Weekly Math Updates

April 26, 2006

  • Singapore Math
  • Singapore Math Teacher Email
  • Parent Email
  • Weekly Comic

Hi all,

Let me just say, Alpine district appears to be feeling a pinch from the charter schools. They are looking at how to handle the loss of a LOT of students this fall. It will of course fill back in relatively soon due to the extremely rapid growth in this area, but they are about to really experience a real walk-out of sorts with the number of charters opening up this fall. But naturally, it's not math related or a problem with anything they're doing (according to them). It's like the president of a company saying, "Sales are down, customers are complaining and telling us they won't do business with us anymore. It must be the better marketing job the competition is doing."

Singapore Math

This week I wanted to discuss Singapore Math a little more in depth. You've heard me tout the benefits of various programs like Saxon, SRA, and Sadlier-Oxford, but let me start off by saying Singapore math is as close to a "silver bullet" in education programs as anything I've seen. Those of you that have been with me for a while know that Singapore math was chosen by several of my national contacts as the very best math program, as long as you have teachers that can teach well (some training may be required for the teachers). Singapore math and science students have been number one in the international TIMSS rankings for the last decade at both 4th and 8th grades (1995, 1999, 2003). The country of Israel is using Singapore math and the top school in Colorado last year for 5 years running on a Saxon program, was dethroned by a Singapore math school. In NY City a Singapore math school went in and became the top school. It is being used all over the country in little test pockets and with great success. Just this month they completed translating teacher resource manuals into English for grades K-6. They've had student textbook and workbooks available for some time, but teacher resources were a little limited. Grades 7 and up are still a little scanty for teachers because they expect teachers at that level to have stronger math skills and not need so much of the teacher guide help on how and what to teach to cover the concepts.

So why do I think Singapore math is the very best available? For one, it works. You don't run your country on a math program for years and have them rank #1 internationally repeatedly without a quality program. Some people are under the impression that those international scores by Singapore were only a test of "math-track" students but this is incorrect. When I asked Dr. Jim Milgram at Stanford what people were saying about this very thing he replied:

"The TIMSS scores are over a CROSS SECTION of the community. They reflect as accurately as is possible the entire population. The same with our kids. So, when one looks at our top 5% they "perform similarly to the top 10 - 20% of the age cohort in most of the other countries." [S. Takahira, P. Gonzales, M. Frase, L.H. Salganik, "Persuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Twelfth-Grade Mathematic and Science Achievement in International Context." U.S. Dept. of Ed. 1998, P. 44."

Another reason to like Singapore math is it is very visual in how it teaches. I recently purchased a set of many of the Singpore math books to show my local elementary school as well as a local charter school to consider putting into their curriculum. The books were well received and the local school has given teachers permission to use the workbooks in their classroom next year (even as homework replacements) and even implement Singapore math textbooks in the classroom if the teacher desires. It's a huge step and I encourage you to forward this email to your local principal and teachers and ask them to look at the resources I will list below so they can get an idea of how great this program is. Right now your schools are deciding what to spend money on next year and you may be able to help influence that decision in a very positive way.

Everyone always says kids learn in different ways. That's true and it's a strength of the Singaporean methods. I have scanned (sure hope the publisher won't mind :)) a page or two from each of the workbooks grades 1-6 as well as from a couple of the supplementary books that can be purchased. I have made the 21-page packet available for download from my website and I strongly encourage you to view the packet and see how fun the activities are for kids. The best complement going around the internet reviews for Singapore math is that the kids actually have fun doing the program. The math is laid out very well and covers all it's bases. In fact, one brilliant aspect of the program is the introduction of division in 2nd grade while children are learning addition and multiplication facts. It makes sense to show a 3 by 6 grid of objects, teach 6+6+6, 6x3, and 18/3 all at once so kids see the concepts in relation to each other. However, the strongest part of Singapore math problems are the challenging word problems of which I have reproduced a couple pages at the end of the packet.

Each page of the packet has the grade level written at the top and whether it's (A) the first half year book, or (B) the second half book. If it's a supplementary book it also identifies itself as such.

Download the Singapore Math PDF example packet (right-click and select Save As to save the pdf to your computer)

Visit the Singapore Math website (www.singaporemath.com)

Here's an article about Singapore math that discusses some pros and cons
As Math Skills Slip U. S. Schools Seek Answers from Asia

Here's a link to an hour long NPR math and science audio program on Singapore math
Singapore Math Method

I hope you will take the time to learn more about this program. It involves less drill exercises than Saxon (less repetition) and they are very fun exercises as well--often formed into game and puzzle type exercises. It's also higher on the scale of deep thinking problems than perhaps any math program, challenging students to really look hard at fewer, but multi-step problems, that really make children think about how to get the answer. I think you'll be impressed at the structure of the program in the packet, and also recognize the clear superiority of the level of work over anything being offered in the district.

