Letter: A better way to teach math
Published 4:58 pm, Friday, March 8, 2013
Until a few weeks ago, I was completely unaware that the Fairfield school board was realigning its math curriculum to the Common Core State Standards or that it was reviewing the supporting text. Even if I'd known, why should I care? My girls are in one of the top school districts in the country, and only being in the first grade, they're already showing great progress across a broad array of subjects.
I never felt the need to question the approach taken by our town's educators, but when I heard the debate starting to thrum around this impending decision, I decided to go to the open text review and see what all the fuss was about. Out of the four options of supporting text presented, there were two clear choices for me and two that seemed obvious to avoid at all costs. Why were these latter two even considered? I decided to do some research to get a broader perspective and better understand how these varying texts have fared when implemented elsewhere, and I needed to get more of an academic grounding on these different approaches...They are greatly different.
The two Singapore Math Inc. options were my clear favorites from the text review, and based on my subsequent research, they are the hands-down winners. When implemented as intended, the results were overwhelmingly in their favor, so how could anyone opt for the other texts, especially the uninspiring TERC (an educational research organization) approach? Then it dawned on me. The Singapore Math approach represents a fairly significant departure from what many of us grew up with. It reshapes, for teachers and parents, the math we were taught into a more conceptually integrated program. And this requires training. We all know and get how hard it is to embrace change, but you can't help but wonder,with America's slipping status around education on the world stage, isn't this the exact kind of change that we should be demanding for our kids?
Singapore Math is about solving problems, thinking deeply, and sharing ideas.
Its lessons begin with hands-on concrete learning,f ollowed by pictorial representation to help form a mental image of the math concepts introduced, then movingto the abstract stage where kids problem solve using numbers and symbols. This cycle is repeated throughout each unit while students move from simple to more complex problems.
The early years spent thoroughly teaching the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division is what allows for the mastery of facts. Problems are carefully sequenced and scaffold to introduce higher complexity. It emphasizes the "why" and not just the "how." Students are encouraged to evaluate multiple solution methods and need to be able to explain their thinking and understanding as well as of their peers.
These skills will carry over to other subjects.
Of course, there would be challenges to implementing Singapore Math. It would require administration commitment, extensive teacher training and an annual replacement of consumable materials, but aren't our children worth it?