RightStart Mathematics - Activities For Learning

By Dr. Joan A. Cotter Ph.D.
www.Alabacus.com
www.RightStartGeometry.com
Hutchinson, MN 55350-6748
1-800-593-7030

RightStart is the right stuff for the primary grades. I wasn't quite sure how to start this review because I actually want you to read it, not just pass it off as just another math curriculum review. This program is very different and it may be able to provide just what is lacking in most North American math curricula today. Dr. Cotter started on this journey trying to answer some questions. Chiefly, why Asian students tend to jump ahead of North American kids by the middle of first grade, and why the gap widens with each year. There are many sound explanations but to really understand, Dr. Cotter decided to study how mathematics is taught in Japan in first grade. They have a national curriculum so there is little variation among teachers.

The result of this journey is RightStart Mathematics, an effective and different approach to mathematics. Incorporating differing methods from the beginning, even in how the numbers are named, RightStart will start your students off on a sure, strong footing that will enable them to grow sharper and more adept at their math skills every year.

The beginning of the program seemed so intriguing, I was captivated. I had to teach myself some new lingo and once I had trained my brain to accept something new, we were away and running. I was a bit skeptical that my son and daughter would be able to think the way this program was expecting, so I decided to test them. My son is nine and has been struggling with two-digit addition. So I told him, "Think in groups, don't count individually. Think of 13 as one ten three, and think of 19 as one ten nine." Imagine my surprise when he looked at me, said, "That's a good way, Mom," and proceeded to fly through the rest of his lesson. I was sold and I am sure you will be too. Let's start with some of the differences from traditional programs and some of the main characteristics of RightStart.

The first major difference you will notice is a new strategy for counting. Instead of counting individually, RightStart refers to quantities Have up to 3 as a group. The children learn to count with tally sticks or on the abacus and quickly learn to recognize numbers by groups of 5s and 10s. This emphasis on non-counting strategies is different, but the children pick it up very quickly, almost with a sense of relief. The special abacus used throughout the program is based on groups of five and 10 and it makes counting in groups very smooth and easy. Dr. Cotter had a test group of first graders who responded amazingly quickly to these new strategies. The results, when compared to first graders with conventional programs, were so compelling that I had to try it myself. I told you about my nine-year-old and his enjoyment of some new simple strategies, and I also started my four-year-old daughter counting by seeing two as a group, or three as a unit. She can pick out groups of objects easily and has a comfort around our math games that is wonderful to see. As in Dr. Cotter's studies I am observing in my children a natural ease with numbers and a way of visualizing math of which I had only ever dreamed. Dr. Cotter has obviously spent a lot of time observing and learning about how children learn, not just what they should learn. The results are evident, and the lessons just make sense.

As I mentioned earlier, your students will have a whole new way of "number speak." The children in Japan count differently than we do and it seems to make a big difference with the way they are able to handle large numbers and complex concepts at earlier ages. Numbers one through ten are the same, but after that the students are trained to see and think of the numbers as groups of tens and then some ones. For example, eleven, which often confuses young children, is simply one ten one. Fifteen would be one ten five, and 28 would be two ten eight. This very basic way of saying numbers works marvels with young children and even though they will transition back into "regular" numbers, starting out this way is logical and makes place value very easy for most children.

Another major focus of RightStart Math is the importance placed on place value. Approaching this concept after having learned to "think" in groups makes it much less intimidating for young children. They already know the concept, now they are learning to apply it. A lot of time is spent playing games and working with place value so the students can work with large numbers confidently.

I also love the emphasis placed on games, not worksheets for practice. The provided worksheets are just to reinforce - not teach. You will play many, many games with your children and they will be learning and strengthening skills the whole time. Children need time to think about what they have been taught and Dr. Cotter builds that thinking, pondering time into her lessons. She gives valuable, scripted advice to you as teacher for every lesson. Not just what to say, but why you are saying it - so you can learn and understand along with your child. The difference here with some of the more standard programs is pretty evident. You can actually see and explain to yourself the importance of introducing concepts in a certain order. This is a far cry from the oft heard reply-" I don't know why, you just have to do it this way!" I like to feel that someone is alongside me when I am doing math with my kids. With RightStart, I have independence to set my own timeframe, but absolutely no worries that I will miss an important skill along the way.

Using manipulatives in this program just makes it all the better. The kids' eyes light up when the abacus comes out and they can't wait to get their hands on the sticks, tiles, cards, etc. All the manipulatives are well thought out and are very useful. They are all familiar products, and they are perfect complements to a great program. I really recommend the whole package with the balance scale, abacus, and all. To try to do it without them is like peanut butter without jelly.

The early lessons put a lot of emphasis on games and practice through these games. You will find games for one, two, or more to play at a time. I was playing the basic addition memory game with my nine-year-old and we both had fun. It wasn't at all boring and his speed and skill increased visibly. The games book and packet of cards are wonderful components, and they set the stage for further enjoyment and further learning. I really enjoyed the money cards and games, because making change is something I needed to practice too. You will find a vast variety of games in this book and most of them would complement any program you are using. Most of the cards are in the packet, but there are some in the appendix of the games book, ready for copying and using for as many students as you have.

You needn't worry if you have a student older than Kindergarten that you would like to start on this program. The main RightStart course is designed for Kindergarten through fourth grade, but there is a wonderful book called Transition Lessons that is for those beginning the program after first grade. In the Transition lesson book, Dr. Cotter basically gives a crash course in the lingo and thinking of RightStart. She spends time teaching the basic counting strategies and then moves fairly quickly through the "meat" of the program, so the children in second, third, or even fourth grade can benefit from this teaching and not be bored with too many worksheets that they don't need. This book is where I started with my son and he is doing really well. I plan to move him into Book E for fourth grade and then carry on into the Geometry program. I can't wait to see what Dr. Cotter will come out with next.

A new addition to this program is the fantastic introductory geometry course. This program uses 'real' tools such as a drawing board, compasses, rulers, and even a T-square to introduce and develop the skills necessary for geometry in high school. This program is like icing on the cake for me and it is already a very delicious cake! Dr. Cotter introduces basic geometry throughout the RightStart program, this new addition takes that intro to the next level and provides sound instruction and lots of practice as your middle schooler builds his knowledge base in the lead up to high school. You can check out the geometry program at www.RightStartGeometry.com

I highly recommend RightStart Mathematics. Dr. Cotter has done an amazing job and I could go on and on about all the nuggets I find every time I open these books. For the first time since I starting home schooling, I am confident that my young students have been given the best start possible - RightStart! Do check it out, and feel free to e-mail with any questions you may have.

-- Product Review by: Heidi Shaw, Staff Reviewer; The Old Schoolhouse Magazine