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A Promising Math Model

A Student in Singapore

When it comes to math, Singapore clobbers us. Students from the Asian city-state regularly reach the top of international math exams rankings, while  U.S. students trend toward the bottom. So, why not take a page or two from Singapore’s mathematics handbook? That’s exactly what a number of American schools are doing, according to the New York Times.

In Singapore’s math classes, students in the earliest years work at a slower pace and cover fewer topics. Teachers use questions, problem-solving, and visual and hands-on aids, like blocks, to explain concepts. American proponents claim that teaching at a snail’s pace helps give students a solid foundation on which to build their numeracy skills and makes it less likely they’ll forget what they’ve learned, the Times says. The pace picks up by fourth grade, but, by then, students have such a solid grasp of math’s basics that they can quickly tackle complex problems and are soon a year ahead of students schooled in other ways. Remarkably, these techniques are all based on a national math system developed 30 years ago.

History teacher Jeffery Thomas  started the website SingaporeMath.com after he and his wife used the methods to tutor their daughter. He tells the Times that some schools start but then drop Singapore math because it’s too much effort to properly train their teachers. Research suggests that U.S. students who take the Asian route score higher on standardized math tests. But it’s still too early to say if Singapore Math is merely a passing fad, or a new old math you can count on.

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