Students Love Singapore Math!

Last May, third graders at a school in Minnesota wrote me some letters. Their school started with a Singapore Mathematics curriculum in the fall and they were just completing their first year working with the materials. I’m told that students weren’t “required” to write these.  😁

Enjoy!

 

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Throwback Thursday – Learning from the East: The benefits of persistence

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!


Learning from the East: The benefits of persistence

Originally published 1/13/13

Elementary Math class in Singapore by Cassandra Turner, Singapore Math Teacher, Trainer, CoachWorking with schools, teachers, and parents over the last five years, I’m often asked whether cultural differences can explain why Singapore’s students have led the world in international math standings for 15 years while US students rank no better than mid-pack.

When I visited Singapore in 2007, I learned how the country decided to focus on building strong Singaporean citizens beginning with their earliest education.  The country’s mathematics curriculum (Primary Mathematics) was developed in the early 1980s with this goal in mind. At that time, Singapore’s students were mediocre at math. Within a few years after the launch of the second edition of Primary Mathematics, Singapore’s students topped the international TIMSS study.

To me, it’s quite easy to attribute much of Singapore’s Math success to changes in how it approached education, including, most importantly, the new curriculum. Could Singapore’s culture have changed dramatically between 1984 (when Singapore’s students were ranked 16th of 26 in the Second International Science Study) and 1995 (when they ranked first in the TIMSS study)?

Today, much attention is paid to “Tiger Mothers,” who, in the words of the Economist,

“load their cubs down with extra homework and tuition to make them excel at school.”

This trend seems more recent; it’s also one which, remarkably, Singapore’s current Prime Minister wants to curtail (http://www.economist.com/node/21563354).

A more subtle consideration concerns expectations; how do parents and teachers ask students to engage in schoolwork?

I had a driveway moment this fall when NPR ran a story (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/11/12/164793058/struggle-for-smarts-how-eastern-and-western-cultures-tackle-learning) titled, “Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning.” The piece focuses on the importance of persistence to a student’s learning. Reporter Alix Spiegel cites several examples, then gets to the heart of the issue:

“For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

Reporter Spiegel then chooses to NOT to choose between East and West. In this silence, though, I believe there is a teachable moment for those of us in the West.

In training sessions with teachers, it is not uncommon to encounter resistance when I advise (insist) that teachers give students the opportunity to really work on math problems. This can be a difficult skill for teachers to learn.

And if teachers are inclined to want to move their class along before giving students a chance to truly work the math, parents can worse. They are unaccustomed to and uncomfortable at seeing their children struggle, unable to finish their home enjoyment (aka homework). Parents sometimes can be too quick to either give their kids a pass (well, you have tried, haven’t you?) or demand an explanation of the teacher (why can’t my child do the homework?).

Here’s where I find that it’s critical to have laid the groundwork and properly set expectations. Teachers need patience (whew, do teachers ever need patience!). They must let their students work through problems, even if they end up struggling and having to start over. And parents need to appreciate that homework (honestly completed or struggled with) can be the best feedback loop for teachers.

Pointing at cultural differences to rationalize a lack of math proficiency in many of our students serves no one. Instead, I think there’s a lot to be gained by asking that western students work a bit more to earn some of the praise they frequently receive.

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Singapore Tops TIMSS 2015!

The 2015 Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) results were recently published. Students in fourth and eighth grades from more than 40 countries worldwide participated in the most recent test. This test marks a 20-year span of comparative mathematics and science achievement data collected and once again East Asian countries topped the charts.

What does the TIMSS test?

The TIMSS tests students’ math and science knowledge. For the sake of this post, we are going to focus on mathematics. Both content domains (Number, Geometry, and Data) and cognitive domains (Knowing, Applying and Reasoning) are tested every four years.  Student achievement is then compared to other participating countries.  Singapore’s students once again ranked number one in the world, marking the fifth time Singapore has scored highest on the TIMSS  since the country first participated in 1995.  Students in the United States trail students in Singapore by 79 points for fourth grade and 103 points for eighth grade.

