Archive for November, 2011

A Family’s Exploration of RightStart™ Mathematics Level E and Level G

RightStart™ Mathematics Level E is the fifth and final year where the teacher is working with the child directly. The following year, Level G, the student will be more independent and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator than an active teacher.

Here is an email from Heidi, written April 1, 2011. As you read this, notice how the child and other family members are already starting to move towards a cooperative learning style.

     This is a note to tell you how much I’m enjoying the courses you’ve developed.  I was introduced to your program a year ago by a homeschooling friend and have had a wonderful time with my youngest son this past year in Level B.  In fact, I find your methods so interesting that I wanted to introduce them to my older son, and we’ve begun to work through Level E.  

     Yesterday we were poring over Durer’s magic square in Level E and he found some additional patterns! The next morning, my husband and son found more! How incredible is that? …

     When Nathan discovered the first set of corner patterns yesterday it was quite exciting, and we enjoyed more of it this morning together and wanted you to know.

What fun that father and son are excited over math patterns! Side by side, both are exploring and learning. Knowing that Dad is interested, excited, and intrigued by math, I’m thinking the son’s math focus is heightened.

She continues: My older daughter, … was so frustrated [with her current math program] that I thought if she did your geometry program she might move up to Algebra thereafter. I’m encouraging her to do several lessons a day.  She enjoys the artistic element of the work.  

     I know she is meant to read and discover for herself, which I’m encouraging her to do.  I am determined to order a workbook for myself and do the program as well as a refresher, as an example to her of my interest in understanding what she’s doing, and thus hopefully as a motivator.

This mother-daughter team is as effective as the father-son team. Dr. Cotter says it is helpful for two people to do the lessons together. Try to work as an “equal,” not as the “teacher.” After both people do the worksheets, compare the results and then look at the RightStart™ Mathematics; A Hands-On Geometric Approach Solutions. Having the parent/teacher stay ahead of the student is also a good idea.

Heidi concludes: After all these years, anything that seems like a word problem still paralyzes me.  On Worksheet 29 [of RightStart™ Mathematics; A Hands-On Geometric Approach], I had to look in the answer book to get me going.  

     Analyzing why I struggled, I realized that if I could first state my discovery, then describing the process was no problem.  I don’t know if I would have gotten to it without the teacher’s resource.  Do you recommend I let my daughter have access to that when she stumbles?  I’m afraid it might become too much of a crutch to her.  

     I suppose by working just ahead of her and understanding, then I can lead her to it with appropriate questions or even clearly stating my strategy.

Dr. Cotter responded to Heidi that It is fine for the student to use the Solutions to look at the answer, then go back and work the problem through. This is a common practice in college courses!

Also, let the student know that it is a good practice, after making an error, to write on the back of the worksheet page where they went wrong. With the wrong path identified, the correct path is more evident. Most importantly, remind the student that each lesson needs to be read, not once, but several times, just like a college textbook.

Finally, if a student has questions in Level G, RightStart™ Mathematics; A Hands-On Geometric Approach, they can email Dr. Cotter directly at Students who put “Math student” in the subject get answered first.

Enjoy your time with your child in Levels A through E. Level G will start them on the path of self-teaching.

Addition Games

Old Main Game (#A4)

This game is spin off of the popular child’s game Old Maid. Rather than pairs being matching cards, pairs are two cards that add up to ten. This helps the children learn and practice their math facts. More importantly, this will provide an application for the newly learned facts.

For each player, use a set of cards from 1 to 9, making sure there is an equal number of 5s. Without looking, remove one card from the deck and set it aside. This will become the unmatched “dead end” card that is to be avoided. Deal all cards to the players. If someone has one more card than another, that’s just fine.

In turn, each person will pick a card from the player on their left. If the new card creates a match (two cards equally 10), they may lay down the pair. If not, the second person will pick a card from the person on their left. Play will go round and round until the one “dead end” card remains.

One mom says “I had my friend’s two daughters (6 and 9) over today for a couple of hours, and with my own two (5 and 8 ) I thought it would be a good time to play a math game. It’s our first one with the kids. We picked Old Main (where the pairs make 10).

“It was a pretty big hit. I cruised around helping a bit, and they played a few hands quite happily. I was particularly relieved that no one was upset to have the last (dead end) card. Instead, our emphasis went to “Oh, Hannah has the mystery match! Okay, so what must the mystery card be?” The older two shouted out what the missing card had to be, we flipped it over, they were happy, and we went on to the next hand.

“Abigail (6) was the cutest. As we first dealt the cards, she said, ‘My mom is starting to do math with me this year. Maybe this will help us learn something!’ Raised eyebrows, I said, ‘Imagine if that happened, how cool would that be?’”

Go to the Dump Game (#A3)

Another game that is dearly loved by children is Go to the Dump. This is the same format as the ever popular Go Fish game. If you would like to see the game in action, click here.

Matches are facts of 10 and players ask for matches to the cards they have in hand. If the requested card isn’t available, the player is sent to the “dump”, the stack of cards in the center of the group.

Dia writes, “Kodi and I played the Go to the Dump game. She got four 1s and then got the giggles so bad, she was crying! All she could ask was ‘Got a 9’? What a fun time to spend with her!”

How much fun is Dia having with her daughter? Do you think they’d have as much fun doing worksheets?

