“ Genre: Junior Books / Singapore Math, under license to Marshall Cavendish / 978-981-01-8223-6 / primary school mathematics course. „
As home educators, we are responsible for choosing our children's curriculum. By this I not only mean the subjects, as most of those are already predetermined by the powers that be, but the actual texts and methods to be employed to impart the knowledge of each subject. As any academic can tell you, looking over courses can be a minefield. Poor quality texts can be costly mistakes, while high quality texts can be invaluable investments. Two of the most difficult areas to find high quality texts that are suitable for one on one instruction are science and mathematics. Added to my ordinary pressures in this regard, I have the added burden of having a mathematician for a father in law, so any deficits would be brought to my swift attention with an alarmingly soul crushing speed.
One of the best ways to gauge the success of a maths or science curricula is the TIMMS report. TIMMS stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the report is just that. It takes a look at the average mathematics and science proficiency of school children from well over 50 countries,complete with in depth classroom instructional data, and then ranks them. For well over a decade, Singapore has held at either number 1 or number 2 in both science and maths. The Top Ten were, in fact (in order):
Just where was the UK? At number 18, and yes, it was by a very large margin, unlike the Asian countries vying for the top spots. Further reading of the report's classroom data revealed that it was the style of instruction that seperated out the top from the bottom. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Japan all use similar instructional methods in maths. Since 1995, when the TIMMS rankings began, particpating countries have all taken note of the results and began to try to emulate the success of the top performers. English speaking countries in particular took a large interest in the success of Singapore, who began to offer their mathematics and science curricula in English for sale abroad. Their very first large scale customers, as it happened, were home educators in the US and Canada. It took them by storm, and led to these children outperforming their school educated peers on standardized tests by the same large margin seen on the TIIMS Reports. Not to be outdone, several US States have now adopted the Singapore maths as their curricula of choice, and now, it is making a splash here in the UK as the British educational system finally decides to take note and overhaul its approach.
How does it work? Well, it uses a creative, spiral approach. Maths is not just facts and tables, with mere drawings in place to demonstrate the principle. Learning number bonds? Get out the manipulatives and build those numbers like Lego. Mass? A real pair of scales appears for the children to actually use. They go from the hands on thing, to the pictured thing, to number crunching, and then build upon this to the next related concept. Add in some colourful Muppet looking monster critters for the "pals" and cartoon children, and you have text books and workbooks that lift maths from the dry and repetitive to the fun and inviting, with the hands on approach providing a sense of adventure along the way. It is primary maths made fun, interesting, and relevant.
Each student book and matching workbook are paired together so that what is practiced in the student book, is then reviewed in the workbook. Being set up this way, it makes for an ideal home instruction platform, as everything is explained and demonstrated in full. There are a few activities designed for working in groups, but nothing that cannot be done with Mum or Dad's help, or even a sibling if need be. These group activities tend to be things such as fun games that utilise the concept being studied, meaning that the whole family can enjoy a bit of edutainment while getting the lessons done.
It may be fun, and the results may speak for itself, but what about the cost and availbility? Well, I am by no means made of money. We are a working class family by all accounts, so all funds must be closely accounted for. Luckily, this is not an expensive buy. Each term needs 1 student book with its accompanying workbook and together, which together costs all of £12. There is also a book of tests that can be purchased, covering the entire school year, and that is an additional £6. Not exactly bank breaking, especially if you have more than one child, as the student book can be shared on. Indeed, while the bulk of my purchases have been through the home education curriculum bookshop Ichthus Resources (www.ichthusresources.co.uk/), I have also procured (at a nice discount) a second hand student book from a fellow home educator whose own two children were finished with it, and it was in excellent condition thanks to the high quality of the paper and binding. Even so, £21 a term is a small price to pay if it gives excellent results.
So having used this curriculum for well over two years now, how have we done? Well, my children quite enjoy studying their maths, and my father in law has not found any faults. As for our home education liason officer, he seems to have been quite happy as well. Seems that my eight year old is doing things now not usually demonstrated until high school here, and my six year old could probably pass with a top score in the SATS. No parental pushing; we are just walking up the spiral ramp at our own pace, one concept at time, with some furry friends from Singapore. Take that, TIMMS.