30 on by OC Schools

Fear Conquered

by Regina Wang, Marketing Coordinator

“I’m seeing better results,” he said. “The earlier we’re exposed to it, the more results we will see.” — Rick Jasper, 5th grade teacher

Starting fall 2014, the K-6 students will experience math in a new different way, thanks to the adoption of a new curriculum — Singapore Math.

When a math problem showed up on the screen, Rick Jasper’s 5th grade class suddenly became quiet. They each took out a small rectangular piece of paper and, after some pondering, began to draw. Within 10 minutes, out of the scraggy doodling came the answer to the problem.

Grant Kennedy, 11, said he enjoyed using drawing to solve math problems because he could visualize all the steps. If he made a mistake, he could check the steps and figure out where he forgot to carry.

“I used to hate word problems,” Grant said. “I like math a lot more now.”

Since Mr. Jasper introduced model drawing, a core strategy of Singapore Math, Grant has improved his grade from a C to a B+. Delighted to see the change, his parents asked him what happened. He told them it was some really cool math-solving technique that involved drawing and that came from a country he knew little about.

This coming fall, Ontario Christian Schools will officially adopt Singapore Math as its math curriculum for K-6. A tiny island nation in Southeast Asia with a population of 5.4 million, Singapore is the world champion when it comes to mathematics. In 2012, 4th graders in Singapore ranked first in math and second in science. Comparatively, the U.S. ranked tenth in math and sixth in science, according to the Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

“In the U.S. we teach junk food math, how to get answers, but kids can’t understand it,” said Jasper, who is Grant’s 5th grade teacher and has been giving his students a taste of the new curriculum. “They know how to get the answer but don’t understand the question.”

Not only do American students find math confusing, they tend to find it intimidating, according to Jasper. He has seen a phenomenon over and over again: by the time some students reach 5th grade, they already tell themselves that they are bad at math, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By then teachers spend more time on remedial work than advancement. With Singapore Math, there is hope, Jasper said, as the strength of Singapore Math is to re-ignite interest in math in students through drawing.

Traditionally, teachers would teach students many strategies to solve word problems, Jasper explained. What would happen was that students had the tools but didn’t know how to apply them. With Singapore Math, there is one tool — model drawing — and students can apply it to division, multiplication, fraction, and multi-step problems. Most importantly, the drawing method helps students to understand the problem by illustrating each step on paper, Jasper said.

“I’m seeing better results,” he said. “The earlier we’re exposed to it, the more results we will see.”

Teachers at Calvin Christian School, a Pre-K to 12 school in Escondido, have already seen results since they adopted Singapore Math three years ago. Kathy Zuidema, who teaches kindergarten at Calvin Christian, said her class enjoys math so much that she has lengthened the math time from 30 to 50 minutes.

“My kids love math,” Zuidema said, adding that her students gravitate toward Singapore Math thanks to its specifically designed games and logical, developmental nature.

Fourth grade teacher Elaine Memmelaar said that she has seen the impact since Calvin Christian implementing the new curriculum three years ago; not only do the students have a better grasp of math concepts, but their standardized test results have skyrocketed.

“Almost every student advanced two years or more from the scores they had the year before,” said Memmelaar, who is Jasper’s sister.

After visiting Calvin Christian and comparing different curriculum options, Ontario Christian decided to go with Singapore Math.

Jasper has done some trial runs on his students. Already he has seen the results. Not only have their grades improved, they have grown to appreciate math.

“I’ve seen a number of students who were scared of math. Now they’re loving it,” he said.

When he asked his students if they liked the new method, almost every hand shot up.

“It’s way easier to do problem-solving when it’s all in front of you.”

“It helps you with fractions, too.”

“It’s really easy and fun.”

Dallas Cargile agreed with her classmates. In addition to seeing her grade jump from a B- to an A-, she said her math phobia had lost its grip on her.

“In the past, I would see the question but I wouldn’t know what to do,” Dallas said. “Now I have a number one way. I’m enjoying story problems a lot more and it’s becoming easy.”

And there is nothing else that gives Jasper — who has taught at OC for 34 years, and has taught his former students’ children — more joy than to hear this.

“Math is gonna be a whole new animal,” he said. “It’s exciting to see what we’ll accomplish.”