Another mom writes, Today we played Go to the Dump. Pretty easy stuff for a 10 year old who’s finished Grade 6 math, right? Well, he asked to play it again THREE TIMES.”

Assessment Tool

Games also provide an assessment tool.

Sandi writes, “We are playing the Go to the Dump and Old Main. I want to let you all know that I love this program. My daughter loves it too. I like that in interacting with her during the games, I can see if she understands a concept or not and start addressing before frustration sets in. It is great to play games to let a concept set in and not have to drill or do worksheets over and over to try and understand something. RightStart™ is laid out exceptionally well.”

I like to equate math card games to hugs. You can’t hug your child too much; you can’t play enough math card games. So, go play a math card game!

DVD Available for RightStart™?


DVD to Teach Lessons

We have been asked numerous times over the years about a DVD to help teach the RightStart™ Mathematics curriculum. Our world has become very visual, so this is a logical request. Sometimes the potential audience is the child; sometimes it is the parent.

The DVD idea has been tossed around for a number of years, but we keep coming back to not providing a DVD for the following reasons:

Children’s needs vary

We believe it is paramount for a young child to have the interaction with the parent/teacher. We are concerned that a child might be sat down in front of the screen, assuming that the DVD lesson is for the child.

The interacting parent can see if the child is not understanding a concept or lesson, then provide additional time or examples to solidify the topic. Or, if the child gets a concept, the parent can move on to avoid boredom.

Of course, a DVD cannot be modified to fit the child’s specific needs. It will plod along, regardless of the child’s individuality.

Math is not a solitary pursuit

Math is problem solving. We know that problem solving is far more effective when there are two heads working on the situation rather than just one.

We want the parent to be working with the child, rather than the child sitting alone, trying to memorize and facts and perhaps not understanding the concepts.

Need to engage all learning styles

Humans learn through visual, tactile, and auditory means. A DVD can address auditory learners, provided no interaction is required. It can provide visual input, but it is passive and disregards the viewer’s learning speed and questions.

A DVD does not address tactile learning. It may ask the viewer to work with the same objects as on the screen, but it’s not the same. Think of watching a DVD to learn how to change the oil in your car. Sure, a video will help, but wouldn’t it be easier to have a live person directing your activities?

RightStart™ Mathematics uses a wide variety of manipulatives; AL Abacus, Math Balance, Place Value cards, Drawing Board, card games, fraction charts, and more. These manipulatives will engage all learning styles and enhance and deepen the understanding of math.

So what about the parents that want the DVD to help them prepare for the lesson with the child?

Lessons are formatted for a quick and easy preparation

Most lessons will need less than five minutes of preparation time. People consistently tell us, once they have the swing of things (which will take a week or two or three, depending on your personality), that they are reading the lesson about a paragraph ahead of where they are teaching.

When a question arises during the teaching, it’s answered right in the next sentence or paragraph. Things to specifically say to the child are underlined and answers are provided, so you will know what answer you’re aiming towards.

Powerpoints presentations and webinars

We do have powerpoints for you to watch as an overview, but these will be more generic and won’t address specific lessons. This will provide a very nice summary of the RightStart™ philosophy.

Webinars are available in the winter months. These are live presentations and have a variety of topics! The host can answer your specific questions during the seminar.

Forum Boards and Customer Service help line

We also have an independent Yahoo forum board and customer service support (888-272-3291) at your fingertips. Customer service is available during business hours and is staffed by homeschool moms using the RightStart™ program.

If you have a problem they cannot answer, you will be sent up the chain until you reach Dr. Cotter herself! So, no matter what, we will get your question answered.

Because RightStart™ Mathematics lays the elementary foundation for children, we don’t see a DVD in our future. We envision teacher and child learning, applying, and enjoying mathematics, delighting in the journey together, hand in hand.

Spiral or Mastery?


Is RightStart™ Mathematics Spiral or Mastery Approach?

RightStart™ Mathematics is a unique program that has aspects of both spiral and mastery approach. Both approaches have some validity as well as some drawbacks. First we need to define our terms.

Spiral learning is based on behaviorism, which says we are programmable machines and we need endless repetitions to master something. Spiral curriculums cover the same material year after year in ever widening circles, with the anticipation that increased exposures will eventually lead to mastery of the basics. The number of topics covered is broad, but they never go deep. It is more of an exposure philosophy.

Mastery approach curriculum builds sequentially. This philosophy states that there is no need to move to the next step until the preceding one is mastered. Therefore, lessons may take many days or even weeks if necessary for students to master the facts. Fewer topics are covered. Pre-testing and post-testing are done to assure mastery.

The human brain works by attaching new information to something already known. The more ways information is attached in the brain, the better it is learned. Children need more than one exposure and one way to learn a topic, but repeated exposures to the same material are not enough for mastery.

RightStart™ Mathematics introduces a large number of topics, but they are built sequentially for greater understanding. Students need to be challenged by many topics in order to see the interconnectedness in mathematics. For example, one of the goals of mathematics instruction is that students be fluid in their basic facts. So, students learn strategies for mastering the facts. They master them by playing games, which gives them a reason for learning the facts.

We need to teach students to be problem solvers. Thomas E. Clark, author of VideoText Algebra, defines the goal of arithmetic as finding an answer, and the goal of mathematics as solving a problem. In RightStart™, students learn techniques for thinking mathematically. Lessons systematically introduce principles of mathematics that lead students to self-discovery.