Family Friday: The Beauty and Logic of Singapore Math

Second Friday of the month:  Schooling / Education

Before anything else, I'll share what is Singapore Mathematics according to the principal of Marshall Cavendish Institute (see full video here):

"Singapore Math is the way we teach Mathematics to children in Singapore in the way that we help the child succeed:
Struggling learners - will learn enough to progress to the next stage
 Average learners - able to perform at a higher level
Advanced learners - abilities will be challenged
To students, it's a way of learning that allow every single one to learn Mathematics well.
To teachers, it's a way of teaching Math such that they do not need to have specialist knowledge to be able to do the job; materials and textbooks will allow them to learn the Math they need to teach.
To the systems/schools, it's a way to help increase the level of proficiency of the children."
- Dr. Yeap Ban Har

Singapore Mathas developed by Marshall Cavendish Education:
"Learning mathematics is more than just numbers, sets of rules or formulas.
It teaches us a way of thinking critically, a method of solving problems.
Materials developed equip students with problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills necessary for life." - www.mceducation.sg

I attended a talk on teaching Singapore Math at my girl's school last year, which was conducted by none other than Dr. Yeap Ban Har, who also provides teacher training for the school's faculty members. I clearly remember him saying that it sounded funny hearing people say "Singapore Math", 'coz for him, there's nothing "Singaporean" about Mathematics. It's just arithmetic. And then proceeded to share that Singapore's approach to teaching and learning math was a result of decades of research to find ways to help Singaporean students perform better in school.

When I was still studying, Math and Filipino were my stronger subjects.  I don't know why, but that was the trend until college. But that doesn't mean I'm good at accounting and finance - these were my waterloo, my lowest grades went to those subjects! Until now, I'm allergic to those areas so I stay as far away from those topics! =)

Anyhow, being a tutor to my kids, I learned about the Singapore approach and realized that's how I process (math) in my head - that's why I love Singapore Math! I get it! BUT, and a big BUT - knowing how is different from teaching it! It's quite a challenge to patiently go through the steps with each equation. It's a longer way, yes. But only at the beginning. 

Step by step, the method requires you to use concrete materials, then illustrate the process, and finish with the numbers.  Eventually, this will reveal the "fast" approach to arriving at the answer with a conceptual understanding of the problem. The exercises in the books will help students compute faster as they progress and go to next level.  That is the fundamental learning theory applied to Singapore Math. Watch this short video to know what I'm talking about:

Singapore Math = Concrete > Pictorial > Abstract (CPA approach)

Concrete materials, following the theory of Jerome Bruner, using symbolic or concrete representation
Pictorial, use of visuals
Abstract symbols = Numbers in equations

CPA approach harps conceptual learning, on critical thinking and problem solving; avoids memorizing, rote counting, eliminates tedious processes; adds layers to learning, not rushed. It's how you arrive at the answer that's more important - as Dr. Yeap quipped, we can always use the calculator to get the answer! Totoo naman! =)

My key learning from Dr. Yeap:
Learn beyond basic, process is more important than answer.
Mathematics is a vehicle = Focus is on problem-solving, critical thinking, and 21st century competencies

I am currently trying to apply his tips and techniques below. The Scaffolding technique has been very effective especially when doing problem solving exercises. I have to admit, my patience is being stretched every day. The use of white board has been very helpful, but I may need to get my hands on more concrete materials and visual aids.

Teaching Tips:

  • Visual learning for young kids, pre schoolers = use materials to help visualization to solve math problems.
  • If kids cant explain, do not teach. Ex. for low level skills to teach high level thinking
  • Any method they know, break in smaller groups to get answer

Teaching Techniques:

  • Modeling - read by parts, show and verbalize thoughts on solving the word problem
    • Example: Model cognitive behavior - don't rush task, read a little at a time, skip reading the number
  • Scaffolding- prompt and build by asking question from the word problem

5 Things to be Mathematically Proficient

  1. Visualization
  2. Look for trends, patterns, methods
  3. Number sense
  4. Mental cognition - managing conditions, brain process
  5. Communication - understand and be understood

Strategy to teach SPED kids
  1. Concrete ways - work with materials (virtual manipulatives here)
  2. Structure, set expectations
  3. Group learning, but teach proper social behavior

See and analyze the sample illustrations below, and try to solve them too, the Sing-Math way! =)
(Grabbed from albums in Marshall Cavendish Institute on Facebook)

Try this, mentally, it's brilliant!

I'm scared of fractions - but I got the process of this one. 

This was challenging. I got the answer, the traditional way, but not the Sing-Math process.

As a parent-tutor-teacher, I am interested and eager to learn how to properly and effectively teach this method of Mathematics to my kids. We've been using the Singapore-made My Pals Are Here books since 2010. I appreciate the methods and CPA approach developed for teaching and learning Math better. The books/materials were meticulously designed and planned with that goal in mind. Believe me, it really makes learning/teaching Math a little more fun and interesting, heehee. =)

Having a better understanding and appreciation of the Singapore Math approach will give me more confidence in teaching the kids, especially now that the boy is homeschooling. Truth be told, I look forward to our Math time than Language and Social Studies classes! =)

Are you a parent with school kids? Are they learning Math the Singapore way?


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