Throwback Thursday – On the Topic of Math Sprints and Anxiety

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!


On the Topic of Math Sprints and Anxiety

Originally published 4/30/15

Reflecting on my time at the two national math educator’s meetings, one interesting dichotomy appeared over timed fact tests. On the one side was Jo Boaler stating that timed tests are the root of math anxiety. Pushback came from others, most notably Greg Tang and Scott Baldridge pointing out that kids are timed in real life. They are put under pressure in real life. Students should learn from these experiences, not freak out over them.

It’s a powerful discussion: How do we get kids from fluency (I can use strategies to solve 7 x 8) to automaticity (I just know 7 x 8)? Do we need to get them to automaticity? Do timed tests create math anxiety? Is there spelling test anxiety? Should the key anxiety word be “test”, not “math”?

This conversation appeared recently on twitter after someone posted the “How to Give a Math Sprint” pdf from this site:


Yep, I’d be worried if kids who couldn’t make connections were timed, too.

I’m a proponent of Math Sprints; thoughtfully structured timed tests designed to practice one skill. Sprints are not your typical timed test. Students compete against themselves to improve the number of problems completed in one minute. Then the sprints are thrown away, not recorded in a grade book. They are practice. Period. And just one way to practice math facts.

Do Sprints harm students or cause math anxiety?

Not when administered correctly. I work with a school for students with ADHD and learning disabilities. Initially, teachers there said things like, “I can’t time my kids, they are slow processors”. It turns out that students at this school LOVE sprints. They can always improve by at least one problem on the second sprint. With all the content flying at them, practicing facts is one thing they can do and feel successful with.

Allison Coates runs the non-profit Math Walk Institute that works with schools and students to build a bridge to Algebra.

In every school we’ve ever worked, nearly all students enjoy sprints. They don’t see them as tests if the teacher doesn’t present them as tests. They see them as another fun game they can play against themselves (or against the teacher). Practice makes permanent their knowledge, and students love knowing they have knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Are Sprints from Singapore?

Nope. Sprints were created by Dr. Yoram Sagher as a fluency program to work with any curriculum. I’ve considered them a way to compensate for differences between Singapore and the U.S. In Singapore, parents drill fact fluency while schools teach the conceptual understanding. It’s not unusual for a first grader in Singapore to know all their math facts. It’s the school’s job to then get the understanding of multiplication into such a student. Contrast that with the U.S., where it is less likely that parents practice math facts at home with their child. Few American programs include a fluency component, often farming it out to the web or an iPad app.

Scott Baldridge has a great blog post on sprints: Fluency without Equivocation. I suggest you read it now.

My favorite Sprint books are Differentiated Math Sprints as they offer two difficulty levels with the same answers.

Eureka Math Sprints are aligned to Eureka Math (referenced in Scott Baldridge’s post above).

Wondering about the emphasis on math facts? Read: Why Mental Arithmetic Counts: Brain Activation during Single Digit Arithmetic Predicts High School Math Scores

Throwback Thursday: Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

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!


Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

Originally published 9/3/2014

I get LOTS of questions from teachers and administrators with questions about the Singapore Math® program. Recently, several fellow trainers have reached out to seek my advice (Wow!). One asked:

What would you are say the biggest 10 things to consider when using/implementing a Singapore Math curriculum?

Here’s my response. Did I miss anything?

Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

1. This isn’t the math most of us were raised on. It looks different and teachers cannot rely on their knowledge of themselves as elementary students. As such, the Teacher’s Guide is your math bible. You don’t have to read the lessons out loud as you teach, but you need to follow the sequence and pedagogy.

2. And that pedagogy includes Concrete, Pictorial, AND Abstract. Teachers are usually darned good at the abstract but above grade 2, not so hot with the concrete and pictorial. Yes, I know your students can solve the 3rd-grade word problems without the pictorial bar model, but if you don’t teach the bar model with content they know, you certainly can’t do it with content they don’t know.

3. Placement tests assess content knowledge. Keep in mind that a score below 80% on the Singaporemath.com Placement tests does not mean a student is not bright or capable – it does mean that they haven’t been taught the content yet. The Primary Mathematics materials are generally one year ahead of current U.S. materials and even bright students can’t just skip a year of content and expect to be successful.