TIMSS Results for Select Countries – Fourth Grade Mathematics

1995 2003 2007 2011 2015
         
Singapore 625 (1) 594 (1) 599 (2) 606 (1) 618 (1)
Hong Kong-SAR 587 (4) 575 (2) 607 (1) 602 (3) 615 (2)
Republic of Korea 611 (2) 605 (2) 608 (3)
Chinese Taipei 564 (4) 576 (3) 591 (4) 597 (4)
Japan 597 (3) 565 (3) 568 (4) 585 (5) 593 (5)
Russian Federation 532 (9) 544 (6) 542 (9) 564 (7)
England 513 (16) 531 (10) 541 (7) 542 (9) 546 (10)
United States 545 (11) 518 (12) 529 (11) 541 (11) 539 (14)
Average* 529 545 500 500 500

* International Average in 1995 and 2003, Scale Average since 2007

How challenging are the questions?

The questions on the TIMSS can be broken down into four levels, or benchmarks; Advanced, High, Intermediate and Low. The examples below are from fourth-grade problems.

A low-level question tests basic mathematical knowledge:

Percentage of students able to answer a low-level question: 99% Singapore, 98% U.S.

 

An intermediate level question tests the ability to apply basic mathematical knowledge in simple situations:

Percentage of students able to answer an intermediate level question: 93% Singapore, 79% U.S.

 

A high-level question tests the ability to apply mathematical knowledge and understanding to solve problems:

Percentage of students able to answer a high-level question: 80% Singapore, 47% U.S.

 

An advanced level question tests the ability to apply knowledge and understanding in a variety of relatively complex situation and to explain mathematical reasoning:

Percentage of students able to answer an advanced level question: 50% Singapore, 14% U.S.

To sum it up, students in the U.S. are really good at solving basic computation questions but struggle with applying their knowledge to solve problems in high and advanced level questions.

For more information about the TIMSS and a complete report, visit http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2015/.

How does Singapore do it?

In a nutshell, a Singapore Math curriculum focuses on deep conceptual understanding and problem-solving with an emphasis on the “why” over the “how” of math.  Concepts are introduced, practiced to mastery and immediately applied to solve both familiar and novel problems. Students are given ample time to grapple with problems to find multiple solutions which develops flexibility with numbers and logical thinking.

In contrast, traditional curricula in the U.S. has tended to focus on memorization and procedures. “Ours is not to reason why; just invert and multiply.”  Math has been taught as a series of steps to follow to tackle what appear to be unrelated concepts. Many concepts are taught per grade level with little time to practice and master before moving on to the next concept; often referred to as a spiraling curriculum. This limits deep mathematical understanding.

What can we do?

There’s still hope. There are a few curricula in the U.S. that follow the Singapore math approach to deepening mathematical understanding and problem-solving.  You can read more about Primary Mathematics and Math in Focus here.

If you are not in a position to change your curriculum, you can integrate some of the best strategies from Singapore into your current curriculum.  Take time to teach basic concepts to mastery, focus on developing number sense with mental math activities and help students to visualize word problems with bar modeling.

Each year more and more schools, school districts and home-schooling parents are making the switch, but just buying new textbooks is not enough. Professional development and teacher training is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle. (That’s where Math Champions comes in. For information on how we can help you use Singapore Mathematics,  please complete the form or send us an email.)

 

Source: TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics. Copyright © 2016 TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, and
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Great Math News from City Springs School In Baltimore

For the last year, I’ve been working with City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. Here’s a short description from the school’s website:

City Springs Elementary/Middle School is a neighborhood charter school operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP). We are a conversion charter school, which means we were an already existing Baltimore City Public School that was taken over by an outside operator to bring innovative and research-based curriculum and other programs to enhance the school. To learn more about BCP, click here.

City Springs logoInitially, the school was seeking help with its Middle School math. After I made a pair of on-site visits at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Dr. Rhonda Richetta, Principal of City Springs, decided to adopt Singapore’s Primary Mathematics Common Core Edition.

I’ve returned to City Springs periodically this year to provide continuing support as the school’s teachers and coaches adopted a Singapore Math® curriculum. The school is making remarkable progress, and I want to share stories written by some of City Springs’ dedicated teachers about the students’ growth during the year.

I’ve clipped an excerpt from each story with teachers’ observations and very valuable insights about the program and why it is working so well for their students. Please click on the links to read complete stories from the school’s website. I love the photos of students showing off their skills and having fun with math!

Ms. Schoenleber: Introducing Singapore Math  (November 2015) “Classroom manipulatives have helped our kids get better at problem solving and justifying their answers for tough math problems.”

