Should U.S. students live in a Smart Nation? Currently, Singapore is on their way to becoming the first nation in the world to be a “Smart Nation”.
Singapore likes to be first and rank first. For more than 20 years now, Singapore has consistently ranked first (or near first) in mathematics and science. While waiting at the airport last week, my CNN app sent me an alert that Singapore is now first on the list of the World’s 10 Most Expensive Cities To Live In1. Being first or being in first place seems to be part of their DNA.
Singapore’s government, through their office of The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), wants to make the country the world’s first true Smart Nation2. Their slogan is “E3A”: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, All the time. What makes a nation “Smart”? – Technology.
Like most developed countries, Singapore has big problems. Transportation problems, population problems, security problems, healthcare problems and many others and they are convinced that technology is the pathway that will enable them to develop and grow infrastructures and technology capabilities to help its citizens, businesses, and government solve their nation’s problems.
How is math class related to all this? Well, a Smart Nation needs Smart Students. We need to make a distinction, “Smart” is not the same as “smart”. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, might argue that students can always grow “smarter”3. In this context, a “Smart” student is a student who is able to use technology to innovate and solve problems. A Smart Student uses logic and thinking skills through technology. A Smart student surely gets smarter.
Those familiar with Singapore Math textbooks in the U.S. are also familiar with the Singapore Math’s Framework Pentagon that specifically has problem solving as the focus of mathematics instruction. These students, with their teachers’ help are becoming smarter students and better problem solvers. Incorporating technology to the math class can further develop these skills.
Recently in the news in Singapore, I read an article about young students signing up for coding workshops and classes offered by various companies4. The goal is not to develop programmers but to train them in logic and clear thinking. Becoming a programmer is not such a bad idea either and according to the App Economy (apparently a real term) more than 627,000 jobs5 have already been created and growing rapidly here in the U.S. Parents in Singapore are sending their children in droves to these types of “enrichment” coding classes because they are recognizing two things: 1) technology is the present and future for their children and 2) developing logic and thinking skills directly benefits their current schoolwork.
Another important component in achieving a Smart Nation is the need for Smart Schools. Learning in the 21st century demands technology. School districts everywhere are planning and implementing these plans on improving and developing their technology infrastructures. However, having high-tech alone is not enough. Schools everywhere are reimagining teaching by using technology. One such impressive initiative can be found in New York State’s “NY Smart Schools Commission Report”6 The Keys to Success for Achieving a Smart School is very helpful and critical is key number 5: Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience. Is your school a Smart School?
U.S. schools across the country have made significant infrastructure upgrades. It was rare only a few years ago to see schools that had more than just a few computer workstations in the classrooms. Soon after that, carts of iPads or Chromebooks became normal. Now students bring their own mobile devices. However, in many places there is a sense that students are and have been ready for Smart Schools for a while now and we are the ones trying to catch up. For example, I recently visited a school in Texas that was using Math Buddies (a Marshall Cavendish Education digital program) and I was blown away by how fluid they were in their ability to multitask between talking and helping each other, using paper and pencil to do scratch work, dragging and dropping on screen, typing and giving each other high-fives because they solved a problem correctly. A Kindergarten teacher confessed that one surprising challenge had nothing to do with the program but with their hardware as her students had to be taught how to use a computer mouse because instinctively, her students wanted to just touch and swipe the screen to get the program to do what they wanted it to do. In some cases, it is us, the adults who have to do the catching up. Young students have been ready to be part of Smart Schools for a long while.
Personally, my own 13 year old son has recently shown interest in being part of a Hackathon. Suspecting it might be some nefarious “-athon” I looked it up and realized that a hackathon is a marathon computer-programming competition. Again, as an adult, I am the one needing to catch up.
The more Smart Students we have in our Smart Schools the closer we too are to becoming a Smart Nation.
Do you teach Smart Students? Is your school a Smart School? Do you teach in a Smart Math Class? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the classroom with technology. Be sure to leave a comment back at the LinkedIn blog area. Share with us the amazing logic and thinking skills your students have demonstrated using tech. Tell us a story about the Smart Students you work with.
Share your thoughts on this article or any other Singapore Math topic by joining our LinkedIn community.
By Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
Marshall Cavendish Education is headed to The Lone Star State for a three-day road trip on Singapore Math®: Anchor Tasks & Problem Solving! We’ll be visiting Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. These dynamic, one-day interactive workshops will benefit all K-5th grade educators – those already using Math in Focus®, Primary Mathematics, or Math Buddies, as well as newcomers drawn to the Singapore Math® Approach because of its results in high student achievement in math.
Why should you attend?
See the pedagogy of Singapore Math® in action.
