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 Education News

Camden’s youngsters were in the spotlight at the Shaw Theatre for an evening celebrating the borough’s talent.

Three years after a controversial merger saw Torriano Primary School formed, teachers and governors are celebrating a top-of-the-class Ofsted rating that Camden Council’s education chief said “vindicated” the decision to amalgamate the schools.

A Hampstead school has scrapped a pilot project that saw commercial helicopters landing on its playing fields after neighbours complained it was causing “quite a riot”.

Neighbours are in a spin over UCS Hampstead’s unusual decision to allow a commercial helicopter firm to use its playing fields as a landing pad.

The former headteacher of St Aloysius College has been cleared of wrongdoing nine months after he was arrested as part of a £70,000 fraud investigation at the school.

Primrose Hill schoolchildren are desperate for help uncovering the secrets of their local war memorial.

A Muswell Hill mum has shared her anger at parents temporarily moving into the area to jump the queue for school places, as Haringey Council says it is investigating four cases of school application fraud.

The Heath and Hampstead Society has opposed plans to move a free school into the old Hampstead Police Station – even though the applicants have halved the number of pupils they hope to attract.

A budding journalist and a mentoring champion are two of the students being recognised for their high-flying achievements by the Jack Petchey Foundation.

A pair of Greig City Academy students are among a talented crop of Haringey high-achievers vying for an annual award from the Jack Petchey Foundation.

Seven months to the day after a single winter night saw two young men stabbed to death, Camden’s youth safety task force – led by Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer and Cllr Abdul Hai – last night recommended a series of measures to arrest the alarming upwards trend in youth violence in the borough.

Westminster North MP Karen Buck joined parents and children to protest the sudden closure of Queen’s Park Nursery.

Staff, parents and children at Chaston Nursery in Chalk Farm celebrated as 10 children graduate and move on to primary school.

There were broad smiles and hearty congratulations all round as the Channing pupils received their GCSE results.

Hornsey School for Girls students have excelled once again, despite reforms to GCSE exams this year.

The “resilience and determination” of Parliament Hill School GCSE students has been praised.

North Bridge House Senior Hampstead students have bagged the ‘best GCSE results in the school’s history’, with an impressive 55per cent of all grades at Grade 7 or above.

There were happy faces at Highgate Wood School as students collected their GCSE results.

Students across Camden achieved a strong set of results in the new-style GCSEs, according to the council.

There were some happy faces at Greig City Academy today as 17 students, approximately 10per cent of the year group, achieved a new top Grade 9 GCSE in one or more of their subjects.

Rising to the challenge of tougher new GCSEs, South Hampstead pupils and staff were celebrating another year of “exceptional results” across the board this morning – and the school’s second best ever percentage of top grades (A*/9/8s).

Heartlands High School’s head of school said she is “delighted” with their set of GCSE results.

The phenomenal achievements of Fortismere School students have been championed on GCSE results day.

A 16-year-old Highgate School student who was diagnosed with Leukaemia in April has bagged straight A*s in his GCSE results this morning.

One Henrietta Barnett student nearly 6000 miles to get her GCSE results this morning, and was rewarded with 10 grade 9s.

A set of twins were among the girls celebrating their GCSE results at Henrietta Barnett, as they got the top grades in the majority of their exams.

Didn’t get the exam results you were lookinng in your GCSE results today, or A-levels last week, but want to be a sports journalist? Then don’t despair, Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif says it’s not the end of the world, just look at the example of his intern Toby Miles.

The headteacher of University College School Hampstead has championed his students’ achievements in the creative arts on a record-breaking GCSE results day.

The headteacher of Highgate School has lauded his students’ ability to cope with ‘tougher, fatter GCSEs’ on a record-breaking results day.

No coursework, two years of study, a clutch of Bs and a handful of threes - it’s a tricky time to be a GCSE student.

Paddington Academy students are celebrating achieving the best A-level results in the school’s 11-year history.

Hornsey Sixth Form College A-level results were ‘significantly above national average’, according to the headteacher of the Crouch End school.

The principal of Westminster Kingsway College has champions the achievements of students in their A-level results.

UCL Academy students who received their A-level results yesterday are ‘equipped to be global citizens’, according to the school’s co-principal.

A-level results day at Greig City Academy revealed an array of talent, with Oxbridge bound students in a variety of disciplines.

The headteacher of Channing School has championed the ability of her students to combat tougher exams on A-level results day.

A-level results day started early at Highgate School - some students opened their envelopes at 6AM - as yet another year group smashed records to achieve the best results in the school’s history.

A record-breaking year at Fortismere School has seen students confirm places at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge on A-level results day.

A “fabulous range” of A-level results at LaSWAP Sixth Form Centre has seen students meet offers from universities as diverse as Falmouth and SOAS.

UCS Hampstead bursary students have been singled out for praise on the day the school received its second best A-level results ever.

The headteacher of Henrietta Barnett School has championed her ‘inspirational’ sixth formers on A-level results day.

Westminster Academy has achieved a host of top scores in its International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).

Students from William Ellis School and LaSWAP sixth form centre were given the chance to highlight the health concerns that mattered to them in a video campaign produced with the help of Healthwatch Camden.

When A-level results come out on August 16, more than three quarters of students who want to go to university are likely to get into their first choice.

In the dying days of feudal Japan, 14 student samurai from the southern Japanese province of Satsuma (now Kagoshima) came to Camden to study at UCL. Four others went to colleges around the country.

Most Read