|First we looked at Indian maths, then Kumon maths, now Singapore maths? Why Singapore maths? Well, we’re featuring Singapore maths here because it is a curriculum that is relied upon by many homeschooling families in Japan, and in our Education-in-Japan online community. So we thought we’d post the two news articles below that show why many overseas educators are adopting math texts out of Singapore.
|US kids score with S’pore maths texts|
|LOS ANGELES – IN JUST one year, an elementary school in a poor district of Los Angeles increased the number of fifth-graders achieving state standards by 69 per cent – simply by switching to Singaporean maths textbooks. In 2005, just 45 per cent of the children in Hollywood’s Ramona Elementary School’s equivalent of Singapore’s Primary 5 made the grade.
But that was also the year that Ramona began using textbooks developed for Singapore’s schools, whose pupils consistently rank tops in world maths comparisons.
In 2006, the switch was rewarded with a 76 per cent pass rate. ‘It’s wonderful,’ said principal Susan Arcaris. ‘Seven out of 10 of the students in our school are proficient or better in math.’
And Ramona’s pupils – many of whom are children from poor immigrant families – are outperforming their counterparts in more affluent schools.
California recently became the first state to include the Singapore series on its list of state-approved texts.
Being on the list puts an important imprimatur on the books, because California is by far the largest, most influential textbook buyer in the country.
The decision to approve the books could also place California ahead of the national curve as the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is expected this week to issue maths reforms that, in many ways, mirror the Singapore curriculum.
The report comes in the wake of a ‘maths war’ nationwide. Fundamentalists want a return to basics; reformers demand a curriculum that would emphasise conceptual understanding.
Mathematicians on both sides of the divide say that the Singapore curriculum teaches both. By hammering on the basics, it instils a deep understanding of key concepts, they say.
Ramona, which received a grant to introduce the Singapore curriculum, is one of a sprinkling of schools in the United States to do so.
The Singapore books are not easy for teachers to use without training. In fact, a study in Maryland schools using the Singapore books found that students did better only when their teachers had been trained to use the books.
But whatever teachers think of the texts, the Ramona pupils clearly love it, as they treat their 60-second basic drills like a game.
What may not be obvious initially is that the drill (what’s 2+3, 3+4, 8+2) is carefully thought out to reinforce patterns of mathematical thinking.
This thoughtfulness is the true hallmark of the Singapore books, advocates say.
After 10 years of studying the Singaporean curriculum, Professor Yoram Sagher of the University of Illinois in Chicago says he is still amazed by ‘the gentle, clever ways that the mathematics is brought to the intuition of the students’.
Ramona maths coach Robin Ramos illustrates the point by flipping through two sets of texts: the Singapore books and those of a conventional American maths series.
In the latter, there is a picture of eight trees, and two circles in the sky. The instructions say: ‘There are 2 birds in all.’ There are no birds on the page, but the instructions direct the students to draw little yellow disks in the circles to represent them.
Without a visual representation of birds, Ms Ramos noted, the maths is confusing for a five or six-year-old.
The Singapore first-grade text, by contrast, begins with a blank rectangle and the number and word for ‘zero’. Below that was a rectangle with a single robot in it, and the number and word for ‘one’. Then a rectangle with two dolls, and the number and word for ‘two,’ and so on.
‘This page is very pictorial, but it refers to something very concrete,’ Ms Ramos said. ‘Something they can understand.’
LOS ANGELES TIMES
US TEXTS ADAPTED FROM S’PORE VERSIONS THE Primary Mathematics Standards Edition, which is for grades one to five, is adapted from the Primary Mathematics Project series co-published by Singapore’s Marshall Cavendish and the Ministry of Education in 1982.
Marshall Cavendish, a publishing brand under Times Publishing Group in Singapore, worked with SingaporeMath.com – an Oregon-based company which distributes Singapore mathematics textbooks in the United States – to market the books there.
Besides the primary school series, there is also the Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Standards Edition, an adaptation of the Earlybird Preschool Mathematics used by kindergarten-age children in Singapore.
The Singapore books needed a little tweaking for the American market – for example, Singapore dollars became US dollars, while ‘apples’ were used in examples instead of tropical fruits such as rambutans or durians.
Last November, the state of California approved the use of these maths textbooks in schools there.
SingaporeMath.com estimated last year that Singapore books are used by 70,000 students in 700 to 800 schools in the US, mainly in states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Singapore maths textbooks are used not only in the US, but also in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Top photo: Mr Jeffery Thomas (left), founder of SingaporeMath.com Inc, which distributes Singapore textbooks, and Mr Ling Guan Heng, general manager of Marshall Cavendish International, showing off the cover of the maths textbook series approved for use by California’s board of education