Susan Midlarsky

author • consultant • tutor | inspiring excellence
Articles Singapore Math

Comment: A Slower Approach to Math


Following on from last Friday’s New York Times article, the NY Times blogs ran a brief follow-up article titled, “A Slower Approach to Math,” with the opportunity to add your own comments to it. There were some pretty interesting thoughts there, which inspired me to add the following comment:

As a teacher experienced in teaching Singapore Math and training other teachers to use it, I am constantly learning about the state of education around our country, especially in math.

I see Singapore Math has many strengths as a curriculum and approach, and more of these are being adopted into our schools, as well as into other curricula. The model drawing approach to problem solving, for example, is a powerful tool that is obvious when you know it, but takes a while to understand and apply.

Without adequate training and development, however, Singapore Math cannot be a panacea for schools that are failing to teach math well. Much more needs to happen there, from teaching the methods to making more time for math in the classroom, as others have noted.

But we are dealing with a double deficit: a generation of teachers who have been impacted by poor math teaching when they were growing up, so they feel inadequate in that area. Not everyone, of course, but those who are confident and able in math tend to be in the minority. How do we solve this problem?

In addition, I too had trouble recognizing the curriculum in the beginning of this article about Singapore Math. Maybe what the writer was referring to, in terms of “slowness,” was the time the curriculum spends on mastering the number bonds for each number. That is, knowing all the different numbers that can be used to make seven (5+2, 3+4, 6+1, 7+0) becomes a powerful tool later to be able to compose and decompose numbers at will, allowing strong mastery of math facts and the basis for number sense.

Finally, @Learningcoach, forgive me, but I found your video difficult to take. First of all, the ability to recall multiplication facts is a useful skill and should be practiced, but to make that a priority in first grade may do more harm than good. The boy in the video seemed stressed to me. To ensure success for everyone, even those who find memorizing math facts difficult, we need to take the stress out, or why will they even want to continue to learn math? Enough challenge to keep them at the edge of their comfort zone is important for learning, but not outright stress. And from what I understand, they do drills like that in Asian countries anyway, so I doubt we will get ahead of Singapore that way.

What will help us to rise up in the ranks is to combine the mathematical skills other countries have achieved with the unique assets of our country, the creative and independent thinking and innovation we prize so highly.

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