Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Singapore Math

In 1983, Singapore ranked 17/26 in TIMSS.  Singapore then adopted a new national curriculum for all schools.  In 1995, Singapore ranked 1/41.  Singapore has remained in the top 1 or 2 since.  Hong Kong SAR is the main challenger with Finland close.

Singapore has recently adopted a heavily revised curriculum that is more focused on problem-solving.  The impact of the revision, particularly on calculation/number sense, isn't clear at this time. "Singapore Math" refers to the 1994 revision, with modifications for California.

Singapore Math can be seen as having these distinguishing features:

  1.  Going in depth on a few topics for mastery learning
  2.  Extreme emphasis on building Number Sense
  3.  A coherent, longitudinal approach in the use of modeling to solve word problems

Instruction follows a basic sequence of Concrete - Pictorial - Abstract - Mental Math. One hour per day with little homework is employed.

Mental Math means that students learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide internally.  Flash cards are barely known as existing!  Calculators are unnecessary.  For example, 15 is seen as 10+5, which means that students may determine internally that 9+6 = 9+(1+5) = (9+1)+5 = 10+5 = 15 or 28-13 = (28+2)-(13+2) = (20+10)-(10+5) = (20-10)+(10-5) = 15. One way isn't mandated, but students must explain their process.  In short, place value and the use of tens are paramount to an extent that is unknown in the United States.  Abstract algorithms such as multiply and carry or long division are delayed for as long as feasible.

Developing models, as precursor for algebra, follow an orderly progression, by doing 1-3 daily word problems.

     K-1 Manipulatives
        2 Base 10 blocks
     3-4 dots/disks
     5-6 Rectangles         

Each word problem is solved following the same form:  Model - Equation(s) - Sentence answer - (scratch area).  Neatness and completeness matter in this MES system.

One implication of Singapore Math is to ask parents not to help!  Americans teach the wrong methods too early.

The above words are edited notes of a presentation by Corrine Khoo-Lieu (Palo Alto) of the Pi Project on March 28 in Los Angeles.  Extensive demonstrations of activities were performed.  One of several small training consultancies on Singapore Math.  Richard Bisk (Massachusetts) is another highly sought after consultant.

The SmartMath software, written in Hong Kong, used in the CRO, mimics much of Singapore Math. If a district wanted to implement Singapore Math, a rollout works best, but K2 can be done easily at one time. 3-4-5 could follow year by year or one year after K2.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alternative Attendance Measure in Instruction

Reducing cuts is important. However, contacting parents or student for excuses after a student's return makes less sense now than in the past.

Before a PLC (Professional Learning Community) emphasis, teachers would issue zeros for missing work if students cut. The reward for bad behavior was no work, followed by more poor behavior because students quickly realize that zero's force them to fail in a standard 0-100 point system, which creates more hassle and costs for the school system as a whole and dropouts. Now, students must complete their work: attendance is irrelevant for grading, but vital for learning. More subtlely, the joy of being sick goes away to the student. This approach has been used successfully in summer school for years: excuses are irrelevant. The metric that matters is attendance, not the reason. The three-days-to-change-a-cut rule remains somewhat useful for awards, but no reminders to students and parents to clear a cut need or should be made. Getting students to school is the issue, not asking them or parents for an excuse when they arrive or afterwards.

Furthermore, sadly, there is a correlation between poor attendance and disruptive behavior. Since students can be transferred at no, or little charge, to a County ACCESS High School after four full days of cuts, it actually behooves schools and the majority of students within them to have absences marked as cuts. It gives schools more flexibility in dealing with, frankly, dangerous students.  Reminding returned students or requiring excuses before students return to school is self-defeating and wasteful of everyone's time. It's merely going through the motions of improving attendance.

In short, attendance is the only issue. Excuses are irrelevant. Higher attendance does not result by administratively pressuring ourselves to reduce the number of marked cuts. The enemy to learning isn't cuts, but excused absences! Working this number down would have positive effects.

Possible Metric

a. ID the number of First Period Absences in last semester as a baseline.
b. ID the number of Full Day Absences in last semester as a baseline.
c. Record the number of First Period Absences and Full Day Absences this semester.
d. An increase in First Period, but a decrease in Full Day means a real system improvement has occurred.
e. Decrease/Increase in all absences is the obvious main statistic.
f. Trend the two numbers above and single period skips.