AsianScientist (Jun. 16, 2016) – How does one explain the concept of x to a seven-year-old? The answer, say Singapore math educators, is not to think outside of the box, but to use the box. They are referring to the bar model method developed by the country’s Ministry of Education more than three decades ago. Students draw a long box or bar to represent a certain quantity, and when two or more quantities are being compared, the bars can be divided into units to reflect the difference in values. Each bar is labeled, and the unknown is denoted by a question mark. A simple bar model diagram used in Singapore Math that aids in visualization. Credit: Claudia Chong Bar modeling allows students to visually appreciate the relationship between compared quantities, as well as abstract concepts in problem-solving. With such innovative methods in its math curriculum, it is no wonder that Singapore was among the top ranked countries in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 for the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Furthermore, the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 released by the World Economic Forum placed Singapore first out of 140 countries in quality of math and science education. But even starker is the fact that Singapore Math has gone beyond helping Singaporean students clinch top positions in international math assessments—it has been successfully transplanted into foreign markets, reaching the shores of over 25 countries such as the US, France and Saudi Arabia. The appeal of Singapore Math US-based company Singapore Math Inc. first introduced the Singapore Math textbook series Primary Mathematics (3rd Edition) to the US in 1998. Since then, states such as California and Oregon have approved the use of these textbooks in all kindergarten and elementary schools, International Enterprise Singapore revealed in 2009. Singapore Math textbooks have also found their way into domestic settings for homeschooling purposes. But what exactly makes the Singapore model of math education so attractive to Western countries? “What sets Singapore textbooks apart is that fewer topics are introduced at each grade level,” says Kelly Barten, marketing manager of Singapore Math Inc., in an interview with Asian Scientist Magazine. “As a result, more time is spent on each topic, allowing for student mastery of the concepts.” Barten adds that the structure of Singapore Math is closely aligned with a student’s cognitive development, making for a highly marketable curriculum. The current math education system in Singapore is the result of a complete restructure during the 1980s. The new system moved away from rote learning and towards a deeper understanding of concepts. Curriculum designers drew upon educational psychologist Jerome Bruner’s theory that learning takes place in three steps: through the use of real objects, then via pictures, and lastly, with the aid of symbols. This is called the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract, or C-P-A, approach. “In the same way, when introducing word problems to be solved for the first time, stories or contexts that students are familiar with are discussed first,” shares Dr. Ridzuan Abdul Rahim, a math specialist at the Singapore Ministry of Education. “After which, the pictorial representation of the problem is developed to render a solution of the problem in its abstract form.”

The whole package Executing Singapore’s math education strategy is a group of professionals at the forefront of classrooms. Budding teachers undergo a rigorous training program at the National Institute of Education that equips them with an intimate understanding of the math curriculum and pedagogy. Moreover, existing teachers attend a series of courses to remain in touch with the latest advancements in math education, such as using activity-based lessons to cater to lower secondary students struggling to keep up with their peers. This two-pronged approach—a strong curriculum coupled with experts who deliver it—suggests that Singapore Math is not simply about the educational model, but about the mastery of teachers as well. A 2005 study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) implemented Singapore Math pilot programs in four US schools over two years. It found that schools which employed staff with professional training in Singapore Math produced students who fared better on math tests compared to schools with a low staff commitment. In line with this philosophy, Singapore Math textbooks in the US are marketed alongside training programs for American educators. Companies such as SMARTTraining and SingaporeMathSupport provide instruction on the Singapore method to teachers working in kindergartens through middle school. “Many American math teachers have a weak, procedural understanding of mathematics,” Tricia Salerno, founder of SMARTTraining, tells Asian Scientist Magazine. “Without sufficient training, the teaching of Singapore Math will remain ineffective.” The perfect model? While the 2005 AIR study suggested that Singapore Math in US classrooms can lead to a positive impact on students’ learning, it also revealed potential weaknesses in the Singapore model. For instance, US middle school teachers were concerned that, compared to US math, Singapore Math does not place as much emphasis on applied mathematics as well as 21st century skills such as communication. Nevertheless, it hinted at the potential success of Singapore Math at helping US students elevate test scores. In particular, it cited how Singapore students did not rank very highly on international math assessments until the 1980s educational reform—suggesting that though culture might be a factor leading to good performance, it is likely that the education system can work independently in foreign lands to produce excellent math students. In the UK last year, the results of the introduction of Singapore Math into a selection of primary and secondary schools for one year revealed a slight improvement in students’ academic performances. In fact, researchers of this study, by University College London and University of Cambridge, forecasted that students subjected to the Singapore Math intervention will have their earnings raised by up to £200 per year. However, experts warned that judging from the small effect size, it is not certain that the adoption of Singapore Math will springboard UK schools to the top of international rankings. Nevertheless, Singapore Math remains a worthwhile investment and area of research for the UK education sector, they say. In the meantime, Singapore mathematics shows no signs of stagnating in its tracks. “In more recent years, improving local implementation of the mathematics curriculum is one of the key considerations of curriculum design,” says Ridzuan. “This has led to clearer articulations of the kind of learning experiences that we want our students to have, such as collaboration, and critical and inventive thinking.” “After all, it is not just about what students learn in mathematics, but also how they learn.”

**Fuente:** Asian Scientist