Giving Thanks – Reflecting on An Outstanding 2015

TEXT (1)I don’t know about you, but 2015 has come and gone in a flash. Exciting things are happening here in 2016 as this company grows and adds some fabulous training and coaching consultants. But you’ll have to wait to hear about 2016…

First, it’s important to take stock and reflect on the past year, both personally and professionally. (Past Giving Thanks reflections are here: 20142013, 2012 and 2011)

As I enter my ninth year as a Singapore Math® trainer, consultant, and coach, I am still humbled by the wonderful opportunities that continue to come my way.

I say this every year, but it continues to be true: I am so grateful to champion elementary math education and spend time in classrooms with teachers and students.  I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has played a part in making the year so special.

Travel Stats 2015 2015 has been my year busiest ever. I’ve spent more than 35 weeks traveling across North American (and to England!) to work with schools and present seminars. I love to travel, especially when the end result is helping teachers making more competent and confident math students. (I could do without the bedbugs, though.)

2015 Highlights

Again this year, more schools were repeat and long-term clients where my role was that of an advisor and instructional coach.  That said, I really loved visiting and working with teachers at 20 schools for the first time. Best of all: schools I’m working with are achieving remarkable results, even on the new Common Core-aligned testing.

Highlights from 2015 include:

Meeting my personal “continuing education” goals by attending:

Special Thanks

My sincere thanks to administrators, teachers and support staff at all of the schools I worked with in 2015. I so appreciate your trust and confidence. My sincere thanks, too, to several other long-time partners and supporters:

Singapore Math Source

Now in its eighth year, continues to be an authoritative resource for those seeking information about the curriculum. This year, we added many printable games and activities for teachers to use in the classroom. Bookmark the page: Favorite Printable Math Resources as we’re adding materials all the time.

Me & mom in kenya

Maybe not the best photo of me, but mom looks good!


2015 has been personally gratifying as:

  • We spent two weeks visiting my mother, who lives in Diani Beach, Kenya.
  • I once again surpassed my goal of reading 50 books in the year, by reading 62 books!
  • I continue to serve on the Board of the Middle School Math Institute, a non-profit dedicated to helping students succeed at algebra.

Looking ahead

2016 promises to be even more busy and exciting. I’m looking forward to:

  • Continuing work with more than two dozen schools that have retained me on a long-term basis, as well as many new clients.
  • Being a keynote speaker and presenting sessions at a two-day conference at Oxford University in June 2016: Inspire Maths International Forum: Raising the bar! Implications for UK practice in using the Singapore approach to raise standards of teaching and learning in primary mathematics.
  • Hiring exceptional teachers/consultants/coaches in order to meet growing demand for services from schools looking to improve their teacher content knowledge and pedagogy.
  • Presenting at the 2016 Annual Conference of NCSM in Oakland;
  • Presenting BER workshops for an eighth consecutive year.
  • Attending the 13th International Congress on Mathematical Education in Hamburg, Germany (fingers-crossed for this one), annual conferences of NCTM and NCSM, and the 2016 National Conference on Singapore Math Strategies presented by SDE.
  • Sharing news about the successes achieved by some of the schools I’m working with — please let me know if you want to be a part of this series.
  • Opportunities that are, as yet, unknown.I can’t wait to see what is ahead!

Once again, my sincerest thanks to clients, colleagues, and partners for making 2015 such a wonderful year. If I may be of service at any time, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

As passionate as ever about Singapore Mathematics.



About that “Singapore Math” Problem that has Gone Viral

If you spend much time on the internet, you are probably aware that a math problem from Singapore is in the news. It challenges readers to determine Cheryl’s birthday based on an impossibly small set of clues.

In a report, the New York Times compared this problem to that of the “color-changing dress that blew out the neural circuits of the internet.” The story’s headline: “A Math Problem from Singapore Goes Viral.” Wow. The world’s response to the “Cheryl’s Birthday question” has inundated my “Singapore Math” Twitter feed. The problem:SASMO_Cheryl_s_Birthday_jpg

Are you smarter than a ten 14-year old?

