Monday, July 6, 2009

Math earthquake?

We've known for a long time that students from Singapore consistently outscore Americans and many others in international math scores.

We've also known that Singapore--and the other countries that outscore us--teach math differently, going deep on set of skills and master it before moving on, while American elementary school math seems to repeat similar subjects grade after grade, but without ever counting on students having fully absorbed the previous lessons.

And yet, it seems to be taking forever for our schools to rethink their math approach.

Fayette County may be making that move. The Herald-Leader reports (here) that nine elementary schools will launch a new textbook and teaching approach, using Math in Focus: The Singapore Approach this fall, and seven will use the program along with other materials.

The article quotes Natalee Feese, the Fayette schools' elementary math content specialist on some of the differences:

The new books use word problems extensively, she said. And unlike typical American textbooks, they require students to draw pictures or "bar models," showing their solutions to problems. Teaching typically flows from the concrete to the abstract, Feese said, a reverse of more traditional methods.

"The modeling is critical," she said. "Every problem in the book, they have to draw a picture to represent their solution.

"American students have been taught to approach a word problem by trying to directly convert it to an equation. In Singapore, they want the student to picture the problem, instead of going directly to a formula. They focus on the 'what' of math. That's going to be the big difference."

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!