, you might take longer than one school year to complete a level. I think that a child completing Level E in fifth grade would be functioning at a level equivalent to or higher than that of most other programs.

RightStart also sells supplements that address specific topics, each of which includes some sort of hands-on-learning. These are Fractions Kit, Money Games Kit, Clock Games Kit, and Arithmetic Kit and Worksheets for the AL Abacus.

Level G

If a child completes Level E in fourth, fifth, or even sixth grade, he or she can move directly into Level G, also titled RightStart™ Mathematics: A Hands-on Geometric Approach. Yes, this is a very unusual progression and it might be too much of a stretch for some children. Level F should ease the transition when it becomes available in 2017.

Level G reflects the shift toward teaching more geometry before high school level, although it also covers a number of concepts usually taught in a high school geometry course. The course says that it is designed for students in the intermediate grades (grades five through eight) and it shows NCTM standards met for those grade levels.

Among concepts covered are the construction of polygons, circles, tangents, bisectors, angles, arcs, etc., finding perimeter and area of polygons and circles; determining volume of 3 dimensional figures; the Pythagorean theorem; right triangle properties; triangle congruency; Fibonacci sequences, and an introduction to Trigonometry. Many basic postulates and theorems are presented although not named as such. There are no formal proofs, although solutions in the answer key are written out sequentially similar to the way you might do it for a proof. With 165 lessons in the course, it appears that it should take about one and a half school years to complete. The publisher recommends that half way through the program a pre-algebra program is introduced, which slows the pace of the program.

The publisher says: “This program incorporates other branches of mathematics, including arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry. Some lessons have an art flavor, for example, constructing Gothic arches. Other lessons have a scientific background, sine waves, and angles of incidence and reflection; or a technological background, creating a design for car wheels. Still other lessons are purely mathematical, Napoleon’s theorem and Archimedes stomachion. The history of mathematics is woven throughout the lessons. Several recent discoveries are discussed to give the student the perspective that mathematics is a growing discipline.” (

There are three books for this course: Lessons, Worksheets, and a Solutions book. RightStart™ Mathematics: A Hands-on Geometric Approach is a hands-on, discovery type course. Students make constructions (drawings), compare, and discover mathematical principles—an approach I consider very effective for learning geometry. Because of this, students also need the Geometry Set of tools for the course. It includes a small drawing board, T-square, two triangles, an arc compass, a 4-in-1 ruler, angle ruler, and removable tape. The Starter Kit Level G includes the three books, the tools, a set of Geometry Panels (geometric shape manipulatives), and a Casio calculator FX-300MS. The optional deluxe drawing board should be very helpful, but it is not essential—it is included in the deluxe kit.

Students should be able to work more independently through A Geometric Approach than they can with the earlier levels. If need be, students may call RightStart for assistance with their lessons.

I have to admit to a bit of skepticism about an average fifth grader's ability to handle this course. Some of the explanations are a bit complicated and confusing, even for older students. I have another concern about the overall progression of the program. Since this geometry course duplicates a significant amount of what will be covered in high school that means most students will end up wasting time repeating coverage of topics to meet a geometry requirement for high school.

On the other hand, I can see where A Geometric Approach might work very well for a student who moves into a proofs-based course like Jacob's Geometry (from W.H. Freeman). RightStart recommends VideoText Interactive Algebra as a more compatible program. They actually recommend that students start working in VideoText Interactive Algebra when they are about halfway through Level G.

While RightStart's geometry course requires students to use some of the arithmetic skills they have learned, it lacks any sort of systematic review. Since children coming out of the RightStart program for the earlier grades have covered so much material, it would seem prudent to continue with more practice and review of those concepts more than occurs within A Geometric Approach. I assume that Level F will fix that problem. (Note that RightStart does recommend that students continue to use the card games while working through the geometry course, so this does provide some of that review and practice.)


RightStart’s second edition courses make a good program even better. The development of conceptual understanding is outstanding. It should work well for a wide range of students because of the variety of learning strategies.


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    Instant Key

    • Suitable for: one-on-one or group teaching; independent learning for Level G
      Audience: grades K-8
      Need for parent/teacher instruction:
      Prep time needed:
      Teacher's manual:
      Educational philosophy:
      hands-on, conceptual understanding
      Religious perspective:

    Publisher's Info

    Activities for Learning, Inc.

    PO Box 727
    Linton, ND 58552-0727