Learn how to plan and teach an Anchor Task.
Understand the operations of fractions and how to problem solve using bar modeling.
Understand how bar modeling supports the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach.
Engage in hands-on activities and learn how to transfer them to your classroom.
Covering three important topics –Anchor Tasks, Teaching of Fractions and Bar Modeling–presenters Hoover Herrera and Chris Coyne will demonstrate how Singapore Math® Anchor Tasks are developed and taught, how Fractions are taught using the Singapore approach and present and solve a series of word problems of varying degree of difficulty using the bar model method. Educators will learn proven and practical strategies that will boost student confidence, engage pupils, and impart life-long, real-world problem-solving skills.
Each workshop will begin at 8:00 AM and conclude at 3:30 PM. Also, coffee and lunch are included! Click the links below to view the program schedule and speakers for each event!
I suppose the precursor question should be “Should we teach students how to be innovators?” In a recent edition of “Today”, one of Singapore’s most widely read newspapers, there was an article titled “Schools Too Bogged Down For Push Towards Innovativeness”. The article was pro-innovation but pointed out the biggest obstacles schools are faced with when trying to make room for teaching innovation in the classroom. We’ll get back to the article in a minute, but first we should answer the first question which is “Should we teach students how to be innovators?” Well, whether or not you are a fan/supporter of Common Core, those set of standards propose to prepare students “to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation.”1 The world Common Core is describing needs innovators to solve existing real world problems. Some of those existing real problems such as our global energy problems need immediate attention so much so that Bill Gates is funneling 2 billion dollars to fund new ideas that will develop a global carbon-free source of energy and he believes that the only way to accomplish this “is to drive innovation at an unnaturally high pace.”2 So not only should we help students become innovators, but they will in some cases have to use that skill with a sense of urgency once they join the workforce.
The White House published a 76 page document called “A STRATEGY FOR AMERICAN INNOVATION: Securing Our Economic Growth and Prosperity” where President Obama calls innovation “the foundation of American economic growth and national competitiveness”3 while in a Wired magazine, there was an article about innovation that suggested that “we need Americans to think and act as innovators”4. I took all that to mean that innovation is in the best interest of the nation our students live in.
I think one can make a strong case in favor of teaching innovation in the classroom because of a student’s personal career needs, national needs and global needs. I also think weaving innovation into a math class makes a nice fit which brings us back to the “Today” article. The Acting Education Minister in Singapore, Ng Chee Meng, has stated that “Students must be innovators for Singapore to succeed”.5 In Singapore they are wrestling with how to best implement programs that promote innovation that support schools, parents and students. They are working on how to embed innovation into their national curriculum, and most of all how to do it without adding more burden to an already packed curriculum full of demands such as high-stakes testing.
Marshall Cavendish Education proposes that through Singapore math and pedagogy an educator can teach students how to be innovators by allowing students to be creative in their approach to problem solving. The title of this blog article is “Is There Time to Teach Innovation in Math Class?” Perhaps the trick here is not to find time or make time to teach innovation but to make better use of the time already allotted for math. In fact, I have met many teachers in many states who leverage their students’ natural instincts for creativity and imagination to solve math problems. I have heard countless stories of teachers using Math In Focus where students derive their own strategies based on their own ideas. Yesterday I was working with a group of third and fourth grade teachers and one of them shared that in her class students attach student names to the strategies developed by students so now they have the
“Joshua strategy” and the “Darci strategy”, etc. Students like these not only are thinking like innovators but they are also acting like innovators.
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning has provided us with an excellent framework and one of its main areas of focus is Learning and Innovation skills which they describe as “increasingly being recognized as those that separate students who are prepared for a more and more complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not.”6 In their framework, creativity and innovation are described under two categories:
Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
Work Creatively with Others
Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively
Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes Implement Innovations
What kind of creative thoughts, ideas, methods and strategies have you witnessed from students in math class? We’d like for you to share a story or experience that will encourage other teachers to continue looking for ways to help students develop their innovation skills during math class. Be sure to leave a comment our LinkedIn Singapore Math® Community. What’s your opinion? Is there time to teach innovation in math class?
by Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
Why can’t math questions on high-stakes tests be direct, clear and to the point like in the good old days?! Some of the math questions on high-stakes annual tests seem vague and apparently written by people with questionable grammar skills. To many parents it just seems unfair that some questions are not only vague and unclear but to add insult to injury, some seem like they have nothing to do with math.
While in Singapore this past autumn, I witnessed some parental uproar about a particular question on the current national test that all students in Primary 6 (12 year olds) had to answer. The question was:
How heavy are eight $1 Singapore coins?
