Logo

From maths mystery to maths mastery: Coldfall Primary School teacher on enlightening trip to Singapore

PUBLISHED: 15:21 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 17:06 21 April 2017

Teachers from Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill paid an Easter visit to Singapore to discover diiferent approaches to teaching maths.

Teachers from Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill paid an Easter visit to Singapore to discover diiferent approaches to teaching maths.

Archant

A group of teachers from a Muswell Hill school paid a visit to Singapore over the Easter break in a bid to expand their outlook on the teaching of maths.

Teachers from Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill paid an Easter visit to Singapore to discover diiferent approaches to teaching maths. Teachers from Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill paid an Easter visit to Singapore to discover diiferent approaches to teaching maths.

Here Rob Bean, a Year 4 teacher at the Muswell Hill school, told the Ham and High why the trip was such an eye-opener...

As a teacher from north London walking into a maths lesson in a Singapore primary classroom, with 30 degree heat, 100 per cent humidity, 40 children and no air-conditioning, the ceiling fans whirring noisily overhead, and the sounds of a new block being built next door, it’s tempting to wonder how anybody can teach or learn anything.

Yet learn they do: Singapore’s students regularly come out top in maths in international testing, with UK students well down the table.

In an effort to emulate their success, primary schools are increasingly looking to the ‘Singapore’ or ‘mastery’ approach to mathematics teaching, ensuring children are confident with the basics before moving on to more difficult concepts.

"In an effort to emulate their success, primary schools are increasingly looking to the ‘Singapore’ or ‘mastery’ approach to mathematics teaching, ensuring children are confident with the basics before moving on to more difficult concepts."

Teacher Rob Bean

At Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, we have recently adopted the Inspire Maths textbook scheme, published by Oxford University Press and based on a textbook called My Pals are Here, used widely in Singapore.

But what exactly does teaching for ‘mastery’ look like in practice? How are textbooks used in the Singapore classroom? Do students spend more time on maths, perhaps at the expense of other subjects, or even at the expense of a childhood?

These were some of the questions we had as we visited three Singapore primary schools over the Easter break.

Our first stop was Nan Chiau Primary School, where we were given a warm welcome by Principal Mae Quah and the children: all 1,800 of them! And this is a typical size for a primary school in Singapore.

Enormous by comparison with UK primary schools, the size of Singapore primary schools does allow for greater flexibility with timetabling, and the Singapore Ministry of Education has recently taken advantage of this by encouraging schools to move towards a specialist system.

Increasingly, Singaporean children are taught maths by a teacher who has chosen to specialise in the subject, and who only teaches maths.

Teachers we spoke to enjoyed the extra time they could dedicate to one subject, and the improved perspective they had about the progression of learning from one year to the next.

Another striking feature is how technology is used in lessons. Teachers use videos, iPads and visualisers, not only to show the children what to do, but also to encourage them to share their thinking with the rest of the class.

“I think the visualiser belongs alongside Google as the two most important developments in education of the 21st century,” joked Mdm Sharida Sahib, principal at South View Primary School.

Meanwhile, at Admiralty Primary School, a short ride away on the city’s efficient (and well air-conditioned) transport public system, parents can even opt for their children to join iPad classes, where almost all teaching is done through the use of tablet devices.

Children follow on-screen explanations and instructions, but are also able to use the devices to upload images of their work, which the teacher can monitor and display on the whiteboard to highlight good reasoning or address misconceptions.

Children use tablet devices to take pictures of their group work and upload them so the teacher can monitor their progress and highlight good work or spot misconceptions.

Much of the work we saw was done in this way, with students in pairs or in groups, often working with concrete resources or ‘manipulatives’ such as multilink cubes or fraction wheels, a far cry from the image we might have of the Asian classroom, with compliant students sitting passively in rows.

This emphasis on using concrete resources, before moving on to pictorial, and finally abstract representations of number concepts is another key part of the Singapore philosophy, and we certainly saw this in action throughout our visit.

In one Year 4 lesson, children used cubes to explore 2D representations of 3D shapes, while in another Year 1 class, children used everyday classroom objects to add numbers within 20.

Children work in groups, using manipulatives like multi-link cubes to explore the concepts behind number and shape.

As for textbooks, we hardly saw them being used at all, although all children from Year 1 onwards were asked to complete tasks in their workbooks as daily homework.

“Schools and teachers need to be aware of the pitfalls of textbooks,” warned Albert Alcantara, principal of Admiralty Primary School.

