Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to make Singapore Math sound like Reform Math

From Friday's front page New York Times article:

By the time they get to kindergarten, children in this well-to-do suburb already know their numbers, so their teachers worried that a new math program was too easy when it covered just 1 and 2 — for a whole week.

...The slower pace is a cornerstone of the district’s new approach to teaching math, which is based on the national math system of Singapore and aims to emulate that country’s success by promoting a deeper understanding of numbers and math concepts. Students in Singapore have repeatedly ranked at or near the top on international math exams since the mid-1990s.
(Don't mention that, while this slower pace may characterize kindergarten-level Singapore Math, the curriculum is already significantly ahead of U.S. math by the end of first grade--especially U.S. Reform Math programs, infamous for their slow progress through actual mathematics). 
Singapore math may well be a fad, too, but supporters say it seems to address one of the difficulties in teaching math: all children learn differently. In contrast to the most common math programs in the United States, Singapore math devotes more time to fewer topics, to ensure that children master the material through detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards and bar charts. 
(Don't mention that Singapore Math's hands-on aids cease after kindergarten, or shortly thereafter, while they persist further into Reform Math than any other math program used in the U.S. or elsewhere. And don't mention that it's the Reform Math programs, not Singapore Math, whose curricula are informed by empirically unfounded "learning styles" fads.) 
Franklin Lakes, about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan, is one of dozens of districts, from Scarsdale, N.Y., to Lexington, Ky., that in recent years have adopted Singapore math, as it is called, amid growing concerns that too many American students lack the higher-order math skills called for in a global economy.
(Don't mention that it's the Reform Math programs, with their emphasis on calculators and other "technology," and on "real world" problems and "data analysis," that harp the most on "higher-order math skills called for in a global economy.")
Bill Jackson, one of Scarsdale’s new math coaches, scribbled notes the other day as he watched a fourth-grade math class. For nearly an hour, the students pored over a single number: 82,566 (the seats in New Meadowlands Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play football). They built it with chips on a laminated mat, diagramed it on a smart board and, finally, solved written questions.

Mr. Jackson said that students moved through a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, abstract. American math programs, he said, typically skip the middle step and lose students when making the jump from concrete (chips) to abstract (questions).
(Don't mention that the Singapore Math materials cover content, but not specific lesson plans, and that activities like the 4th grade investigation of  the number 82,566, with its slow pace, hands-on materials, arts and crafts, and use of a smart board, are much more likely to occur in Reform Math than in Singapore Math classrooms--especially in Singapore itself.)
Singapore math’s added appeal is that it has largely skirted the math wars of recent decades over whether to teach traditional math or reform math. Indeed, Singapore math has often been described by educators and parents as a more balanced approach between the two, melding old-fashioned algorithms with visual representations and critical thinking.
Reform Math devotees don't embrace Singapore Math's visual representations and critical thinking; Reform Math critics find Reform Math's versions of visual representations and "critical thinking" seriously wanting and hardly comparable to the Singaporean approach.

It's nice to see reporters writing articles about Singapore Math  The next step is for them to look at the actual curriculum.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

What good would it do for reporters to look at the Singapore curriculum itself? Most of them know no math and nothing about teaching either. They would not write better articles by exposing their own ignorance further.

Isha said...

The preface to the books do say concrete to pictorial to abstract. But schools take it to extreme. The concrete does not have to be as fancy as they make it out to be, with expensive manipulatives someone is trying to sell, nor in every lesson, nor take the whole lesson. And now when people are finally noticing the curriculum, Singapore itself is changing things and borrowing reform math ideas so math is changing in Singapore, it seems anyway from what I have read.

The K books don't spend a week on the number 1 and 2. They do spend 3 weeks, though, on 1-5, but that includes writing, looking at graphs.

As far as spending an hour on 82,566, maybe that is in the new US version Math in Focus, but it is not in the textbook for Primary Mathematics. They look at lots of numbers in one lesson. Either it is a lesson some teacher made up, or an oversimplification on the part of the reporter. But if they spend a whole lesson on one number, I wonder how they get through the 4th grade books?