Ms. Hagemann: It’s More than Just a Game (November 2015) “One way to get stronger in mental math is by use math-based games to reinforce basic concepts and encourage mathematical thinking…Students in Ms. Hageman’s class love mental math games!”

Ms. Smith: Moving Ahead in Math (February 2016) “Singapore Math has been very challenging but it has also been very rewarding, and they have especially loved the use of manipulatives in class.”

Ms. Barry: Stepping Up to the Ratio Challenge (February 2016) “Ratio problems can be really tricky. Sometimes these multi-step problems are so challenging that we spend 15, 30, or even 45 minutes on one problem! Our students love to rise to the challenge, and have grown so much in their math skills with these complex problems.”

Ms. Barry’s also class wanted to challenge readers to solve a ratio problem they worked on. How did you do?

Ms. Lineberry:  Introducing Fractions  (May 2016) “At first, we struggled to figure fractions out. Trying to wrap our minds around halves and fourths proved difficult at first. Things became a little clearer after we started using “manipulatives,” hands-on objects used to illustrate math concepts.”

Ms. Williams: Knowing All the Angles (May 2016) “Students began their geometrical journey by learning how to measure angles…Later, they will start learning to measure geometric angles made by two lines emanating out of the center of a circle, and eventually beginning exploring the complex world of geometry formulas.”

Working with City Springs has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable assignments of my career. Teachers have embraced the challenge of adopting a new program and students are making wonderful progress. I can’t wait to see their growth in Year Two! Thank You, City Springs!

[Full disclosure: My work assignment at City Springs is contracted through Staff Development for Educators.] Scridb filter

Meet Beth Curran, Singapore Math® Trainer

In 2008, I left teaching in the classroom to champion Singapore Mathematics and expand its reach to elementary schools and children everywhere. Looking back on the past eight years, I am amazed by the incredible opportunities I’ve had to help schools and teachers make math from Singapore work for every child in every classroom.

graphDemand for my training and coaching services has grown every year; recently, it has become impossible to accommodate all the schools looking for help with their math instruction.

Expanding has been on my radar for several years, but I did not want growth to affect the quality of professional development services. To take this important step, I needed a candidate who has stellar credentials as a teacher/trainer/coach AND who shares my passion for elementary math.

I’m delighted to share some exciting news. After eight years as a one-person consultancy, I am hiring my first employee.

Introducing Beth Curran

Beth Curran Preschool – 6th Grade Math Department Chair, St. Anne’s-Belfield School Singapore Math Teacher and Trainer

In a 13-year career, Beth Curran has taught mathematics in Kindergarten through 4th Grade as both a classroom teacher and a Singapore Math® specialist. Beth is currently the Lead Math Teacher and Math Department Chair at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, an independent Pre-K-12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia. At St. Anne’s, she oversaw the successful adoption of Primary Mathematics, guiding a team of teachers and partnering with administrators and parents.

Beth wrote about the St. Anne’s implementation here.

What do Beth’s Colleagues say about her impact?

The transition for our faculty to Singapore Math was daunting at first.  The unknown can always challenge teachers and schools.  Yet, Beth, as a member of a team of newly-minted math specialists, provided key expertise and wise counsel to her colleagues.  The result was a palatable sense of relief as the new math vision was manifested daily by strong instruction.  She enabled our teachers and school to move confidently in this new direction.
– Fred Chandler, Associate Head of School for Academics, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

There is a depth to Beth Curran’s teaching, and–through her example and through many discussions–she has helped me deepen my own teaching.  She prioritizes true mastery of worthy concepts.
– Karen LeMaire, Kindergarten through 4th Grade Math Specialist, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

Beth has provided professional development and ongoing support services to other Virginia schools that have implemented Singapore Math curricula, as well as hosting several informational sessions to schools interested in the Singapore approach. In addition, she has presented at State and regional math educator conferences. Beth is a dedicated, award-winning teacher, presenter, mentor and advocate of making quality mathematics education accessible to all students.

Beth says, “I’m so excited to share all that I’ve learned on my own Singapore Math journey with educators throughout the country, and beyond.”

I’m thrilled that Beth will be joining me in June. Welcome to the team, Beth!

P.S. In addition to hiring Beth, I’ve also formed a new company, Math Champions Professional Development, LLC. More on that development coming soon.

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