Cherish Math with your children

What connotation does the word mathematics brings to your mind?

Many dread the word in any form – Math, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Numeracy and so on. For me the word mathematics brings memories of my Grade 9 High School Math teacher, Angela.  She was a rigid, dogmatic lady who spoke with a heavy Russian accent.  When she peered at you, over her reading glasses, one’s heart froze, and one’s hands and legs started shaking uncontrollably.  This was when my own fear and negative attitude towards the learning of Mathematics began – a fear that I only managed to overcome when I got to university.

Well, thankfully those days are over and I am now a parent of three beautiful daughters, who themselves have had varied experiences of learning mathematics.  Fortunately for them none of their teachers have ever invoked anywhere near the terror levels of teacher Angela, but I do, however, wonder if subconsciously, and through non-verbal cues, I have transferred to them some of my earlier fears and negative attitude towards the learning of mathematics.

What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the abstract science of space, number and quantity. It is a vehicle to cultivate the mind and to get us to think; therefore it is very important when teaching mathematics, to ensure that children have grasped the concept being taught. Well structured questions such as:  ‘Explain it.’  ‘How did you get your answer?’ are a very important means to achieve this end.   It is the process rather than the answer that is important. We need to get away from teaching procedural routines, and encourage our children to think about their thinking (Meta cognition) and get them to appreciate that, just like most things in life; there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.

Dr Yeap Ben Har, a World Renown Math expert from Singapore, visited South Africa recently and gave workshops on the unique approach Singapore take when teaching mathematics, elaborating on the model method they use when problem solving. He believes that to ensure that a child achieves, and develops a positive attitude towards Mathematics the most important contributing factor is adult support and reassurance. According to Dr Yeap Ben Har, when a child is fearful and anxious about learning  Math it originates from the adult interacting with the child (teacher, parent, care giver), and not from the child himself.

Now that we know that the adult’s behaviour and attitude towards Maths is key, we need to ask ourselves as parents, what we can do to help our children master mathematics.  When your child comes home from school with a mathematical problem he can’t solve, be patient, but don’t do it for him.  Begin by asking him:

‘What did you learn about this at school?’

If the answer he gives doesn’t enlighten you, you could then refer to his textbook, workbook or exercise book.  Give your child time to think and explore.  Don’t rush him.  Remember the quality of the practice is more important than the quantity, and never sacrifice your child’s attitude towards mathematics, for the sake of getting good results.

How can we, as parents contribute towards developing a love for Maths in our children?   Make learning fun. For example, when shopping, you can give your child an imaginary budget of X amount, and ask him to work out what items he could purchase, without going over budget.  By incorporating Mathematics into daily life our children will come to appreciate that it is an important life skill.  Playing well known games with your children, such as Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly etc will also develop sound Mathematical concepts, while at the same time ensuring you spend quality time together.   One can also download suitable mathematical games for your child onto their phones, tablets or computers.

We, as parents, also need to be role models for our children, and set an example of being lifelong learners. As Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician said:   “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”.

(Thanks to Jane Horner for Proof Reading and Contribution)

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Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA

At the recent Global Math Forum organised by Marshall and Cavendish in Singapore, I presented the following Prezi on the Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA.

Notes for the Prezi:

My presentation started with a general background on South Africa, followed by a rather gloomy and most depressing picture of the state of
education in the country.

In a previous post , I portrayed the “Ticking bomb” as described by the Ministry of Higher Education; the distressing situation of the high unemployment rate of a young cohort group, this data being  of Government concern as it has huge implications on the future, as well as the present crime rate and poverty.

When discussing the state of education, it is important to take note of the past, and though 17 years have passed since Apartheid and “the past can no longer serves us as an excuse” as many critics may state, it is interesting to note that 96% of the current teachers were trained during the pre 1994 period with its deep inequalities, leaving them under-prepared for the new system and curriculum.

Therefore the Need-
South Africa is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as Maths and Science.  Moreover,, existing teachers spend too little time in the classroom and many teach poorly when they are in the classroom. With research overwhelmingly showing that good teaching is vital
for better student results, this is a worrying situation. (CDE Recent research).

Government has taken many measures post 1994, and the Curriculum reforms in the form of Curriculum 2005, RNCS and NCS were all based
on “Outcomes Based Education” approach. What is known as OBE is based on Student Centre Learning, with focus on empirically measuring students’ performance (called outcomes). This approach does not specify nor require any particular style of teaching or learning and is based on constructivist methods, discouraging traditional education based direct instruction.

Professor Gopinathan from the NIE Singapore noted in his speech that the Singapore Government when designing its policy, some 30 years ago, based its strategy on building strong fundamentals before introducing flexibility, choice and diversity.

In 2010, the DOE of SA introduced the CAPS Curriculum and “kicked OBE approach out of the door”…some may argue, 16 years too late.

ORT SA Math Programme incorporates three critical factors that contribute to its success as shown in learners’ performance and teachers increased competence, confidence and motivation:

1. The use of high quality materials (the Singapore Math books published by Marshall and Cavendish). These materials have the MCK (Math
Content Knowledge) and MPCK (Math Pedagogical Content Knowledge) both embedded in them. And its structure and focus approach compensate a lack of strong Curriculum.

2.  Intensive teachers training, coaching and on-site support to upgrade teachers’ skills and knowledge and support them in implementation.

3. Assessment of learners and teachers to measure impact of project on their performance and bridge the gaps where necessary.

Lessons learnt

  • ORT’s model of high quality books, PD and Assessment proves to improve teaching and learning of Math in township schools in SA
  • Phase Approach (Starting from Grade 1) is recommended to introduce the Singapore methodologies progressively and build strong foundations
  • Show case success via functions, awards ceremonies, visits to schools. These show cases are a source of motivation and pride to teachers and schools
  • Importance of partnerships with DOE, Corporates, other NGOs all sharing the same aims and goals

Challenges

  • Parents’ involvement is a big challenge. Not only in encouraging and supporting children’s work and instill in them the values in education, but also  ensuring the safety of the school
  • Language – not enough research has been conducted to evaluate the implications of using English written textbooks in the Foundation Phase level, when policy requires the use of home language (there are 11 official languages in SA)
  • Minimal influence on policy and reforms in education. (accountability, compensation of teachers, shared data with DOE on pupils assessment)

Prezi