I was at Imagine West Gilbert Tuesday when I stepped into a middle school math class looking for photo possibilities for an upcoming issue. Math classes are rarely photogenic; students are usually hunkered down working problems or watching a teacher explain how to solve one.
I was interested in the problem-solving exercise the students were doing. Using diagrams on the white board, the teacher, Cory Dunn, explained how a problem using fractions and money was solved. The diagram showed how the total divided up into twelfths, what the value of each twelfth was and how many twelfths different people would end up with. The notation was more visual than numerical, making it easier for students to understand the concepts behind the problem.
Principal Linda Horner said it was Singapore Math, which narrows the scope of each year’s math curriculum and focuses on problem solving as well as math skills. The part that appealed to me though, was the concept of a narrower yearly curriculum. When I was a teacher, there never seemed to be enough time in a school year to teach everything the curriculum demanded.
When I was taking my teacher certification classes in 1991 and 1992, the professor teaching about the teaching of math said the typical American math curriculum each year covered too many concepts, hence the hefty math textbooks with the first few chapters devoted to review. Really, if a student actually learns something it doesn’t need to be reviewed. The professor said it would be better to teach fewer math concepts in more depth each year to insure it was actually learned rather than blasting through many concepts and having to backtrack.
Singapore math spends more time on fewer concepts each year, according a New York Times article about another school that uses Singapore math. Singapore students have scored exceptionally high on the international math exams since the mid-1990s, which no doubt attracts attention in our metrics-driven world.
In fact, many subjects in the U.S. are taught using thick, expensive text books that teachers can’t possibly get through by the end of the year. I remember, and my son always lamented, how the “cool stuff” in the social studies books, usually about World War II and/or Vietnam, were toward the end of the book and never were covered.
Imagine West Gilbert is a K-8 public charter school located at 2061 S. Gilbert Rd. in Gilbert. imaginewestgilbert.com.