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Review: Right Start Level C

We have been using Right Start Level C as part of Bruce’s afterschooling for about seven or eighth months now.  We switched over to Right Start, after Bruce completed year of Horizons 1st grade math.  I thought Horizons’ first grade program was okay, but that the second grade curriculum focused too much on algorithms.  For more information on our experience with Horizons, please see here: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/05/01/horizons-math/

I believe in teaching children math through the Constructivist method, which is where they discover mathematical concepts and strategy themselves, sometiems through hands on discovery. I was very impressed by the philosophy of the Right Start program which stresses understanding over rote memorization.  Additionally, I was familiar with Right Start, having used components of the program when I taught 3rd/4th grade at a Charter school.

I decided to shell out out the big bucks and bought the homeschool deluxe set for level C, and I am really glad I did.  It has tons of math manipulatives that are useful for Bruce, Jenna, and other math activities we do as well.  It also has all of the books, including the Teacher’s Guide.  I used the Right Start manipulatives a lot to help explain concepts in Bruce’s school math program, Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions, and we have also used them to help with Life Of Fred Fractions.

The Right Start program has a teacher’s guide that is very creative, detailed, and goes above and beyond what is just in the worksheet book.  If you were using Right Start as a stand-alone curriculum, you would really need the teacher’s addition.  We were using the program as a supplement to Math Expressions, so we didn’t follow the lessons plans exactly, although Bruce did do almost all of the worksheets.

Since I’m a teacher myself, I read the teacher’s guide almost cover to cover, and then just “winged it”, or taught the lessons intuitively according to all the training I’ve received in teaching mathematics from a Constructivist perspective.  But I would definitely recommend following the teacher’s guide, to anyone who was new to the Constructivst approach, or who was using Right Start as their child’s sole mathematics curriculum.

The hallmark of the Right Start program is the abacus, which I was really excited about when the box arrived.  My husband is an engineer, who has had the opportunity to work with a lot of coworkers from China, many of whom are abacus devotes. (But a different type of abacus, I should point out.)  One of these friends told my husband he could “see the abacus in his mind,” and that’s why he had such exceptional mental math skills.  This is the same claim that the author of Right Start makes.

I am still super excited about teaching with an abacus, and intend to do this with Jenna as soon as she is old enough for Level A.  The problem with Bruce and the abacus, was that he rejected it from the get-go.  You know how there are little babies who reject the pacifier or the bottle?  You think, “Did that mother really try hard enough?  I mean, did she really try?”  Well yes in fact, I did!  Bruce would not have anything to do with the abacus at all.  Probably his math skills were developed enough already that imposing the abacus into his thinking was something his brain just did not want.  He was five years old at the time and had already finished the Horizons first grade workbooks, and half of Hougton Mifflin 2nd grade.  This is also party the reason that we could not follow the Right Start lesson plans exactly, because so much of them are abacus based.

Not using the abacus turned out to be okay for our family, because I am not teaching the traditional algorithms of borrowing or carrying to Bruce at this point.  The way the Right Start lessons set things up, they use the abacus to teach borrowing and carrying in a manipulative way.  So I would have skipped over those parts in the Teacher’s Guide anyway.   (For those of you thinking, “What the heck!  This lady doesn’t teach borrowing or carrying?”, please see my previous post on subtraction: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/03/15/subtraction/.)

A final point of note.  Bruce has almost finished all of Level C, and I’m still stumped by what exact grade level it is.  I’ve thought about it a lot, and reread the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade standards in our state.  I’ve also taught 3rd grade for two years, and a 3rd/4th combo for two years.  And yet, I’m still a bit perplexed, because it introduces some concepts that aren’t usually taught in public school until later.  In general though, I’d say Level C seems to be in the 2.5 grade – 3.5 grade range.  They also have a good placement test online to help you determine which book to choose for your child.

Horizons Math

(Don’t buy this!)

When Bruce turned four and was still going to Montessori, I decided to begin formal math instruction with him at home. He was (and is) so energetic and inquisitive, that I thought his behavior would improve if some of his energy was channeled into academic pursuits.  I looked around blindly for a curriculum to get him started on, and discovered the Horizons math program through Alpha Omega Publications.  There are two workbooks in each curriculum year, for a total of 180 lessons.  There is also a teachers guide to go with it, which I did not purchase, and I suspect a lot of people do not buy either.  (That may have been a big mistake!)  Bruce took the online placement test which scored him as being ready for the first grade.

The first grade curriculum was pretty good, and Bruce sailed through it in about six months.  It is a spiraling curriculum, so there is a lot of coming back at topics previously covered for review and practice.  I also liked that the workbook pages were very colorful, and had pictures.  The workbooks seemed to be very equation heavy, with not a lot of word problems, which is okay for first grade because that way reading skills do not hamper math progression.  ( I have since found out that the Teacher’s Guide includes a lot more word problems.)

The first grade workbook has a lot of drill-and-kill.  Often times Bruce would get tired of actually writing out the numbers (since he was only four), so I’d be the secretary and he would solve problems in his head and then tell me what to write.  Near the end of each book the lessons were getting too easy and repetitive, so we just crossed off big sections of them and skipped to the next page.

When Bruce started Kindergarten I bought him the second grade program thinking we would continue to chug along.  (He was also doing our school district’s second grade curriculum, Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions.)   I purchased the Horizons math, reading and spelling kits.  This was all a big mistake.  By the second grade book it was clear that the Horizons program was designed for back-to-basics home school families, which certainly doesn’t describe my teaching approach!

The second grade math program has a strong focus on traditional algorithms such as borrowing and carrying, to the point that pages are set up with little “carry the one” signs.  They have kids doing 4 digit addition and subtraction by the second or third month of second grade, which is only possible if you are mindlessly solving equations with algorithms but are not doing the deeper work of creating true number sense.  By contrast, Bruce has finished the Hougton Mifflin Math Expressions second grade program, is now half-way through with Right Start Level C, and is only now capable of solving 4 digit equations in his head, meaning he really understands how to do it.  Teaching kids to crank out algorithms is not teaching higher order mathematical thinking.

The Horizons Second Grade reader was truly bizarre.  It was an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe written at a second grade level and broken into 90 chapters, interspersed with excerpts from a second grade reader from the 1800s.  After about ten chapters, Bruce was bored out of his mind and refused to read any further.  It was the exact opposite of the high interest reading material necessary to inspire young children into becoming self motivated readers.

To be fair, I didn’t have the Horizons Math Teachers Addition, which the website clearly states in an integral part of the program.  But based on the workbooks, which have 2nd graders cranking out 4 digit subtraction with regrouping problems using traditional algorithms, Horizons did not seem to be a program I felt comfortable using for Bruce.  We have switched to Right Start, and have been much happier.

The Horizons reading program seemed to be from the standpoint of “If it was good enough for my great-great-great-grandpa, then it’s good enough for my son.”  Um… no in fact, it is not good enough  at all.  I just wish it hadn’t taken me almost $300 to figure that out.