In terms of costs for schools, purchases in quantities of at least 50 books will get you a 15% discount off the standard prices. Each year of school is broken up into a first and second half, and books are separated as well so you have an "A" and "B" book as I mentioned above. Total cost for a teacher book is $20/class, the two student textbooks total about $15/grade and are reuseable, student workbooks total $15/grade, and supplemental books are $7-8 each but are not necessary--but provide some of the best advanced problems (the books are all 100-200 pages in paperback form so they're very easy to transport without being heavy by any means). Manipulatives are also available at the website. So for a class of 30 students, you'd buy a teacher's guide for $20, 30 sets of textbooks ($15) and workbooks ($15) for a total cost of $920 (less 15% discount--about $780) for the class before purchasing manipulatives and any supplemental materials. The workbooks are great for your consumables because now you don't have to run copies continually and the kids always have a book to carry around and they can even work ahead. Year two purchases would only be for the workbooks since the textbooks are reuseable so a class of 30 would have all their homework assignments purchased for roughly $380 (after discount) and no copier would be running thousands of copies off every day. Teachers could of course print any supplementary material they felt was warranted.

If your child has a chance to attend a Singapore math program, that is a huge opportunity for you to get a very strong math program. Please encourage your school teachers to look at the program and problems and consider using the workbooks at least for homework assignments. They are fantastic and understandable by parents and students. Send them this email so they can download the pdf and examine the links.

Singapore Math Teacher Email

I am the math coach at Benchmark School in Phoenix, AZ.  In March of 2001, one of the Benchmark administrators and I heard Yoram Sagher speak at the Core Knowledge convention.  We were intrigued and started to research Singapore Math.  We decided that we would have to have buy-in by the teachers in order to change the curriculum, so a week before school started the school paid for Dr. Sagher to come to Benchmark and speak to the teachers.  The decision was made to switch to Singapore Math immediately.  Of course, it took time for the books to come in, so for the first two weeks we had no books.  As soon as the books arrived, we had to start using them, giving little time to the teachers to teach the new curriculum.  Luckily, the administration decided to pay Dr. Sagher to come out and train the teachers several times.  The switch was not particularly easy, but was well worth it.  Benchmark has some of the highest math scores on standardized test scores in the State.  In addition, I take fourth, fifth and sixth graders to local math competitions whenever I can.  They dominate in any competition in which they are up against students in their own grades.  I take a team of sixth graders to the Math Counts competition each year, which is for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  Our sixth grade team always scores higher than any other 6th grade team.  This year, our school team placed 9th out of 23 schools, and the eight teams above us were made up of 7th and 8th graders.  One of our students made it to the State level of Math Counts.  Students at our school love math, and I mean any student you ask will tell you that.  I think that having the teacher buy-in before implementation, and the training we received were the two factors that made the switch as painless as possible.  If I can be of any further help, please let me know.

Tricia Salerno

Parent Email

Dear Oak Norton,
                        Thanks for all the emails.  I finally read some of them.  I know this is a bad excuse for the reason that I haven't been involved but I've been swamped with my six kids.  The homework every night just controls my weeknights.  I feel overwhelmed with that that it keeps me from getting politically involved with the math garbage.  I just attended parent  teacher conference last week and discovered that my second grader is completely behind in Math.  She can't pass a 2's time test.  She basically learned NO Math in first grade.  I know this is true because her first grade teacher told me that she did not believe in "drill and kill".  I'm quoting the teacher.  I tried to teach my daughter to add last summer, but I can see that I'm going to have to teach her first and second grade Math this coming summer so she will be prepared for third grade.  It is a huge frustration for me because I have to spend all this time teaching academics at home.  My responsibility is to teach character values to my kids and the schools responsibility is to teach academics and they are failing in the subject of Math and bringing my kids down with them. 
          My fourth grade daughter was getting straight A's in Math in first grade at Vineyard Elementary.  When we moved to Lehi in second grade the teacher said she was really struggling.  I was shocked and discovered they were teaching investigations.  I thought about teaching Math at home to my kids and sending them back to school for the rest of the subjects but I haven't done it, yet.  One teacher told me that they do not have a set Math time and that she just teaches it throughout the day, so I didn't really know when I could take her out without her missing her other subjects.
           I'm currently trying to get my kids in a charter school so I can get rid of this headache.

Thank You,

[name removed]

Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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