Archive for February, 2011

TERC/Investigations: Comparison with Singapore Math

Monday, February 28th, 2011


A great article titled Waiting for Supermath came through my inbox today. It includes commentary on a video (below) of a third grader showing how she solves a four-digit addition problem using what she learns at school, or the Investigations curriculum, versus what her mother (a math intervention specialist) teaches at home, the traditional “stacking” algorithm.

What strikes me most about the video is that the first method, using the graphic model, shows what seems to me an overuse of the conceptual level of addition.

One strength of Singapore Math is that it starts with the conceptual level, which is essential, but then it moves to the abstract. In this process, the student starts with concrete representations of a problem, like manipulatives, then to pictorial or graphic representations, and finally to the algorithm, once they have mastered the concept.

But in the video, the girl starts out solving the problem with what could be drawings of base 10 blocks – and way too many of them. This is keeping her stuck at the concrete stage and leads to inefficiency and inaccuracy in her calculations.

It also strikes me, as the video points out in the end, that this method of teaching creates the myth that larger numbers are harder to calculate. Is this what we want to perpetuate in our students? I know if I had, I wouldn’t have had a group of second and third graders who decided, on their own, to learn 50 or more digits of pi.

One other note: I did use Investigations for one year in a middle school classroom. That was the year that some parents and I convinced the administration to finally adopt a curriculum that made sense. And what did they choose? Singapore Math!

Watch the video:

US vs. Korean Education

Friday, February 25th, 2011


President Obama would like to know how South Korea has risen up to have one of the fastest-growing economies and best-educated workers in just over a generation. Rather than look to a magic fix, The Lost Seoul addresses some cultural differences between South Korea and the US in this blog post. One important difference he mentions is attitude. If you ask an American student if he or she is good at math, you will usually get a straightforward answer. If you ask a South Korean student the same thing, he or she won’t know how to answer. The question doesn’t compute.

The Lost Seoul suggests that the reason for this is because in the US, we equate math ability with genetic tendency – you inherit it from your parents – which is self-limiting for those who have parents who don’t believe they are good in math. And if they don’t think they are good in math, Americans won’t pursue it past high school. But in South Korea, math is just something they do, probably more like reading in the US. Adults in the US don’t stop reading after high school just because they might not have been the best or fastest at it in school. It’s part of life, in everything from sports or fashion magazines to professional journals. I found the post interesting and informative, and I recommend checking it out.

Book Review: You Can Count on Monsters

Thursday, February 24th, 2011


Today in my Math Mavens program, we opened the book You Can Count on Monsters by Richard Evan Schwartz for the first time. This is a book I bought because I heard glowing reviews of it on NPR.

The concept of the book is teaching prime and composite numbers through colorful, geometrical monsters. It is written for any age, from preschool on up, and my students really appreciated it. They had a lot of fun looking at the monsters, spotting the prime monsters hidden inside the composite monsters, and describing what they saw. For example, one said the 20 monster looked like “two innocent two-monsters held in custody by evil nacho chips.”

For fans of Singapore Math or number bonds in general, you will also appreciate how each number is represented with a number of dots, the numeral, and a multiplication number bond for composite numbers. All in all, it makes a powerful set of connections for students between numbers, images and fun.

The book covers numbers 1 through 100, with an introductory section that explains factoring, prime and composite numbers, and how the book is designed, all with colorful images and not too wordy. A section in the back has a further exploration of prime numbers. A wonderful enrichment for any math education!

To see inside or order the book on Amazon, click below:


Letters to the President

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011


Among my students are three brothers in middle school whom I tutor in writing. They are all honors students whose parents hired me as a tutor for enrichment.

One activity I’m doing with them is to write a letter to the president. It’s simple enough to do: the White House website has an easy-to-use contact form, like those found on many websites. Or, of course, the letter can be mailed.

The activity sounds straightforward: the students should write about an issue that is important to them and send the letter to the president. It is an opportunity to discuss civics and current events, and to practice formal letter writing.

But it’s harder than it sounds, even with advanced students in middle school. First, despite their school classes in current events, most American children don’t feel connected to what’s happening in the world or in politics, or why these issues should matter to them. So we have spent a lot of time discussing some hot topics, like health care, food supplies, international wars and climate change. They really didn’t know much about any of these areas, so it was an opportunity for them to research and get to know more.

Once they each picked a topic, the next hurdle was what to say and how to say it. Getting the letters factually correct and written in a respectful tone was the first hurdle. Making sure the issues really mattered to them was the next. Since two of them chose health care costs as a topic, we spent a while discussing what health care would cost when they become adults if the costs keep rising the way they are now. We discussed the other costs of living and what they would be able to afford if they had to pay, say, $20,000 or more per year in health care costs. This helped bring the issue home to them.

This week I also encouraged them to put themselves inside the picture: let the president know why these issues matter to them. I think if more people involved themselves in this way, either as children or as adults, it could change the quality of our country for the better.

Oh, and as I was leaving today, their mom told me, with a beaming smile, that the boys really enjoy our classes. Imagine, middle school boys who enjoy having an extra hour and a half of school-like work added to their schedule each week!

Will Scardale continue to succeed despite budget issues?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011


Scarsdale, NY is a model district in terms of scores and success. They attribute this success to five building blocks in their curriculum: Singapore Math, inquiry approaches to science and social studies, fluency in information technology, and creative arts. Yet they are having to cut teachers and programs due to budget constraints. They contrast this to China, which funded five educators to visit their district.

Will Scarsdale have to cut back on their successful programs? Meetings of the Scarsdale Forum are happening during February. Read more at this Patch article.

Fostering Creativity in Math

Friday, February 11th, 2011


We hear plenty of talk about teaching and reinforcing basic skills in math. Yes, these are very important, but computation skills aren’t what lead to breakthroughs and new discoveries; new ways of thinking do, right?

This young woman exemplifies real creativity in mathematical thinking. I find this so inspiring. Investigating mathematical principles through art: what a concept!

BugMath for iPhone/iPod Review

Monday, February 7th, 2011


A new app for iPhone/iPod, called BugMath, came out recently. It claims to teach young children math skills based on Singapore Math methods.

To experience it, I played my way through the various games, which are fun and have cute graphics. I saw how they can reinforce counting and memory skills. However, I don’t see how they are based on Singapore Math principles, so I think they are using the words “Singapore Math” as a sales gimmick.

For these ages, 3-6, the game would use a true Singapore Math approach if it integrated number stories and number bonds. Also, the addition/subtraction game is entirely too random to teach those concepts. Yes, the children can count the number of bugs to calculate the answer, but that is not unique to Singapore Math. A good math practice game would progress from easy to difficult, but this game randomizes the questions, which makes it more like a quiz than a teaching tool.

Is it a good game for young children? It makes math fun, and it’s well designed for a game (except for the Space Invaders-imitation game, which would be too challenging for the motor skills of young children). So if you would like an entertaining game that has some educational value, it’s worth the two dollars. Just don’t expect it to be a true Singapore Math-based game.

For another review, see this page.

Singapore Math Summer Programs in New York

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011


Singapore Math summer programs come to Westchester, NY! Do you have children who would benefit from a summer experience learning math in the proven Singapore Math way? Send them to the brand new program offered this summer by experienced Singapore Math teacher, instructor and trainer Susan Midlarsky. Not only will they learn a lot, but it will be fun! Find out more at Register early – space is limited!


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