It’s more than 10,000 miles to Singapore from Dean Sarah Love’s Lower School office. Yet, she, Preschool Dean Tara McDaniel, and teachers in kindergarten through fourth grades are working to implement a new math curriculum to edge Jackson Academy students closer to those from the Asian city-state known as a world leader in math.
“Singapore Math is being rolled out in stages to prevent any gaps in learning,” Love said. For the 2013-14 school year, kindergarten and first grade students are fully immersed in Singapore Math while students in second, third, and fourth grades have implemented some of the Singapore strategies. In subsequent years, a complete immersion will be implemented in second, third, and fourth grades. Love feels the new math curriculum will insure that students leave Lower School fully prepared for advanced math classes. Overall, the primary goal is to accelerate learning and enhance the quality and rigor of our math offerings.
“Providing graduates with a strong math foundation isn’t something that can begin in middle or upper school,” Love said. “We have to start as early as kindergarten by presenting innovative math programs that prepare them for advanced math classes in the higher grade levels. Our ultimate goal in offering Singapore Math is to make certain that our students are well prepared for the advanced curriculum of our JA Upper School.”
Jackson Academy is one of about 2,000 U.S. schools in the past decade that has adopted the Singapore approach to math, which stresses mastery of basic skills and a few essential ideas, such as place value and part-whole relationships. In the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Singapore ranked second in the world in fourth-grade math, just behind Hong Kong. The United States placed 11th.
The primary difference between Singapore Math and other math curriculums is the emphasis it places on the “why” rather than the “how.” It is less procedural and allows students to utilize additional skill sets, including reasoning, in combination with math concepts, Love said. Unlike many current math programs, Singapore requires mastery of fewer math elements at greater depth, which ultimately accelerates learning as students build on the skills they have mastered.
An enviable number of Jackson Academy students matriculate into universities to major in biological science and other disciplines in preparation for medical and other math-related fields. After reviewing the research and curriculum of Singapore Math and talking to several national experts, Love was convinced it was the vital component needed to support JA students’ mastery of math at an early age.
Singapore Math builds understanding with concrete-pictorial-abstract learning. Concepts are introduced through the hands-on use of manipulatives. Then students visualize the concept and represent it pictorially through models like number bonds and bar models. Abstract numbers and symbols are used only after students have enough context to understand what they mean. Additionally, students learn there are at least three different ways to determine an answer to a math problem, and they are always asked to explain how they arrived at an answer.
After observing JA kindergarten and first graders’ excitement as they actively participated in math lessons, both Love and McDaniel feel the addition of Singapore Math will positively impact students’ education and JA’s reputation as a strong college preparatory school.
“Our students are very excited about math; they are drawing out math concepts and using a wide variety of manipulatives which allows them to understand the concepts more thoroughly,” Love said. “They are reacting very positively to math at a very early stage in their education and that is fascinating to see.”
Dr. Kevin Mahoney, math curriculum coordinator from Tenacre Country Day School in Wellesley, Mass., has met with JA faculty about Singapore Math Curriculum, including (from left) Debbie Campbell, Harriett Eppes, and Tina Shaw. Dr. Mahoney has worked with schools across the country that are implementing Singapore Math. He is the only consultant in the country who has written a dissertation on Singapore Math as part of the completion of his doctorate in education.