“The textbook is really supposed to act as a minimum standard for teachers, and we encourage and expect all teachers to adapt material depending on the needs of the students.”

And on the evidence we saw, Singapore’s maths teachers certainly do this and are well supported by maths departments which are themselves ready to change course in response to emerging needs.

At Nan Chiau, teachers have identified a weakness in the children’s ability to express their mathematical reasoning orally, and actively seek to create more opportunities for students to speak in class.

Similarly, at South View, the maths department is developing its own materials to better assess and improve children’s conceptual understanding.

Senior teacher Ms Teo Wee Sim said: “Our philosophy is to move from maths mystery to maths mastery, and to do that children must have a really good grasp of the concepts behind their calculations.”

Our visit was extremely fruitful, and we are very grateful to the schools we visited and the teachers we observed for hosting us and inviting us into their lessons.

We return to Coldfall brimming with ideas about how we might use what we have seen to help our own children achieve highly in maths.

Latest Hampstead & Highgate education news

Army of Muswell Hill Primary School students, parents and teachers take on Highgate Woods charity walk

An army of schoolchildren, staff and parents have raised £2,000 by taking part in a sponsored walk around Highgate Woods.

Portland Place School students share social media expertise with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC show

A trio of Portland Place School pupils were invited to the BBC to share their expertise on social media.

Fears grow in Highgate over 110-year-old library’s future home

Visitors to a library which could move from its Highgate home after 110 years have called for a rethink.

Woodside High School working with Muswell Hill energy group to install solar panels on sports hall roof

Woodside High School is working with a Muswell Hill energy group to put up solar panels in a bid to save around £63,000 in electricity bills over the next 20 years.

Camden protest assembly in response to funding cuts cancelled after Manchester Arena attack

A Camden ‘big assembly’ scheduled to take place this afternoon in response to funding education cuts has been cancelled in the wake of last night’s attack in Manchester.

Camden and Haringey parents descend on parks for protest assemblies against school funding cuts

Camden and Haringey parents are descending on parks this week for protest picnics and assemblies against school funding cuts.

Funding, academies and SATs: Haringey politicians debate education issues at St Mary’s Primary School in Hornsey

Funding for education in Haringey came under the spotlight last night as politicians, teachers and parents came together for a ‘question time’ style debate in the run up to the General Election.

Inspirational Highgate Wood sociology teacher lauded by high-flying ex-students at Oxford University

A Crouch End secondary school teacher has been honoured by Oxford University for the inspirational role he played for two of his former students.

Heartlands High School staff and students take on River Thames challenge ahead of trip to Ghana

An army of 115 staff and students from a Wood Green school have completed a 26-mile walk along the River Thames.

Michael Gove debates Brexit at South Hampstead High School

In the run up to the General Election a former leadership candidate for the Conservative party took to the stage at South Hampstead High School for a lively debate with students.

Can you answer these SATs exam questions designed for 11-year-olds?

Hundreds of 11-year-old students across Camden, Barnet and Haringey sat their SATs exams last week - but how would you fare?

Politicians to be quizzed about funding cuts at St Mary’s Primary School in Hornsey

Politicians are set to be quizzed on funding cuts to schools across Haringey in a series of Question Time style evenings.

Highgate School considering ‘gender neutral’ uniforms as students question identity

Highgate School is considering bringing in ‘gender neutral’ uniforms in response to students questioning their identity.

Hasmonean High School, Islamia Girls’ School and UCL Academy come together for inter-faith programme

Students from different backgrounds have been brought together in a programme designed to empower teenage girls.

Campaign at Camden School for Girls launched to promote music education for young people

A campaign to raise awareness of the importance of music education for children is hitting all the right notes.

Crouch End social enterprise sees homeless people getting creative ahead of King’s Cross photography exhibition

A photography exhibition is opening up in King’s Cross on Friday featuring work by homeless people living in hostels across north London.

Fleet-footed Eden Primary School students gearing up for Crouch End fun run

The benefits are endless for a group of fleet-footed youngsters taking part in running sessions before school.

Headteacher of ‘outstanding’ Fortismere School resigns

The headteacher of a Muswell Hill state school which has established itself as one of the best in the country has announced that she will be resigning at the end of the summer term.

Fortismere School determined to play pivotal role in supporting students struggling with mental health

A Muswell Hill school is pulling out all the stops to ensure it plays a pivotal role in supporting students who are struggling with their mental health.

Argyle Primary School students take to stage with cast members of STOMP at Ambassadors Theatre

Camden children took to the stage today with the cast of hit production STOMP as part of a campaign to encourage exercise across the borough.

