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Ignite: Addition and Subtraction with a 21 st Century Abacus (Books 1-4 plus the Abacus) Review by Amy M. O'Quinn and Jennifer Harrison

MathFire, LLC
PO Box 661
Pullman, Washington 99161

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. Highly recommended!

Product review by Amy M. O'Quinn, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2010

Another review:

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 line.

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.

Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2010