Monday, September 18, 2006

Teaching Math Singapore Style

Evidently I missed the "new way" of teaching math by a decade or so. The new math trend started in the '80s and continues unabated to today.

Good grief, what a mess math is! My kids have yet to have a system in place and I had to enroll my son this summer in a business called Mathnasium (which I highly recommend, by the way) that teaches math the old-fashioned way. What a great description of the "new" math:

One of the most infamous fads took root in the late 1980’s, when many schools moved away from traditional mathematics instruction, which required drills and problem solving. The new system, sometimes derided as “fuzzy math,’’ allowed children to wander through problems in a random way without ever learning basic multiplication or division. As a result, mastery of high-level math and science was unlikely. The new math curriculum was a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, touching on dozens of topics each year.
Or, as The New York Times reports, the "new old-fashioned way" also known as the Singapore Style. Why? Singapore, and any other nation, with a left brain still in their head never left the old-fashioned way of math and they are eating our school lunch--not because we've been bullied but because we're such dumbasses we've given it to 'em.


The U.S.'s new plan:
Under the new (old) plan, students will once again move through the basics — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and so on — building the skills that are meant to prepare them for algebra by seventh grade. This new approach is being seen as an attempt to emulate countries like Singapore, which ranks at the top internationally in math.
Wow! How novel! I asked my kids teachers, "Don't you use flash cards and where are those times tables?" "Well, the math is taught more holistically now," came the response. Holistically? Math is not sociology or Western Civilization. Math is math. It is structured, ordered and given to rote memorization--especially at the beginning and kids love it that way. Ever make a competition of yelling out math answers? It gets ka-razy quick.

If this new, old-fashioned development actually happens, kids will be better for it. Math is critical these days in our technology-driven world market. Of course, math has always has been critical. And there is this:

......the United States will need to abandon its destructive practice of having so many math and science courses taught by people who have not majored in the subjects — or even studied them seriously.

Yes, it would help to have teachers whose area of expertise is actually the subject they teach. Why, when it comes to education stating the obvious seems anything but obvious to those in education?

Isn't education a simple proposition? Math and reading with writing thrown in--everything else comes if these basics are mastered. Math structures the brain. Reading expands the horizons. Writing forces cohesive arguments.

Simple. Not easy, I guess.


Antoinette said...

I found an easy solution to the problems of our public schools refusal to teach the basics. Two words: Home School

kman said...

I get so annoyed having to pay so much in property taxes and yet we homeschool our kids.

When we were in Canada last year I actually found something that Canada was doing that I wish the US would do.... If you homeschool your kids they will pay you part of the money they would otherwise pay the school system. You have to use it for education of course but think of how much further that money would go if you were managing it!

Dr. Melissa said...

If home schooling parents could do that, the flight from the public school would be amazing.

With that money, I could hire someone to help me with the house so I could focus on the kids.

Sharon said...

Not every school has abandoned "old math." My kids have had flash cards and timed tests from the get-go.

This week my son is taking the ISTEP (Indiana's standard test). When my kids have to take these tests, I just tell them that they are taking this test to find out how well the teachers are teaching. My biggest complaint: the school teaches to the state standards, rather than simply teaching what the kids need. Granted, to get it all in (standards and otherwise), the teachers are doing a lot creatively and my kids are benefiting from it.

An aside, not to open the home school vs. public school debate, but I have some friends who home school. My fourth grader has a better vocabulary and better spelling/punctuation/grammar skills than a home schooled fifth grader. My daughter (now in 2nd grade) was learning capitalization and punctuation in kindergarten during Writer's Workshop and pretty much had it mastered by the end of that year. The home schooled second grader can't compose a complete of two weeks ago. These home schooled kids are not dumb kids. They are smart, but in many respects, uneducated. Should they ever choose public school (highly unlikely) or go off to college...or get a JOB...any chance that they will actually have a chance to be competitive with their peers?

Howard said...

I think that ONE of the main problems with Public School education is the fixation upon "making the class fun." School should teach, among other things, work; that work is usually hard, not fun, but the rewards for the work are what counts. We work our asses off in football practice, bleed, hit, and get headaches, all to get ready for the fun of the actual game. I'll close with this one: one of my kids brought home some test results and teacher comments. The kid had failed to solve a not real simple problem but the teacher praised her for "getting close." Great preparation for being a brain surgeon.

Dr. Melissa said...

