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RightStart™ Math

Publisher: Activities for Learning
Author: Joan Cotter
Review last updated: 2013
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Right Start Math
RightStart Math

RightStart™ is an intriguing program that will probably really please some users and frustrate others. The hallmark of this program 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 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 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.

This program suits approximately grades K through 4. However, the scope and sequence is very advanced in some areas, so you might use the program with average students even in fifth and sixth grades. Remedial students might use it even later. Books are labeled Levels A through E corresponding to grades K through 4. Both Levels A and B are entry level books. Students need not do Level A before Level B since most of the concepts presented in A are repeated (albeit more rapidly) in B. Students beginning in Levels C, D, or E need to complete the appropriate lessons in the Transition Lessons book to learn the methodology of this program. (The first 22 lessons in Transition Lessons are completed before starting Level C. The next ten are also completed if a student will be starting into Level D. The last few transition lessons are labeled as to when they should be used with students starting into Level E.)

I would describe Right Start as trying to combine the breadth of topics described in the national math standards with the advanced mathematical thinking and pacing of curricula such as Singapore Math. It's an ambitious combination. It vaguely follows the typical scope and sequence, but many concepts are introduced earlier than in other program and are taught in more depth at younger levels.

For example, Level B begins with developing recognition of quantities up to 10 in the first six lessons. Then it moves quickly into place value, the concept of equations presented as two parts that make a whole, coins, the concept of "tens," even and odd numbers, counting by two's and skip counting for other numbers, the concepts of parallel and perpendicular, the concept of hundreds and thousands, rectangles (including congruency), right triangles, addition with carrying, subtraction, patterns, transformations, perimeter, measurement, estimation, time telling, fractions (1/2, ¼), and creating bar graphs.

Level E continues at this advanced pace, covering up through multiplication of fractions and long division (not unusual for this level), 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.

However, 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, particularly emphasizing place value in the earlier years and geometry.

Each level has a Lessons book. Levels B through E also have a separate worksheet book. Level A includes reproducible worksheets within the Lessons book—there is far less written work in Level A. Even Level E has only one or two worksheet pages per lesson. This is significantly less worksheet activity compared to a program such as Horizon Math.

Some parents have expressed concern that there might not be enough computation/math fact practice. While there are worksheets for children to complete and a few extra computation practice sheets in levels B, C, and E, students are actually learning their math facts in the extensive lessons. Also, Right Start instructs parents to frequently use the RightStart™ math card games card games both to teach and practice computation skills. (Think of the card games as you think of phonics readers for a reading program.) If a parent or child wants more worksheets, Worksheets for the AL Abacus is available for $20. This worksheet book has all the computational skills in it and goes along with the use of the abacus. And you can also add an inexpensive supplemental workbook on your own if you like.

As I mentioned earlier, Right Start teaches children to visualize concepts in a number of ways. Other methods besides visualizing are also used--a number of different approaches for 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. (Directions for the card games are incorporated into Levels A and B. Then you need the separate book Math Card Games to use alongside Levels C through E.)

The plethora of manipulatives and games makes the program expensive at the outset, but these same manipulatives are used throughout all the levels. The basic Manipulative Set includes the AL Abacus, place value cards, Base 10 picture cards, six special card decks, 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, and Angle Measurer. Two optional items sold separately are a set of wooden geometry solids and a set of plastic coins. The manipulatives are all reusable as are the Lesson Books. The only item you need to replace or purchase for additional students is the worksheet book. (Note that the calculator is used infrequently—not as a substitute for mastering computation skills.)

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. Even then, lesson prep time will still be higher than many other programs like A Beka, MCP, or Horizons Math because Right Start uses so many different types of resources.

I’ve had discussions with a few people who have used the program about the prep time. 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.

Actual lesson presentation also takes longer than most programs. This seems to be the biggest complaint—that math lessons might take two to three times as long as other programs to get through each day. I suspect that Right Start will work best for the parent with fewer children and more time available because of the preparation and presentation time required. After I first posted this review, a couple of Right Start users commented that they didn't think the prep time was as bad as I make it sound. Another parent who loves the program comments: "This course just sets all your ducks in a row; all your mathematical thinking is neatly ordered. In my opinion, this course helps people good at math to become geniuses and people not so good at math or who don't like math, to be highly competent. And because the lessons (I've done first three levels) require such intensive teacher involvement, that includes adults and children! I've never been better at math!" (from Kristi Celata). So even though it might take more time, it seems to be well worth it.

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 or better to that of most other programs.

I'm not thrilled with the idea of presenting so many different concepts to children in the early elementary levels. But I must say, that Dr. Cotter does an excellent job of integrating many of those concepts so that they become practical applications and opportunities to apply basic math skills.

If a child completes this program in fourth, fifth, or even sixth grade, he or she can move directly into RightStart™ Mathematics: A Hands-on Geometric Approach. Yes, this is a very unusual progression! This geometry course covers a great deal (but not all) of what is usually taught in a high school geometry course. ) 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 dimensionsal figures; the Pythagorean Theorem; right triangle properties; triangle congruency; and Fibonacci sequences. 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 is should take about one school year to complete.

There are three separate print components 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.

Students should be able to work more independently through Geometry than they can with the earlier levels.

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 over all progression of the program. Since this geometry course duplicates a good deal of what would 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. This would be especially true if you use a geometry course such as Discovering Geometry (from Key Curriculum Press).Yet, there will remain material to be covered at high school level that is not included in RightStart's course.

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) or into the Saxon's math series for junior and/or senior high school and does not want to use their new Geometry course. The previous Saxon lineup (sans the Geometry course) was weak on geometry in comparison to most other programs—in the explanations, explorations, and breadth of coverage. A student who gets their geometry foundation with RightStart should be able to easily handle the geometry in Saxon original series. On the other hand, Saxon's approach and philosophy is very different from that of RightStart. RightStart actually recommends VideoText Interactive Algebra as a more compatible program to use subsequent to their own materials. (Both RightStart and VideoText Interactive emphasize mathematical concepts and reasoning ability.)

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 Geometric Approach. Once the other two RightStart courses are complete, they should help remedy this problem. (Note that RightStart does recommend that children continue to use the card games while working through the geometry course, so this does provide some of that review and practice.)

RightStart should work well for Wiggly Willy students because of the extensive use of manipulatives. The variety of learning methods should appeal to both Wiggly Willy and Sociable Sue. It should also be great for Competent Carls who appreciate the logical progression and conceptual development.


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    • Learning styles: Competent Carl, Wiggly Willy or Sociable Sue
      Suitable for: one-on-one or group teaching
      Audience: grades K-6
      Need for parent/teacher instruction:
      Prep time needed:
      high at first, then lower
      Teacher's manual:
      Educational philosophy:
      hands-on, conceptual undertstanding (also emphasizing computation skill)
      Religious perspective:

    Publisher's Info

    Activities for Learning, Inc.

    PO Box 727
    Linton, ND 58552-0727