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.
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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.
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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.

1 comment:

james abram said...

Wew! Learning primary math as my basic foundation is really different as from what singapore math students are thinking.