The story thus far
- Singapore Math has an extraordinary record as a successful curriculum for elementary through high school math, in a large number of international comparisons.
- Singapore Math is coming into the American school system via a number of pathways, including being included as one way to satisfy the Common Core goals, being adopted wholesale especially in STEM/gifted education, wide use in home schooling, and increasingly in other venues as well.
- My math tutoring focuses on kids with specific math blocks and barriers (as opposed to general cognitive problems/learning disabilities, or behavioral issues like procrastination or defiance). My college teaching is almost entirely with ADLs, Adult Disadvantaged Learners, many of whom hit a seemingly impassable barrier in math sometime in their childhood or early teens, and have not been able to progress beyond it. I have found Singapore Math tactics to be extraordinarily effective in unblocking both children and adults, freeing them to learn and progress in math. Children who haven't been beating their heads against the barrier too long sometimes even re-discover math as a favorite subject and move from the bottom to the top of the class.
- As I've become more familiar with American education and curriculum politics, it is becoming clear to me that the system -- not individual administrators, teachers, parents, voters, etc., but the system as a whole -- is very likely to throw away the once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically improve math instruction by making Singapore Math work.
- I've become convinced that if anyone can save Singapore Math, and with it the future of a few million kids who could like math and be good at it given this chance, it will have to be the parents.
- Hence: I'm working on a book called Singapore Math Figured Out for Parents.
- And one of the key things that parents need figured out is why Singapore Math is needed, which is to say why
- we couldn't just keep doing the same thing we'd always done,
- past reforms not only failed but were doomed to fail
- Singapore Math is not just different but better.
What the reformers tried to fix
- Not fun: kids (and sometimes parents and teachers) don't see the point in the calculations and find the necessary memory training unpleasant.
- Not actually math: for most children and many adults, the patterned manipulations of symbols (algorithms) become so much the focus that they take over the mind-space that should be occupied by real math (number sense, ability to solve practical problems, understanding what numbers are and mean).
- Not empowering for further study. See that previous post for details, but the same process that produces early quick calculation programs kids to misallocate their attention and not to learn fundamentals they will need soon. As a result, they hit the wall far too early -- at some point like long division, fractions, or elementary algebra, years before the kinds of math they need for the STEM subjects that open doors to good jobs.
John Dewey: Prescription now, diagnosis later; the medicine is tastier but is it better?
Pragmatism and Math: What kind of a job you gonna get with that?
Looking in the right place and finding the wrong answer: Dewey focuses on the link between theory and application
The shortcut through theory (or Elfland)
- Sheep and lambs. You have four sheep; you loan two ewes to your friend for the season; they produce four lambs, and by your agreement, your friend returns the two ewes plus two of the four lambs. How many sheep do you now have?
- Dollars and lemonade. You have four dollars; your friend borrows two for lemonade ingredients, sells six dollars worth of lemonade, and gives you your two back, plus two dollars of the four-dollar profit. How many dollars do you end up with?
4-2+4=6 is theory.
could explain and predict the trajectory of an apple falling from a tree, a bullet fired from a gun, the moon orbiting the Earth, and the Earth orbiting the sun. Thermodynamic theory isn't idle speculation that heat flows from hot objects to cold ones; it's a set of abstract relations between concepts like temperature, entropy, heat, work, and efficiency. Those relations explain and predict the behavior of any engine, refrigerator, pump, turbine, or propeller now existing or yet to be invented. (Incidentally, if creationists really understood what a theory was, evolution would probably upset them a lot more than it already does; evolution is not a guess about where life came from but modern biology's fundamental explanation of what life does and is, which happens to imply an explanation about its origins and development).