Some initial reports suggested that this “Singapore Math” problem was appropriate for primary grade students. The Guardian initially asked: “Are you smarter than a Singaporean ten-year old?” Fortunately, the true source emerged rather quickly. This problem was part of a Math Olympiad challenge that organizers thought could be answered by only 40% of the most gifted high school students. This prompted the Guardian to instead ask: “Are you smarter than a Singaporean 14-year old?”

As we now know, this is not really a problem asked in any classroom using a Singapore Math curriculum. In fact, it isn’t really a math problem; instead, it is a logic problem. And a really challenging one at that.

Many of those who commented said something to the effect that, “it made my brain hurt.” Others chose to rant about Cheryl; this was the approach of the New Yorker in its Daily Cartoon for April 16. [Need help with the problem? See “How to Figure Out Cheryl’s Birthday” by New York Times science writer Kenneth Chang.]

In the midst of all the noise, there were a few responses that offered some clarity.

In a video clip, the Globe and Mail said that the problem, “tapped a nerve…our math phobia.” John Mighton, founder of Jump Math says that this is a universal problem.

I KNOW that math anxiety is a reality, and one that I address in almost every encounter with teachers and parents.

Why Singapore’s students are so good at math

But most insightful of all may be the assessment of Libby Nelson of Early in her piece, she says:

But the problem isn’t nonsense: it’s actually a test of logical reasoning skills. And questions like these help explain how Singapore’s students have come to rank as some of the best problem-solvers in the world — by being taught math differently, and well.

A 2005 study from the American Institutes for Research praised Singapore’s method of teaching math, saying it was much better than the American method. On reason was that word problems and real-world examples were used not just to show students that math is important outside the classroom, but to illustrate how math works.

This brings to mind my favorite quote about Singapore’s approach to teaching math from Dr. Yeap Ban Har:

We’re not teaching math, we’re teaching thinking through the medium of math.

Nelson discusses how Singapore’s students acquire problem-solving skills and become so good at math before asking whether Singapore’s methods can work in the U.S.

After working with more than 100 schools using Singapore’s Math curriculum, I know the answer to Nelson’s last question is an unqualified “YES.”

Ready for Another Problem?

The Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiads (SASMO), creators of the Cheryl’s Birthday problem, have posted a new challenge. It also features Cheryl, this time with new pal Tom. Can you figure this one out?

SASMO Challenge

The problem and solution are on SASMO’s Facebook page.


Who to see at National Math Educators Conferences this year?


As a full-time trainer and instructional coach, I know the importance of professional development and continuing education. Since embarking on this career path seven years ago, I’ve attended annual meetings of both the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and NCSM (formerly the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics). Attending NCTM, NCSM and other regional, national and international math conferences and educational events fulfills my personal ongoing learning goals.

In 2012, I was thrilled to have a proposal to present at NCTM accepted! (Here are two posts on that presentation: tools and thoughts).

NCTM 2015 header  2015BostonAM_590x90_WebBanner_p1For 2015, I submitted similar proposals to both NCTM and NCTM…and BOTH were accepted. Woot! And good news, my co presenter will be Lauri Susi of Conceptua Math.

Here’s the description:

Strip Models, Tape Diagrams, and Bar Models, Oh My!

Lead Speaker: Cassandra Turner
Co-Speaker: Lauri Susi

These visual components sit at the intersection of Common Core, Singapore Math®, and now technology! Learn why this visual model for word problems is so powerful, try some problems from the simple to the complex, and investigate web-based programs and iPad apps that will help anyone incorporate this effective strategy into their classrooms.

The NCSM Presentation is on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM.

The NCTM Presentation is on Thursday, April 16, 2015, from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (details here).

But that’s not all!

This year, Singapore Math Inc. asked me to present an NCTM workshop to address some practical considerations schools face when implementing the curriculum.

Filling Knowledge Gaps with Critical Singapore Math® Approach Across Grade Levels (Gr. 3-5)

One of the biggest challenges during a Singapore Math® implementation can be the gaps in student knowledge. Upper elementary students frequently lack the foundation provided by the 1st-3rd grade Singapore curriculum. In this direct from the classroom session, you’ll learn the critical lessons and concepts students must master before jumping into their grade-level content.

This NCTM Workshop is on Friday, April 16, 2015, from 12:30 – 1:30 PM

When the complete conference schedules for both NCTM and NCSM are available, I’ll publish an overview of Singapore Math® presentations along with recommendations for session at each conference as I have done every year since 2010.

