Every now and then, a new product is released that can make something
challenging into something fun and doable! It turns the "ho-hum" into "high
fives" and frustrated tears into confident smiles! The MathFire Ignite abacus
is just such a product!
Ignite is a very unique learning tool and math supplement
in that it is a combination of both an abacus and a number line,
and it uses sliders to provide visual and kinesthetic learning
opportunities. Made of durable wood, Ignite is both a
tool and a toy, but it is designed to help students (ages 4-7)
make the transition from counting to arithmetic. In fact, the folks
at MathFire, Matt and Char Fluster, have added the label "Addition
and Subtraction with a 21 st Century Abacus." They put a new twist
on an old idea--and it works!
Basically, the Ignite system lets each child move along
at an independent and comfortable pace at three different levels
of difficulty for each lesson. " The physical properties of length
and position enable the student to discover multiple approaches
to addition and subtraction. By moving a slider along a single
number line or moving it to another number line, student investigation
becomes student discovery." (from the MathFire website)
Beginning with the discovery and "play" stage with the abacus
and progressing up to subtracting nines, students benefit from
a solid mathematical foundation that will serve them well as they
learn higher math. Moreover, utilizing both visual and kinesthetic
tactics provides children who have different learning styles with
more opportunities to master and really understand the crucial
concepts of addition and subtraction. I like this a lot, as my
six-year-old son is definitely a kinesthetic learner. Because he
is able to both visualize and touch what is happening on the Ignite board,
everything makes more sense to him. The tactile element has made
a world of difference! I also like the way that different representations
of the same concept are presented.
Ignite comes with a teacher's manual and four workbooks, and the
complete set sells for $69.90, which I think is a very fair price
for what you get. The board and sliders are made entirely out of
wood, and they will probably last for generations! The manual and
workbooks are comb-bound 8-1/2" x 11" paperbacks. The consumable
workbooks are 55-75 pages each and contain number line exercises
for addition and subtraction, with adjustable levels of difficulty.
They can also be purchased separately. Replacement sliders are
available as well.
I personally like the fact that the Ignite system encourages
eventual independent learning and lots of motivation for students.
My son liked the Ignite Twins, Ignito and Ignita, the graphic "coaches" for
the program, and he thinks this way of learning is fun! I agree.
The Ignite is a modern day abacus made with wooden rods
that represent the different numbers one through ten. Each rod
rests on its own number line. Students can slide each rod within
its own number line or add it to number rods on another number
At first, students are encouraged to just play with the rods and
number lines. No previous knowledge of numbers or quantities is
necessary. Once they familiarize themselves with the board and
are ready to move on, parents can encourage addition at the student's
pace. Students can begin adding the "one" rod within its own number
line, or they can place it beside the "two" rod to see that one
plus two equals three, and so forth through the number lines.
In doing this, students are utilizing different modes of learning.
Sliding the rods is excellent for the kinesthetic learner. Working
with the corresponding workbooks is excellent for the visual learner.
Saying the corresponding number sentences out loud is excellent
for the auditory learner. Experts tell us that the best form of
learning, regardless of the student's preferred style, incorporates
all modes of learning styles. Ignite does this.
When students are ready to begin working with the corresponding
workbooks, they again work at their own comfort level and learn
their facts in three stages. Level one gives the number sentence
and a picture of the number line as well as a picture of the rod
they are adding within the number line. Students can color the
rod picture and then write the answer. Level two shows the number
sentence and the number line, but no picture of the rod is shown.
Level three continues to show the number line but introduces the
number sentences in random order instead of chronologically. Students
can go through the three levels of adding one and then go through
the three levels of adding two, etc, or they can go through level
one of each number, followed by level two, and then level three.
There are four workbook levels, and they take students all the
way from adding 0 + 1 to subtracting 17 - 8.
Ignite is different from many math curricula in that
it teaches the number facts one number at a time rather than in
fact families. Students learn that 0 + 1 = 1, 1 +1 = 2, 1 +2 =
3, etc. This is different from learning the different combination
of numbers that can equal 4, followed by the different combination
of numbers that can equal 5, etc. Either method works fine, but
it can be a matter of preference.
I found the teacher's manual to be a little irritating. Very few
instructions are scripted to the teacher, but it's not entirely
clear that they are scripted toward the student. For the first
half, teachers are apparently supposed to recognize the lesson
options available by reading dialogue between two imaginary twin
characters named Ignito and Ignita. As the characters describe
to each other the different ways in which they each learned with Ignite,
I took this as my cue to do the same as the imaginary "parents." Often,
I just read these segments to my children, but the dialogue was
not easily understood by them and required my interpretation. About
halfway through, the book transitions to dialogue directly to the
student, and there are no more instructions directly to the teacher.
While Ignite is made out of wood materials, it should
be noted that the board itself is made of a type of pressed wood
and has no finish to protect it. Ours began to flake at the edges
after a few months. But we treated it rather roughly, and this
can't be blamed on the product.
The Ignite board itself can be purchased for $39.95,
but the board plus workbook set rings in at $69.90. I consider
this a bit pricey when compared with other math curricula, especially
considering that Ignite covers only addition and subtraction
while other sets explore many more math concepts important for
beginning students. However, if you have tried other methods and
your hands-on learner hasn't found a method that clicks, this could
be a helpful addition to your line-up.