US teachers get lessons on Singapore maths

About 10 US varsities now offer courses on teaching maths using Singapore textbooks

By Ho Ai Li

SINGAPORE mathematics textbooks, already used by many shcools and parents in the United States, are making deeper inroads there.

Since the start of this year, about 10 US universities, including Michigan State university, have been offering courses on teaching maths to trainee teachers using books from Singapore. More universities are expected to offer the course. Inc, which distributes these books in the US also plans to train American teachers to teach American teachers to teach Singapore-style maths in a tie-up with a training company next year. Inc was set up by Singaporean Dawn Yuen and her Amercian husband Jeffery Thomas in 1998. The plan is for trainers to visit shcools to coach the teachers, said Ms Yuen. She was here on a visit yesterday.

This will “make it easier for school teachers to use the programme”, she said.

From a few schools in 1998, there are now 200 to 300 schools — mainly in the East Coast area using Singapore maths textbooks. Inc, which has six employees and is based in Portland in the US state of Oregon, has been offering help over the Internet to parents using the books at home.

It distributes 11 different series of textbooks for primary and secondary maths and science from Signaproe publishers such as SNP Panpac. It also stocks 30 different series of asseement books.

Primary maths textbooks are the bestsellers. Ms Yuen said each series sells “in the thousands”.

The couple, who lived here from 1992 to 1997, used Singapore textbooks to tutor their daughter Echo when they moved to the US.

Echo, who is 14 and in the eight grade, scores straight As in maths even though she is more into lanugage and the arts. Her parents thought it was a good idea to sell the books in the US.

It was hard in the beginnning. Said Ms Yuen: “Many people in the US didn’t even know where Singapore is, let alone know that it has a good maths programme written in Egnlish.”

But Singapore maths gained a foothod in the US when American educators started taking note of the Republic’s first positions in the subject in the 1995 and 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

In comparison, American eight graders — equivalent to Secondary 2 here — finished 19th in 199. This has spurred many schools to try Asian alternatives, including Singapore maths or the Kumon method from Japan.

Singapore maths has also won priase from academics for more depth in coverage of topics than the American curriculum.

Academics Thomas Parker and Scott Baldridge wrote in a maths course book, Elementary Mathematics for Teachers, that Singapore primary mathematics texts “give an extraordinarily clear presentation of what elementary school matematics is and how it is organised and developed”.

They added: “They lay out the subject in depth, and they include a rich supply of exercises and word problems. The mathematics is always clean and correct, and topics are repeatedly covered from different approaches.”

Ms Yuen sees demand for Singapore textbooks rising by at least 30 to 50 per cent next year.

A few US schools also use Singapore primary science textbooks, though the tropical and urban setting makes them less accessible to students there, said Mr Thomas.

American editions of the Singapore maths books published by Marshall Cavendish, SNP Panpac and Pearson Education Asia have replaced Asian names with American ones.

Said Mr Thomas: “The US edition has made a big difference and now our efforts for teacher training is going to make a big difference.”

The Straits Times, Tues, Dec 28, 2004

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