A) 6 grams
Was this a fair math question for a 12 year old? Or was this more of a MENSA type question trying to find out the IQ of student?
Steven, a colleague of mine in Singapore, has a 12 year old who took the test and had to answer this very item. I asked Steven what his son thought of the question and how he answered it. His son thought the question was weird and was pretty certain that this type of question was not “covered” in math class. While in the middle of trying to figure out what to do he remembered having been in the supermarket with his parents and holding certain fruit and how much that weighed. He connected that experience with this problem and determined that eight $1 Singapore coins would be about 61g as the other choices made no sense. Was Steven’s son just lucky to get the correct answer or did he do exactly what the Ministry of Education in Singapore was hoping that all students would do with this item?
All students in grade 6 have to take the high-stakes test called the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Every year the PSLE contains items that upset parents like the coin problem. A similar situation occurs with some of the math questions on the Common Core tests from both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) which seem confusing, unfair and seemingly not related to math. Parents here also get upset by these items.
Perhaps the goal of teaching and learning math in the past was to learn a subject that would help us learn higher level subjects. Today’s standards like the Common Core propose different goals. Today’s goal of teaching and learning mathematics is to help students become problem solvers in the real world where students make connections to real world experiences and apply what they have learned. An additional goal is to help students use prior knowledge to learn new knowledge so that they can become better problem solvers. Ultimately, learning how to become problem solvers through math will help to enable students to become college and career ready.
In the U.S. it is now officially the beginning of the first phase of the high-stakes testing season as many, not all, administrators and teachers across the country make plans and implement strategies and programs to help students prepare for testing. The reality is that the stakes are high not only for students but also for teachers and administrators. Parents can certainly help.
As educators, we can help more parents adapt and understand the evolving role that mathematics education plays in the lives of their children. As adults in the real world we are often faced with problems whose solutions can be found in seemingly unrelated past experiences. Everyday real life experiences like taking their children to a sporting event or to the mall can be an opportunity to make connections and apply what is being taught in school. And who knows, perhaps such a mundane thing as a trip to the supermarket may just help a student answer what some say is an unrelated math question on a high-stakes test.
What do you think? We’d love to get a conversation started on this topic. Be sure to leave a comment back at the LinkedIn blog area.
by Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
by Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
There are some pretty tough math problems out there. Math problems come in many forms. There are math problems that can make students feel like they need a superhero to conquer them. Some math problems come disguised as one-step problems when in reality they are multi-step. Some word problems use words that no other English speaking person seems to use or the verbs and adjectives in the problem are in the wrong place. Some problems involve those intimidating fractions and sometimes even their ugly cousins, the mixed numbers. The worst are those problems that seem innocent when in fact they are not! And whose idea was it to include fractions, decimals and ratios all in one math problem?!
Students don’t need a superhero to fight their battles for them because they can be their own heroes of problem solving. Recently, the CEO of Marshall Cavendish Education, the Director of Marshall Cavendish Education US and I had the privilege of visiting a third grade class using Math In Focus® Singapore Math® at the Ridge Road School of the North Haven Public Schools and we saw not one, but many superheroes of problem solving in action. Led by superhero teacher Ms. JoAnn McLane and donned in her powerful blue cape, students without fear confronted some fierce looking problems. Armed with strategies and creativity, students devised plans, used those plans to solve and then checked to see if their mission had been accomplished. Then they went on confidently creating their own fierce looking problems.
All students believe and have confidence that their teachers can solve all of the math problems but it is quite another thing when a teacher convinces her students that they too have the power to solve problems, even big scary ones. “Who thinks they can be the superhero of problem solving today?” asked Ms. McLane. We witnessed every little hand lift up high to the sky not because they had to but because they were confident and fearless. That’s quite an impressive attitude and confidence considering the math problems students are confronted with each day. A quote from a website I often frequent stated “For some, it may be that their confidence has been severely dented by someone who taught them maths [sic] in a forceful or unsympathetic manner, so that they came to believe that they were ‘no good at math’” (Fewings, 2011)1.” Thank goodness for hero teachers like Ms. McLane who is developing confident heroes of problem solving everyday.
As educators, we can certainly teach students math content, help them to develop skills, how to use strategies, and even how to think, AND we should continue to do so, but helping students to become their own heroes of problem solving full of confidence to confront tough math problems is one of our strongest superpowers that we need to continue developing as educators.
We’d love to hear about your experiences in the classroom. Be sure to leave a comment back at our LinkedIn Singapore Math community. Who are the hero teachers in your school? Share with us the amazing powers your students have demonstrated. Tell us a story about your own confident superheroes of problem solving.