Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Singapore Math vs US Math: Which is better?

In the US, a war is brewing between supporters of the current US math curriculum and those who prefer Singapore math, which has already shown amazing results at a school in Hollywood. After using math textbooks developed for use in Singapore, Ramona Elementary School's math scores soared. From LA Times:
Ramona, which received a grant to introduce the Singapore curriculum, is one of a sprinkling of schools around the country to do so.

Not all teachers like it, and not all use it. The Singapore books aren't easy for teachers to use without training, and some veterans are more comfortable with the curriculum they have always followed. But you can tell when you walk into a classroom using Singapore math.

"On your mark . . . get set . . . THINK!"

First-grade teacher Arpie Liparian stands in front of her class with a stopwatch. The only sound is of pencils scratching paper as the students race through the daily "sprint," a 60-second drill that is a key part of the Singapore system. The problems at this age are simple: 2+3, 3+4, 8+2. The idea, once commonplace in math classrooms, is to practice them until they become second nature.

Critics call this "drill and kill," but Ramona's math coach, Robin Ramos, calls it "drill and thrill." The children act as though it's a game. Not everyone finishes all 30 problems in 60 seconds, and only one girl gets all the answers right, but the students are bubbling with excitement.

The Homeroom, a blog by the LA Times has more comments. Here's one of them:
What intrigued me most about your story is that there is nothing new about Singapore Math and its use in American education. The style and concepts put forward in the books are the same I was taught more than forty-five years ago when I entered school. Drills, memorizing multiplication tables, 'speed tests', etc were all part of the normal routine for me and my classmates. When I reached third grade, my parents put me in a small Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia where the same curriculum was taught. I was introduced to set theory and number theory in those early years as a matter of course with every expectation that I was capable of learning them.... So I was given a foundation in both 'pure' and 'applied' mathematics very early and that served me well when I returned to school decades later to get my degree in mathematics. Standardized tests in mathematics in this country are a joke. I have graded them, and was appalled at the lack of understanding on even fundamentals the test authors had. If the writers of these tests don't understand basic math, it should come as no wonder that teachers in the primary, elementary and middle school grades do not. Many of these teachers are as math-phobic as their students, and are barely one step ahead of them in comprehension. It is no surprise that American math students do so poorly and hate math so much.... So while I am glad to see Singapore Math being promoted, I am disillusioned at the same time. This is a rediscovery, not something novel, for American math education. And as far as I'm concerned, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the NCTM, has done more to damage math education in this country than any other organization.

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