4. When teaching Concretely, the SmartBoard is not enough. Students must actually use the manipulatives. Yes, they can work with partners, but students must use them, not just the teacher. Buy or make place value disks for whole numbers and decimals if you want your students to understand the content.

5. The equations are written horizontally to de-emphasize the process (that algorithm you’re so good at!) and focus on Number Sense. These mental math strategies are challenging for teachers as they were usually taught procedures only. Expect to practice the strategies yourself. Embrace the mental math!

6. Textbooks are not a curriculum. The teacher is the most important component of the curriculum. If you don’t understand the math in a lesson, how will the students? Read the Teacher’s Guide and prepare lessons. (See #1 – and below)

7. Get your own copy of the workbooks and work every problem as you expect the students to work them. It’s true that the Teacher’s Guides have the answers. You need the solutions to know if a student’s thought process is on target. In Singapore, 50% of elementary teachers have a 2-year degree – they aren’t math specialists either! The textbooks are designed to help teach teachers the math they need to know. (Same with any placement test you give: you work the problems first.)

8. Follow the maxim: Go slow to go fast. All teachers do not have to be on the exact same lesson at the exact same time. Sometimes you need to slow down and ensure that your students are understanding the content. In grades 2-4 it seems as though it takes f o r e v e r to get through the “A” books. Then applying the skills mastered in the “B” books is a breeze. (In Kindergarten and Grade 1, the “B” book will slow students down. In Grade 5, the books seem more evenly paced) Knowing what your students know and can do means you must be constantly informally assessing your students.

9. Rethink your Home Enjoyment. One big difference between the Singaporean and U.S. cultures is on the emphasis of mastering basic facts. Parents in Singapore believe it’s their job to do this. In the U.S.? Well, it’s the schools’ job. Just as we expect students to read very night to improve their reading fluency, so too should they practice math facts every night to improve fact fluency.

10. This isn’t your parents’ math either! (See #1) Many schools hold a Singapore Math night to introduce the new curriculum to the parents. Share with parents how the curriculum differs from what they’ve seen before, samples of the materials, some strategies, a couple of word problems and you’ll fend off weeks of questions and email.

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 Mathh (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.]

Looking for the Best Singapore Math® Materials?

InformationOr resources to help students?

These new pages should help.

Every year, I respond to hundreds of inquiries from teachers, administrators and parents seeking more information about the Singapore Math curriculum.

Some want to learn more about Math from Singapore and why it is so successful. Others are looking for specific resources to use in the classroom or for home enjoyment. Others still are seeking to a higher level of knowledge so they can be more effective math coaches or trainers.

I’ve added three new pages to Singapore Math Source to steer you to the best available books for a variety of needs:

Singapore Math® Editions – at a GlanceWhich series should I buy? See all your options.

Best Books to Support Singapore Math in the ClassroomSupplemental books for use with students.

Best Books for Grown-Ups Wanting to Learn Singapore Math: Title says it all, doesn’t it?

-Image via Indexed

Our Journey to Singapore: A Singapore Math Adoption Success Story

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

Beth Curran

For some time, I’ve wanted to share stories of schools that have successfully implemented a Singapore Math curriculum.

To present the first such case study, I asked my colleague Beth Curran to summarize the adoption process at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, an independent Pre-K to 12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Please contact me if your school has a story to contribute.

 


 Our Journey to Singapore

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

stab_logoIt all began with a strategic plan.  In 2011, St. Anne’s-Belfield School released its 2011-2016 Strategic Plan.  The first of six goals focused on teaching and learning in the 21st century.  Key elements to this goal included teaching with depth rather than breadth, teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills, improving the quality of our computation, and ensuring that our pedagogy reflects researched based best practices.  The Action Plan that followed gave direct mention to Singapore Math as a curriculum to explore.

While teachers felt strongly that the students were leaving our Lower School (grades Kindergarten through four) very well prepared for Middle School (grades five through eight), we had to ask a tough question; could we be doing better?

Why Singapore Math?

