Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When It Comes To Singapore Math in Atlanta - Most Schools Just Do Not Make the Cut

If you have come across this blog in search for Singapore Math tutoring, please give me the opportunity to introduce myself.

I am an astute educator who has spoken to individuals at your child's school who either have children there or who have administration that have sought my services. Your school has taken an ambitious and lofty goal of using a curriculum that they have not touched before and do not fully understand. It has been my impression - and the impression of those of us who truly love the art of teaching mathematics - that some schools have taken the approach of, je ne sais pas, "Monkey see, Monkey do!" and have bought into a curriculum that they know little to nothing about and frankly, should not be utilizing without approaching it with pure awe and respect.

Welcome to the World of Singapore Math. Parents, Teachers and Students, if you do not know this already: Singapore Math is a culmination of different teaching methods and strategies that continues to help this tiny nation of Asia lead the world in Math Competence for it's students ( I'm proud that I use it to help our students understand it but knowing what comes in each lesson, chapter, unit is not what Singapore Math is about.

If you do not know anything about me, it is because I rarely share details of my life and my education. As a student, I have always loved math and there were a several years in my life where the lowest grade that I had received in my math class was a 100.

Before there was "mommy" talking to my teacher about math class and earning a spot in "Advanced Math", there was me - a tiny 6th grade student tinkering at a "mistake" on my student schedule that caused me to never again let anyone dictate who should or should not be in Advanced Math.

On a nasty August Day, sometime between the Cold War and now, I received a slip of paper that described the next nine months of early middle school. Everything seemed to be okay until I started to compare my schedule with that of my best friend - someone not as mathematically inclined. As I glanced at our teachers, I noticed I did not have the words "ADV" attached to my math class and decided that it was a mistake. It had to be because there is no way this honor roll student would wind up in a non-Advanced math class with all my high achieving friends.

Instead of complaining to my family (mind you, my cousin graduated valedictorian that year and was accepted to Berkley) I walked over with my schedule and asked the counselor if there was a mistake. For some reason - the counselor made me believe that I needed to be in that class to which my ten year old self said, "Okay, so I need to be in the class - but what do I need to do to get out?". She told me something that most students now would consider unreasonable: "You can move into Advanced Math, only after you earn a 100% on everything that you do from now until the end of this semester."

One would think that I would come home and cry myself to sleep - or call myself some name that really - does not even fit. I did not want to be in the Advanced Math class because all the cool kids were in there. I did not want to be in Advanced Math class because I thought I was good in math. I wanted to be in that class because unlike other classes that were being offered at that time - Math was the only subject that allowed me to be right, not through arguing, yelling, pushing or shoving - but through pure reasoning. I knew that this counselor wanted to see me walk out of there and never make it past the first week of perfect scores - but I did.

Week after week, I perfected the art of math notes/quiz grades and test taking. Never before had I been given a challenge so difficult that it would take so much concentration and so much effort that nothing could distract me. The only solace I had was waiting for Monday afternoon when my teacher would hand back my math quizzes and tests with a 100 on there and would watch me bite my lip instead of smile as to draw attention to the other students. It was an impossible feat to not feel overjoyed because being in that class where I felt I was unjustly placed was my own Shawshank Redemption - and the only way that I could be placed out is if I chiseled my way to freedom with perfection lining the way.

I know that math may not come as easily for some students - and when I work with students I become very sensitive to that fact. Not everyone is great at math - and I can certainly tell you that many teachers that have been given the curriculum for Singapore math should be giving it back in exchange for a simpler curriculum. Learning how to teach Singapore Math after only listening to someone for one day at a random professional development seminar sponsored by your school's booster club does not sit well with me. If you have not put in the time to understand the curriculum, the concepts, and the culture of Singapore Math, maybe you need to go back and learn math from say, another popular method used in Asia that sells workbooks at Walmart.

I love math and have a particular fondness for using Singapore Math each and every week with various students. There is nothing that compares to helping a student who struggles in math and showing them that it is one of the most beautiful subjects you can immerse yourself in. When I have students work on math problems with me - I approach it methodically and make sure that every step is calculated and they will be set up for success. Unlike my experience when I was in middle school, they have me to help guide them onto the path to success. I'm not sure if the teachers implementing this curriculum have that same goal in mind.