If you are headed to Boston in April, please consider attending one of these sessions.  I’d love to connect with you!

NCSM Boston2015BostonAM_200x2002015 NCSM Annual Conference – April 13-15, 2015

A Vision for Mathematics Leaders

2015 NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition – April 15-18, 2015

Effective Teaching to Ensure Mathematical Success for All

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center

[Note: Conference organizers include a “Times Subject to Change” disclaimer. I’ll update this information if it changes.]

You Can Bar Model Anything!

nauty nice bar model

A fourth grader at a school I worked with this year included this on a Christmas card for her teacher.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for an Outstanding New Year!



Singapore Math® Schools Share Success Stories

Word Problems 2Excellence in Canadian math education — by way of Singapore

The Head of School at Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, Ontario explains why his school adopted Math from Singapore and how it differs from other curricula:

We introduced Singapore Math to our school three years ago after researching a number of programs and determining that this method had the best achievement results internationally.

Singapore Math deliberately slows down the teaching of math, taking more time to ensure students grasp each concept before moving on. For example, students might spend two weeks on multiplying fractions, instead of spending a day or two and then coming back to it later.

Students use visuals aids such as bars and blocks before they start writing equations with “x” and “y,” so they achieve a deeper grasp of the actions they perform. This visualization is not deployed nearly as much in Canadian classrooms. In most settings, you would see a concrete-abstract strategy whereby multiplication would use physical objects then shift to the abstraction of lining up numbers in a multiplication equation. Singapore Math introduces a middle step between the concrete and abstract called the pictorial approach. The students draw a diagram of the concepts going on. This extends to diagraming word problems on paper rather than the often frustrating scenario of trying to picture a problem in their heads.

One happy result of all this is that when students reach algebra, they’ve already met the core concepts pictorially; indeed in most cases students in grade 6 are able to understand algebraic concepts that normally wouldn’t be grasped until mid-way through grade 8.

North Cross School transitions to Singapore Math

North Cross School is the first school in the Roanoke Valley (Virginia) to fully implement the Singapore Math® curriculum.

Beth Curran is the Mathematics Department Chair in the lower school at St. Anne’s-Belfield in Charlottesville and led the training at North Cross School. When asked about their conversion to Singapore Math she said “during our first year of implementation our students were saying ‘I understand math now.’ One of our second grade teachers commented, ‘At this point in the year (first trimester), I have never had students with such a solid understanding of place value.’ Upon conclusion of our first year, our math team felt that our students’ problem solving skills made huge leaps. We also noticed that students were persevering through difficult problems that in the past (or even the beginning of the year) they would have given up on. We didn’t teach perseverance, necessarily, but concluded that because students were learning and practicing skills to mastery that it equipped them with the tools to tackle challenging problems. They always had a place to start.”

North Cross Lower School Director, Deborah Jessee, believes that “a strong education in lower school builds a foundation of lifelong learning. It lays the pathways, creates excitement, and energizes students for the future. Singapore Math is a great way to enhance our lower school academic program and teach children not to be intimidated by new concepts and that it’s okay to explore other ways of learning. They learn to not be intimidated by a complex problem. When a student understands how to break down a problem and can figure out how to solve it, that academic skill translates well to other subjects and helps them prepare for ACT and SAT testing down the road.

[Editor’s Note: Over the past several years, I’ve had the honor of helping St. Anne’s-Belfield School with its Singapore Math adoption. I’m delighted that Beth Curran was able to take her experiences and successfully train teachers at North Cross School. Congratulations, Beth!]

Singapore math forced teachers to learn new way to teach

Learning Singapore Math in Henderson County (Kentucky) first took hard work by teachers; previous math approach “made cooks…this makes chefs.”

At the heart of the Singaporean approach to math is problem solving. This math curriculum doesn’t focus as much on memorizing procedures, but understanding numbers and how they interact, officials said.
It’s the how and the why, [third-grade teacher Evelyn] Cummings said.
Educators said this isn’t how mathematics has been taught in the United States.
“Before I would teach my students a process, instead of problem solving. Now, we’re teaching these kids to be problem-solvers,” Cummings said.