January 9, 2020

*by Renee Wright, Lower School director *

*Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from one of MPA’s division directors. We hope you enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.*

Looking back over the past 30 years as a Lower School teacher, one of my most challenging subjects to teach was math. Some students were successful, and some were not. Some students loved math, while others didn’t care for it at all. How would I address these challenges? I knew it was my job to teach math concepts and make sure these skills could be applied. At the same time, I wanted students to love math and feel confident. I was not alone with these concerns.

Teachers often report that problem solving is one area that presents the largest challenge for students. It is not uncommon for students to feel anxious or frustrated when asked to solve challenging mathematical word problems. In fact, students often give up before even trying. Problem solving in math often causes students to feel incompetent and believe they aren’t good at math. This can lead to a negative mindset about math and becomes a huge barrier to future success in the subject. Six years ago, teachers and administrators at MPA started looking for a math program to address these challenges. After much research, the Singapore Math curriculum was selected and adopted in grades kindergarten through fifth.

At Mounds Park Academy, we’ve been teaching the Singapore Math program using Primary Mathematics, Common Core Edition for more than five years. What is Singapore Math? The Singapore Math pedagogy and methodology teaches using a concrete to pictorial to abstract approach. This approach allows student to understand mathematical concepts before learning the “rules” or formulaic expressions. Students first learn math concepts through the use of manipulatives. Then they move to the pictorial stage with the use of pictures to model problems. Finally, when students are familiar with concepts taught, they progress to a more advanced abstract stage with numbers and symbols. Algebraic thinking is woven into every stage of the process. This program is designed to equip students with a strong foundation in mathematics. Topics are covered in depth and taught to mastery focusing on mathematical understanding, logical thinking, and critical lifelong problem-solving skills. Singapore Math meets the needs of all learners, provides extra practice and support for students when necessary, and is inherently challenging for the advanced math student.

For example, consider this word problem assigned to fourth graders prior to the winter break.

*Mrs. Wright, Dr. Hudson, and Ms. Tesdahl all wrapped lots of presents over the holidays. Mrs. Wright wrapped four times as many as Dr. Hudson (remember, she has grandchildren!), and Ms. Tesdahl wrapped 3 more than half as many as Mrs. Wright. Together they wrapped 31 presents. How many presents did Dr. Hudson wrap? *

This problem seems challenging for Lower School students and maybe even you. Believe it or not, fourth graders at Mounds Park Academy approached this problem with confidence and were successful in finding the solution. Why? Because they have learned the Singapore Math pictorial problem-solving strategy called “Bar Modeling.” This mastery strategy enables them to be successful problem solvers and makes challenging problems fun and easy to solve.

Due to the dedicated efforts of Lower and Middle School teachers, they have been very successful at implementing the Singapore Math curriculum and philosophy. The first kindergarten students to start with Singapore Math are now fifth graders. We can carefully examine the longitudinal data and impact of Singapore Math. One way is to review ACT Aspire assessment data collected over the past several years to determine if our students’ scores have shown improvement. Our student data has been compared to national percentiles and independent school benchmarks and it shows that our students have made steady gains in math concepts and usage. This is an encouraging data point showing that students have benefited from a strong math foundation and have the knowledge to be successful on a standardized test.

Another way to determine the success of this program is to look to the teachers for anecdotal data. Third grade teachers, Renette Stinson and Shelley Steingraeber, shared the impact Singapore Math has had on their students. “Students have a stronger number sense and can solve math problems in multiple ways. Students are able to see patterns in numbers and understand mathematical concepts and relationships. Manipulatives make the concepts concrete and allows students to ‘see’ and ‘experience’ what a concept means and represents. Students learn to be flexible thinkers and problem solvers. Overall, students are more confident, capable, successful and joyful about math.”

Our fourth grade team, Deedee Stacy and Yamini Kimmerle, also reflected on the impact of Singapore Math. “With the implementation of Singapore Math, students have a deeper understanding of mathematical relationships when they reach fourth grade, perhaps most notably pertaining to place value. This makes teaching basic algorithms like subtraction and ‘long’ division much more meaningful. Overall, Singapore Math challenges students to build on what they know, and successfully incorporate that knowledge into new situations. Singapore Math is designed to give students an extremely well developed mathematical foundation, and to challenge them daily to apply mathematical concepts in new situations. Our students at MPA love to learn, and Singapore Math makes that happen!”

Chris Peterson, fifth grade math teacher, shares his thoughts after working with students that have used Singapore Math curriculum since kindergarten. “Students have a stronger mathematical foundation after using Singapore Math and have benefited greatly from the program. This is evident on daily work and test scores.”

What do the students at MPA have to say about math? When speaking to third graders they expressed that Singapore Math is challenging, but fun! One student identified the mental math emphasis as something that helps him use math every single day. Another student said she used to hate math but now she loves it because Singapore Math makes sense. A new student to MPA said he loves the strategies he has learned in the last few months that make challenging math easy. Overall, these third graders gave Singapore Math high marks!

Today, as an administrator looking at the data, hearing from the teachers, and feeling the enthusiasm for math from our students, I know that adopting Singapore Math was the right decision. It has served our students well and is aligned with the college preparatory nature and foundational mission of our school. I am so proud of the time, attention, and effort our teachers have put into teaching the Singapore curriculum. I acknowledge and celebrate the math success our students have had daily in the classroom due to the Singapore Math curriculum and feel confident they are ready for their future journey of higher level math.