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Anchor Tasks: A better way of teaching math to young learners?

November 24, 2015

By Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
hherrera@marshallcavendish.com

shutterstock_169077287

I confess, I taught math for my first eight years of teaching in the same way I was taught math when I was a young student in elementary school. I’m pretty sure my math teachers taught me in the same way they were taught when they were students… and what’s wrong with that?!…a lot it appears…

I recently came across a comment online by an engineer named Simon Vasquez, Superior Industrial Engineer, University of Sevilla, Spain. By all accounts, this is a smart and accomplished “math guy”. He made three comments that struck me:

  1. He wasn’t impressed by any of his math teachers until he was in college. Why? He never had a math teacher “with common sense, who (could) write some lines to make you see maths as something human at the reach of anyone.”  Recently, because of the internet he has found some who fit the bill. Are you a math teacher or know of one who fits the bill?
  2. “I never ever enjoyed maths, because all the teachers I had were “math-Daltonics” which means that they know the stuff, but they do not feel it, they do not transmit the essence, the beauty of concepts. Are you a math teacher or know of one who transmits the essence of concepts?
  3. The reason students don’t like or struggle with math has nothing to do with the content but “Its people… a subject is completely ruined by a teacher, (or) completely enhanced by (an)other.” How many of your math teachers “enhanced” your math education?

The math hasn’t changed since we were all young students but the expectations have. Whether it be because of Common Core or the Economy, or both, the way we teach mathematics to young learners needs to be “something human at the reach of anyone”, not about how much teachers know but about transmitting the “beauty of concepts” and about teachers “enhancing” the learning experience. If so, we would certainly have fewer math-phobic adults walking around these fifty great states.

Perhaps you were taught by a brilliant math teacher who knew everything there is to know about elementary math by delivering a perfect model lesson. Perhaps they broke down a concept into ten easy to follow steps that you could replicate. I had many students that I awed with my skills having never transferred that ability to them. I became the grand magician on the stage with my model lessons and some even noted that in their yearbooks.

There is a better way to teach mathematics to youngsters today. We don’t have to be the sages on the stage. Students aren’t blank slates (even if they claim amnesia of prior knowledge). We need to leverage that possession of prior knowledge to add new knowledge and skills. No need for model lessons. Those take a lot of work but it only means that teachers are working very hard and students are hardly working. Students need to work just as hard, or even harder than teachers. Anchor Tasks provides a better way. This model makes math “at the reach of anyone” in the classroom. Anchor Tasks transmit the “essence” and “beauty of concepts”. Anchor Tasks is the better way to “enhance” not just teaching mathematics but also learning mathematics. Engaging students in the problem solving process is at the heart of an Anchor Task. It takes no less work to plan and prepare an Anchor Task but students will work just as hard or even harder than the teacher who planned it. A recent teacher who participated in one of our Anchor Task professional development workshops said “I used your suggestion of how to structure the initial lesson on multiplication, and the lesson went beautifully.”

Singapore textbooks are written with the main learning task being an Anchor Task. An Anchor task is the single task used over a prolonged period of instructional time. It embodies the idea of  “Teach Less, Learn More”, a philosophy of the Singapore education system.

Marshall Cavendish Education will be offering a FREE webinar this coming December 9th that will provide more information about Anchor Tasks. Our professional development experts Chris Coyne and Ellen Lauterbach will be presenting and sharing more details. I encourage you to register by clicking on the link below.

REGISTER HERE

Make sure to head back to our Singapore Math® LinkedIn community and leave a comment. We’d love to hear back from you and get the conversation started.

Have you used Anchor Tasks? Share with us the math teacher who “impressed” you not with their math skills but with the way they made math reachable, taught you the beauty of concepts and enhanced your learning experience.

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How Important Is Bar Modeling?

November 10, 2015

by Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
hherrera@marshallcavendish.com

Teach Mastery Maths - Bar ModelingThis question was posted by Jim M., Principal, NJ, during our most recent Singapore Math® webinar: Number Sense and the CPA Approach.

Can you go back in your mind to when you were seven? Imagine seeing this question:

59 people buy tickets to a show. 46 of them buy tickets to grandstand seats. 37 of them buy tickets to bleacher seats. How many people buy tickets for both grandstand seats and bleacher seats?

If I remember correctly, if I had seen this at seven years old, I would have just taken those three numbers in the problem and added them up, then subtracted them, in other words, I would have done a series of operations with those numbers in the hopes that one of my answers matched the correct solution. I called it my “doing anything is better than doing nothing method”. My childhood friend Marlon would probably had not gotten past the word “grandstand”. What would you have done as a seven year old? What do we expect our current seven year olds to do this school year with such a problem? Common Core expects second graders to represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction. (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.OA.A.1) Use addition and subtraction within 100 to solve one- and two-step word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem. (wow!)

How important are Bar Model drawings or the use of a Tape Diagram as Common Core calls it?  I didn’t have Bar Models when I was seven and somehow I survived. However, the problems our current young students are expected to solve these days sure do look a lot harder than the ones we used to get.

Here’s one possible model for the problem:

SolutionForBlogQuestion Nov10

Does this drawing make sense to you?

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Make Mental Math the New Literacy Program in Your School

January 16, 2015

By Robyn Silbey, math education coach and consultant

When was the last time you sounded out the word “and?” or “dog?” or, for that matter, any other word in this paragraph? We take for granted that we are able to read words without having to process them. As literate individuals, we know the words and can easily read them, put them in context and glean understanding.

The same concept applies to math. The ability to know that 1 + 1 = 2, without counting your fingers or drawing a diagram, is analogous to learning sight vocabulary.

This is called mental math, and we actually use it every day. Adding 20 percent to your restaurant bill for a tip? Figuring out the lowest cost for produce at the grocery store, you’re doing some quick math in your head. That’s mental math.

Despite its practical, everyday use, mental math skills are woefully neglected in U.S. classrooms and underappreciated in a digital age where every smartphone comes loaded with a calculator. We all should be able to “read” a basic math problem, such as 1/2 off a $30 sweater without pencil and paper or a calculator.

In Singapore, students learn how to do many calculations by mental math. They start in kindergarten with number bonds, so that they easily understand the links and associations between numbers. The first year Singapore Math® was implemented in my school, I saw that the power of basic number bonds was misunderstood and underutilized.

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Visual Approach to Math Instruction is Good Fit for All Learners

December 9, 2014

By Chris Coyne, Senior Education Consultant, Marshall Cavendish Education
ccoyne@marshallcavendish.com

Today’s global economy requires critical thinkers, people who can work in teams and those who can solve problems and adapt to a changing landscape. As a former math teacher, I know that these skills are in the very DNA of mathematics. And, those skills are being more finely honed in math classes across America as math lessons start to look a bit more like an art class with drawing, discussion and building techniques used to teach challenging math concepts.

As any good educator knows, students have different ways of grasping content. And, creative teachers have always found a way to teach to individual differences.

A visual approach is certainly validated by well-established research: From Howard Gardner’s research on the multiple intelligences to Jerome Bruner’s studies that show students learn to a greater degree of mastery and retention when using the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (CPA) approach.

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