Mathematics at The Grosse Pointe Academy
Since our founding, mastery of core subjects is key to an education at The Grosse Pointe Academy. Each of our students graduate with the skills needed for continued academic success and the world beyond school.
Math is a core subject in which key concepts and skills build one upon the other, lesson after lesson. Understanding and remembering the concepts of mathematics taught in grades K-8 is an essential part of that preparation.
In order to better prepare students, Academy educators added the tools of the Singapore Maths program as part of our curriculum in the 2017-2018 school year. Teachers were trained and parents were introduced to the new programs. Since its implementation this fall, the first report card is in, and we are very proud of the results.
Singapore math is a teaching method based on the national mathematics curriculum used by elementary school students in Singapore. Students in the Asian city-state consistently score among the top of students globally. While the name may be new, the term “Singapore math” was actually coined in the United States to describe how students learn math while mastering fewer concepts at greater detail.
Singapore Math represents a move away from rote learning toward a much deeper understanding of math concepts. At its core, the program utilizes a learning process defined by concrete, pictorial, and abstract steps. Through straightforward and memorable lesson plans, students develop a thorough understanding of mathematical principles. In the process, students begin to think in mathematical concepts that are memorable and help them build on the more complicated concepts introduced in later grades.
The Singapore math curriculum includes three key components:
- Problem solving focus: Using words young students understand, educators help students use and create diagrams that help them understand mathematical problems, which also help students visualize concepts needed for algebraic reasoning.
- Multi-step problem solving: Students draw on the use of several concepts to solve problems and develop the basis for understanding and adding more complex principles to what they know.
- Mental math: Teachers introduce techniques that encourage students to understand mathematical properties and develop numerical fluency, or the ability to naturally think in mathematical terms.
Mathematics is built upon a foundation of arithmetical fundamentals, a base built of mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It is imperative to have mastered core concepts and skills before moving on to develop the next new set. While there are many ways to solve a problem, students need skills they have mastered and can apply in different situations.
Mathematics represents the springboard for success in many other subjects, from higher mathematics from geometry to calculus, as well as the sciences, economics, and every field that utilizes data. Understanding the concepts and developing the needed skills – mathematical fluency – must keep up to make progress, especially year to year as mathematical subjects become increasingly complex. Singapore math offered many ways to gain mastery by providing tools and demanding practice.
Didi DeBoer, assistant head of school for grades 4-8, teaches pre algebra to middle school students and reports that the program is everything they thought it would be – and just what was needed.
“The rigor is definitely harder,” DeBoer said. “Students find it very challenging. It really pushes them and opens up their thinking. What’s most exciting is that they are challenged to ask what’s behind the math.”
The concepts are covered in greater detail then drilled in several ways until everyone has learned it. With Singapore, the goal is mastery – for each and every student. Instead of formulas, learners are given skills with which to problem solve, leading to a deeper understanding.
At the Academy, every student gets the time they need to become competent. Additionally because of small class sizes and the fact that teachers have a relationship with each student, they know when a student can work ahead.
“I like math this year.” – Student of Mrs. DeBoer
Fifth grade teacher Holly Wilson reports seeing more confidence as students feel more comfortable in their abilities to problem solve. “It’s a feeling that they can do it,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Many had not had this confidence before.” A concept is introduced, students are given tools then they practice until it is mastered. There is a lot of repetition which takes time; in years past, there was not always sufficient time before another concept was introduced.
“I have actually heard students say ‘fractions are so fun.’” – Mrs. Wilson
Singapore Math is about repetition until mastery is achieved. And teachers like Mrs. Wilson are armed with many tools to support them. They can choose among these tools – workbook, textbook, texts for story problems – to find something that works for each student. They can also harness the power of visualization, like a pictorial for algebraic equations. “We know how visual kids are,” Mrs. Wilson said. “I have heard them exclaim: ‘Oh now I see it!’ It’s like a light went on.”
Students knew this year math class would be quite different. “Before we got a concept then a few problems then moved on,” one explained. Now they say that because classes this year are about “seeing what they are trying to show you,” it’s not as difficult. Henry, a fifth grader mentions that Singapore “explains more about each concept. It tells you how to do it, and we go over it many times.” His favorite math is division.
After speaking with several students, it became apparent that they all love bar modeling. Each mentioned it with enthusiasm. “I really like bar models, and they help me understand fractions better,” said one.
The tools, such as bar models, are indispensable and can transfer to other subjects.
“Bar models help so much with story problems. It’s even helped in science. If there’s a variable, I start doing the math in my head.” – Anna, fifth grade
Singapore Math has even made those who thought they would not do well in math change their outlook – both about math and about themselves.
“The other math did not make sense.” – Henry, fifth grade
“Math would not stick to my brain.” – Elaina, fifth grade
“I used to be bad at fractions. Now I’m pretty good.” – Vito, fifth grade
The praise for Singapore Math is across the board and extends to parents who follow the daily lessons. They report being more comfortable overseeing and assisting with math homework. The work and concepts are more familiar to them. The prior curriculum differed so much from what parents had themselves learned that they often felt unable to help. Now parents are saying to young students: “Sure, I can help you with that.”