Camden teachers cycling length of wall that divides Palestinian West Bank and Israel

A group of Camden teachers have challenged themselves to cycle the length of the separation wall that divides the Palestinian West Bank from Israel.

Headteacher lauds staff and students at Hornsey School for Girls following Ofsted report

A headteacher has lauded her staff and students after the latest Ofsted inspection at Hornsey School for Girls.

From maths mystery to maths mastery: Coldfall Primary School teacher on enlightening trip to Singapore

A group of teachers from a Muswell Hill school paid a visit to Singapore over the Easter break in a bid to expand their outlook on the teaching of maths.

Get inspired to put pen to paper by performance of Suddenly at Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone

A theatre company is hoping that children who come along to their latest production will be inspired to put pen to paper.

Parents missing out on National Offer Day due to high demand for ‘outstanding’ primary schools

We spoke to London Metropolitan University’s head of subject for health and childhood Kelly Cooper about her experience of National Offer Day...

Advice for Camden, Haringey, Barnet and Westminster parents on what to do if your child misses out on top primary school place

Families in Camden, Haringey, Barnet and Westminster found out yesterday whether their children had bagged their top choice of primary school.

More Barnet children set to attend primary school of their choice in September

More Barnet children will be attending the primary school of their choice in September.

Camden and Haringey 2017 primary school places allocated

Parents across Camden and Haringey have found out today which primary schools their children will be going to in September.

Campaigners call on Haringey parents to come up with summer term plan of action against funding cuts

Campaigners are calling on parents to help them come up with a plan of action in their fight against funding cuts to schools.

Controversy over private girls’ school teacher taking part in Miss Universe contest

A teacher from top private girls’ school Channing has hit tabloid headlines after announcing she is entering the Miss Universe GB competition.

North London Conservatoire expanding innovative music school for young children to include Hendon

An innovative music centre which provides young children with a wealth of musical opportunities is expanding its school to include Hendon.

Children tumble into world of Alice in Wonderland at Highgate United Reform Church

Children have been tumbling into the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll as part of a action-packed project to teach youngsters how to perform.

Q and A: UCS Hampstead student, 17, creates app to help fellow pupils struggling with GCSEs revision

An app creator at the age of 17, we spoke to UCS Hampstead student Jonny Boone about why he took it upon himself to help fellow pupils with revision for their GCSE exams.

Portland Place School students walk, run and hop for charity in Regent’s Park ‘bunny run’

Students at Portland Place School walked, ran and hopped on a charity ‘bunny run’ to raise more than a thousand pounds for homeless charity Shelter.

St Anthony’s School for Girls students enjoy action-packed Easter celebrations

Students at St Anthony’s School for Girls had a cracking good time celebrating Easter at the end of the term.

Students at St Michael’s School parade Easter bonnets in Highgate

Students at St Michael’s School put their Easter bonnets on display during an annual parade in Highgate.

Highgate Primary School’s bid to build amphitheatre boosted by Bellway Homes

Highgate Primary School’s bid to raise £65,000 to build an amphitheatre in the playground has been boosted by the involvement of a housing developer.

Changes to free nursery places in Camden revealed

Changes to free nursery places in Camden have been revealed.

Whittington Trust launches competition to showcase work of budding artists in Archway hospital

An Archway hospital trust is launching an art competition designed to seek out budding artists from across north London.

Barnet parents encouraged to sign petition calling for fairer school funding

Parents across Barnet are being encouraged to sign a petition calling for fairer funding to schools across the borough.

Creativity is order of day at St Saviour’s Primary School

Creativity was the order of the day at St Saviour’s Primary School as students let their imaginations run wild.

New skipper appointed at Haverstock School ahead of headteacher’s retirement after 17 years of service

A new headteacher has been appointed at Haverstock School for the first time in 17 years.

Portland Place School deputy head gives her top 10 revision tips ahead of GSCE and A-level exams

Julia Findlater, deputy headteacher at Portland Place School, gives her top 10 tips for revision success.

Mother’s Day breakfast to raise money for chosen charities at St Anthony’s School for Girls

St Anthony’s School for Girls held a special Mother’s Day breakfast to celebrate their loved ones and to raise money for their two chosen charities.

Camden Council pledges to put mental health at forefront of agenda for young people living in borough

Camden Council has pledged to keep the subject of mental health at the forefront of the agenda in its bid to improve the wellbeing of young people living in the borough.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2017 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant