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Private school finds answers in Singapore method

Importing math skills

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Educators at a small private Christian school in Olde Town Augusta are seeing results with a math curriculum imported from halfway around the world.

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Teacher Jessica Mack helps Zoe Ellis with a math lesson. In their first year using Singapore Math, the academy's students met or exceeded proficiency standards.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Teacher Jessica Mack helps Zoe Ellis with a math lesson. In their first year using Singapore Math, the academy's students met or exceeded proficiency standards.

For the past three years, Heritage Academy has used Singapore Math as its basal math curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.

In the first year the school adopted Singapore Math, all of its kindergarten and first-grade pupils met or exceeded proficiency standards on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, as did 80 percent of second-graders.

Why use math from Singapore?

Pupils in the Southeast Asia island nation consistently score at or near the top in international math tests, and far above their counterparts in the U.S.

"Singapore Math fits with our philosophy that students should be eager to learn," said Linda Tucciarone, Heritage executive director. "God gave us this gift to find out about the world. These children who want to be challenged -- that's part of the culture we try to encourage."

One day last week, Jessica Mack taught a lesson on angles to fourth-graders. During the 65-minute class period, she had pupils walk to the front of the room and identify how many angles a figure had and whether the angles were right, acute or obtuse, using an interactive whiteboard.

She also had pupils work at their desks as she walked around and helped them individually and, toward the end of the class, had them stand up and turn 90 or 180 degrees as an active demonstration of the properties of a circle.

Mack also consistently asks pupils to turn their books to page "one one-hundred, one ten, eight ones" instead of simply "page 118."

"I give the page number in place value, the calendar -- that's a big part of Singapore Math," she said.

Her pupils seemed to enjoy the class, even if a couple of them were having trouble with the concepts of angles.

"I like math because it's fun," said Elijah Jones, 9. "I get taught very well."

Riley Keuroglian, 9, said, without prompting, that she likes Singapore Math.

"I enjoy Ms. Mack, and I love Singapore Math," Riley said. "It's one of my favorite subjects.

"I love facing all of these challenges."

The challenges, both pupils said, are what hold their interest.

"It makes you smarter," Elijah said. "I like the challenges; some of them are fun."

"I enjoy learning about angles and protractors," Riley said. "We learned it last year, but it wasn't as much."

Riley said she has been at Heritage since second grade. In first grade, she was taught Saxon Math, a popular home-school curriculum.

"Saxon Math was great, too, but not as challenging as Singapore Math," she said.

Elijah, who started attending Heritage in third grade, said he feels that he gets more out of math now than he did previously.

It's those types of responses, and the improved test scores, that Tucciarone said she and her staff were looking for when they were researching math curricula.

Tucciarone said that was prompted by Iowa Test scores that showed Heritage pupils excelled at computation skills but not at word problems or other test prompts that require more critical thinking skills.

"We did two years of research," she said. "We looked at Singapore Math, and really, it's phenomenal what comes out of Singapore. They have led the world in math for decades."

Because it is expensive to change from one curriculum to another, and Singapore Math has the added expense of relying on workbooks that students write in, as opposed to hardback textbooks, Tucciarone said she and her staff prayed about it.

"We knew it would be a risk to bring it here," she said. "No other school in the CSRA that we know of uses this as their basal math program."

"The Lord provided," Tucciarone said. A private foundation from Pennsylvania picked up the cost of the workbooks in the first year, and Heritage teachers received low-cost training from counterparts in the Hall County, Ga., school district, which uses the curriculum.

Mack taught Singapore Math in that district.

Lessons taught in layers

A visit to a classroom where Singapore Math is taught will not look that much different from one based on the Georgia Performance Standards.

A look at the standards to be taught, particularly in kindergarten and first grade, will make it seem as though Singapore Math is not teaching as much as standard Georgia math.

But the Singapore curriculum builds on itself in layers so that by fourth grade, for example, while still not as many individual points are being taught, the pupils in Singapore Math typically have a much deeper, conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts compared with their counterparts using other math curricula, Singapore proponents say.

-- Jason Wermers, staff

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Sandpiper 12/06/10 - 06:49 am
Any school where the primary

Any school where the primary agenda is to improve the knowledge of the students, while challenging and engaging the students, will see superior results to the "union mills" that pass for government schools in America. Kodos to Heritage Academy. They're doing what must be done to educate our children.

cristinadh 12/06/10 - 07:11 am
Exactly... not to mention

Exactly... not to mention that there are a lot of teachers that do not want to be in the classroom anymore but are because they have no choice..

ldsmith1 12/06/10 - 07:33 am
I am a public aka government

I am a public aka government school teacher. I don't deny that there are problems. However, it think it should be clarified that most classroom teachers share the agenda of improving knowledge. The politicians and union officials, perhaps not so much. Hall County, mentioned in this article, does an amazing job. The demographics there changed quickly. Now, many of their students are ESL (English as a Second Language), but there were leaders there who chose to rise to the challenge rather than make excuses.

Riverman1 12/06/10 - 07:55 am
What a fantastic move for the

What a fantastic move for the school to make. It appears most of the kids are black and they have been the ones having the most trouble on the Georgia proficiency exams. Educators like these who run this private school should be hired by the Richmond Cty School System to advise them. This is such a great story because it shows it is possible to change the education methods that don't seem to be working now.

Runner46 12/06/10 - 10:06 am
I remember the main problem I

I remember the main problem I had with learning math was visualizing what I was trying to do with it. This Singapore Math is heavy on visual aids, so that students can grasp the purpose of it all. That's fantastic!

qtinbell 12/06/10 - 10:34 am
There are other excellent

There are other excellent programs out there that have proven results. Many Japanese (and US expatriate) parents send their children to KUMON math classess to make them more competitive, with enormous results. I have seen KUMON transplanted in a few US cities. I recommend educators look into this approach also. Even if you don't adopt the a particular program, elements from many may produce the desired effect.

swinter05 12/06/10 - 11:26 am
There are kids of all races

There are kids of all races and cultures that have a difficult time with math and it's concepts. The school didn't pick this cirriculum b/c they knew they would have majority black students. My son goes to Heritage and is neither white nor black. Not only is Heritage the best kept secret in the CSRA, the teachers are phenomenal and the students know that they are loved, cared for, and listened to. No behavior problems (outside of "normal" for their age behaviors) and none that have ever been serious. My daughter actually cried when school was over last year b/c she knew she wouldn't be going back there. Heritage is a God send and a blessing to this area. I encourage those that want for their kids, a high quality education while being able to learn about Jesus, to enroll your child(ren). There is financial assistance if needed and you cannot put a price on this kind of is priceless, and the best investment you will EVER make.

mybaskett 12/06/10 - 01:34 pm
swintero5 I agree with you.

swintero5 I agree with you. HCA is a very good private school. I have plans on enrolling my son there next year.

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