As the Lower School Math Coordinator at the time, I was charged with taking a critical look at the Lower School’s current math curriculum and learning all I could about Singapore Math.  The more I learned, the more I was convinced that Singapore Math would be a great match for us.  It was almost as if the Strategic Plan was written with Singapore Math in mind.  The curriculum teaches concepts to mastery, focusing on depth rather than breadth.  Critical thinking and problem-solving are embedded within the curriculum, not taught as a stand-alone unit.  Concepts are introduced, practiced, and applied immediately to solve problems.  Computation and numeracy are also a major focus.  Check, check, and check!

Learning Village at St. Anne's-Belfield School

Learning Village at St. Anne’s-Belfield School

Not all of the homeroom teachers were as enthusiastic as I was.  It was a daunting task convincing them that learning a new math curriculum, on the tails of learning a new writing curriculum, was a good thing.  St. Anne’s-Belfield’s Head of School, being the visionary that he is, saw an opportunity to not only implement a new math curriculum, but to change the way math instruction is delivered at the Lower School level.  If we were going to ask our teachers to become Singapore Math specialists, why not hire and train dedicated math teachers?  And that’s just what he did.  Four math teachers were hired to deliver math instruction and these dedicated math specialists would co-teach math with the homeroom teacher taking on a supporting role.  This had an added benefit of cutting our student to teacher ratio in half during math class.

With the faculty in place and the Primary Mathematics materials ordered, we set out to train our dedicated math teachers in Kindergarten through sixth grade.  We contracted with Cassy Turner, Singapore Math Specialist and Trainer to work with our math teachers for an intensive one-week boot camp.  We learned the ins and outs of mental math and the bar model.  We asked questions, practiced, collaborated, practiced, designed an implementation schedule, and practiced.  Cassy’s enthusiasm and extensive knowledge left us feeling confident to tackle the upcoming year.  We knew professional development was crucial to a successful implementation and with that in mind we continued our relationship with Cassy throughout the year.  She made three more trips to the school, observing and teaching lessons and providing her guidance to keep us on track.

Successes and Challenges

Fast forward to today.  We are now a year and a half into our implementation. Our students are stronger problem-solvers than ever before.  Their computational skills have shown marked improvement.  Their overall sense of number and place value has increased.  Our students are confident and persevere through challenging problems.

We have done a lot of things really well.  We understood and placed value on professional development.  This is not a curriculum that can be picked up and taught from the Teacher’s Guides.  Most teachers did not learn math the way that a Singapore Math curriculum is taught.  Training is key.  If not trained, teachers will revert to teaching math the way they learned it.  Having a successful plan for ongoing professional development is critical to a successful implementation.

We put value on mathematics instruction at the Lower School level.  We saw the need for math specialists and took a huge financial risk to improve our instruction.

We implemented the curriculum in Kindergarten through sixth grade.  We felt so strongly about the benefits of the curriculum that we knew that even one or two years of exposure would be better than none.  This has been one of the most challenging hurdles of our implementation.  We worked with Cassy to anticipate and develop a plan for “back-teaching” missing skills.   In grades three through six, this plan guided us through our first year and fortunately, Kindergarteners through second grade students benefited from needing very minimal “back-teaching.”  Developing a relationship with a knowledgeable Singapore Math consultant is crucial.

If there was an area for improvement, it was parent communication and education.  We hosted a parent night early into the school year to give parents an overview of the curriculum and a brief introduction to some of the components that are unique to Singapore Math.  That wasn’t enough.  Parents didn’t learn math the way their children were now learning it. The focus of Singapore Math is to develop conceptual understanding before learning the mathematical steps or procedures.  Parents need to understand and support the school in teaching math this way.  Parent education is not an option; it is a requirement of a successful implementation.  In our second year, we designed a plan for parent chats spread throughout the year with topics including fact practice, mental math strategies, and bar modeling as a tool for problem-solving.  Your professional development provider or consultant can assist you in designing a parent education program that meets the needs of your school.

Our journey continues and our students are stronger math students as a result.  The first year was clearly the most challenging.  Our commitment to professional development, perseverance, and acceptance of this unfamiliar approach to teaching math has guided us and we are confident that each passing year will continue to confirm the benefits of teaching a Singapore Math curriculum.