Albert Einstein (a famous homeschoolee) said something to the effect that: It's a miracle if the creativity isn't "learned" out of kids in school. My concern for schooling is majoring in the minors--mostly p.c. bull crap. For example at the ripe old age of seven my daughter can wax elephant about Martin Luther King and Harriet Taubman and their received injustice. Oh, and they can also tell you what drugs are and to "say no" . The overall message isn't that they learned about great Americans. The overall message is that they have learned that America is an injust, unsafe place. Some people might laud that. They do so to their own peril. The FIRST thing a child should learn at school is the Three Rs. After that, critical thinking is absolutely essential. How about start with the big ideas of freedom? America, for example, is known worldwide for being "home of the free". But no. Focus on the flaws first. It is a skewed and historically incorrect perspective. It is narrow and ignorant.

If the schools excelled at the basics, maybe I'd grant more leeway to their social engineering. I don't want my seven year old knowing the intimate details about how JFK was screwed by the man when she has absolutely zero historical context and has undeveloped ccritical thinking. What the school is doing is called brain washing on the taxpayers dime and its bullshit.

Dr. Melissa said...

oops MLK not JFK!

Time to wake up.

Antoinette said...

Sharon, you can't say you are not opening the home school vs public school debate and then say home schooled kids aren't educated without starting the debate. My son could read at 3 1/2. He is 7 now just starting second grade and he reads at the sixth grade level. He read the Chronicls of Narnia over the summer. He could write complete sentences at the begining of first grade and he is doing 3rd grade math this year. His much older cousin who has gone to public schools his entire life can not read as well at 9 as my son could at 5. Plus his public schooled cousin must be medicated in order to attend public school. My son is getting a much better education at home and he doesn't have to be drugged to get it.

Sharon said...

Antoinette, I was speaking of an isolated family, not your child, so please don't take it personally. When you read "These home schooled kids are not dumb kids. They are smart, but in many respects, uneducated." I was speaking of these two children in particular...perhaps I should have been more specific, but I wasn't anticipating someone to take that out of my intended context. To clarify, I was not referring to all home schooled children, as your reply suggests.

The family I speak of is ONE of MANY that I know who home school. Some of my friends are doing it well and their kids are thriving...getting more varied opportunities than my kids will ever have. Part of that is the flexibility that home school affords, and part of it is the financial resources that some of these families have at their disposal.

My point, which I should have specifically addressed, apparently, is this: There are some situations where home schooling is not helping the child excel and reach his or her full potential. THAT is my concern. My point was NOT to say public school is better than home schooling. One can't throw that blanket out and expect it to cover every situation. Likewise, not every home schooled child is as bright and advanced as your child, I can guarantee that. In my opinion, and it is just that, Antoinette, is that children and the chosen schooling should be a case-by-case consideration, factoring in available schools, child's needs, parental resources (knowledge base, finances, extracurricular activities, time, etc.) and the overall growth of the child.

This will probably open another can of worms, but I feel that whether it is home school, public school or private school, if there is not significant (we all have our perception of "significant") parental involvement (yes, I've witnessed that it's possible for a parent to be UNinvolved in home schooling, believe it or not), the child's education is going to be incomplete and the child under consideration is going to have to play catch-up somewhere down the line, or have to settle for less than they could have been, as an adult.

I don't for a minute believe that the public school has taught my children everything they know. My husband and I laid a solid foundation (time, experiences, travel, language development, reading, math concepts, socially acceptable behavior, etc.) for the kids before they ever stepped foot in a public school.

Anonymous said...

I know of two cases where families have homeschooled their children. One set is doing very well and their children are thriving and passing many their own least in accademics. Her son is having difficulties in social groups since it it mostly just him, his sister and mother during the day. The other set is unfortunatley not doing so well. The children are getting further behind because the mother is not able to do her intended job of homeschooling. It's simply too much for her and she is unable to face that reality. It is sad for the kids since they will ultimately pay for this mistake. I have very mixed feelings about homeschooling and considered it for a short time. I could not come to terms with it on some level so I chose to send them to school. They are happy and doing very well.

Dr. Melissa said...

I can count on one hand the good teachers throughout my public school education. Some were bland. Some were flippin' awful.

A parent who home school can stink or be great or be average. They color the child's whole existence. But just because the faces change in public school, doesn't mean the experiences are any better than an average parent. I'd like to see the results of studies about this, but even studies wouldn't tell the whole story.

Ultimately, education is an individual experience.

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