Some ways of teaching the material have seem to have become a fad, from what I have seen on you-tube and other places. The business of concrete first, and the bar models, are now starting to be taken to extremes. Kids have to now draw the models younger and younger, they get graded on how well the draw the models, models become the focus, not solving the problem. Now they have to show models for everything, long after they should be able to solve the simpler problems without, just like in reform math they have to draw out rows and columns of pictures to prove multiplication long after they already know the facts.

But remember, they have a classroom full of kids of all different abilities and needs. Something that would take 5-10 minutes to teach to 1 child, any child, may very well take an hour to teach to a classroom full of kids.

Linda said...

My school does Singapore Primary Mathematics and I've taught first, second, fourth, and now fifth grade math. I have two points:
1. Singapore does use manipulatives even up to 4th grade, but what they do with them is very interesting. They use only base ten blocks and number discs and only at the very beginning of a series of lessons, moving to numbers pretty quickly. They often will have things such as base 10 blocks used by the teacher on an overhead. If you've ever spent a lesson trying to get the kids to use manipulatives only for math or put the stupid things down and listen, you can fully appreciate the magic of overhead base ten blocks.

2. There is no lesson in the 4th grade Singapore program that would spend the whole time on one number. I haven't seen anything remotely like that in any of the workbooks, texts, or teacher's manuals. It is either not true or not Singapore.

CassyT said...

I'm holding the Standards Edition and U.S. Edition of Primary Mathematics. At no point, does the curriculum spend a week on one number. There are a couple of things, however, to remember.

1. The kindergarten materials were written for the United States and other countries. While there is a k syllabus in Singapore, there are not standardized curricula, like primary & secondary schools.

2. the Teacher's Guides were written for American teachers, who typically need more guidance when teaching mathematics.

Isha said...

The teacher guides for the Primary Math does not spend a week on a number or an hour on one single number at fourth grade either. It is something that I think that school does or was done in that lesson by that teacher and maybe that was how she was trained or she just thought it was a good idea for that particular lesson. There are lots of things out there. Journalists don't see the whole picture anyway. They glom onto something and make it seem the whole deal. I am not sure "slower pace" is correct either and is sort of misleading.

Isha said...

OH, and no arts and crafts for the number 82,566 in the teacher's guides either. And no smart board stuff, but I suppose that is just like writing on white board.

Also, if they have to be building it with chips and those place-value strips in 4th grade still, they sure did not learn what they should have learned in earlier grades. By that level, mostly the pictures should be enough. The other issue is that some students do come in not knowing much about place value, so maybe in 4th grade they have to do a 2nd grade type of teaching because kids never learned what they should have already.

FMA said...

I did a two year Kindergarten Singapore Math program with my daughter starting when she turned four. I used the Standard Edition (Winnie Tan is the author's name). This program did not spend a week on 1 and 2. I actually thought that the pace was perfect. Never too fast or too slow.

My daughter is currently doing Kindergarten Math through the California Virtual Academy and she is easily rushing through it because she has such a good foundation from the Singapore Math program. I expect that she will be doing 1st grade Math by mid-year.

I wonder if the school that is featured is using some kind of modified approach rather than an actual Singapore Math program. It doesn't sound like what I did with my child.

FMA said...

Oops, I made a mistake in my post. Winnie Tan's book is a U.S. Edition not the standard edition.

Anonymous said...

The greatest irony is that what is termed as "Singapore Math" is the math books by the SingaporeMath COMPANY, not the actual math syllabus used in Singapore itself.

As a Singaporean, I'm pretty sure I didn't have to pore over the number 82,566 by doing a diagram. I'm hell sure that wouldn't be useful to answer a question with the number 92324 or 59234 or 14234 for that matter.

cj westerberg said...

Bill Jackson, mentioned in the NYT article and in this post, wrote an excellent four-part exclusive series in the Daily Riff, "Singapore Math Demystified!" seen here

In addition, Jackson is also featured with his guest post series, a multi-part "Travel Journal to Singapore" about teacher training and professional development as it relates to Singapore Math.

Quite surprised The NYT did not provide a link to these which includes extensive first-hand coverage of topic by one of the featured teachers.

Isha said...

Well, the math books sold by the SingaporeMath company certainly don't spend a whole day on one number, either. I have used them. I think the article is just talking about how some teachers teach it, not what the math books themselves contain. said...

It should really be taught as how he teacher understands the concept of Singapore Math.