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Can parents help kids with math?

CELIA MARQUEZ writes: I read your article on “Math and Other Summer Stuff for Kids” (April 11). I am very interested in Singapore Math and have been researching about it on the Internet. I took up engineering (with the) primary objective to learn math since I know it is my Waterloo. Now that I’m a mother of four, I want them to learn not to fear math but to love it by knowing how important and useful it is in their daily lives. Is there any possibility of you conducting your Singapore Math workshops here in Baguio City? (I am unable to attend) your workshop in Manila (because) I have to attend to my baby. I believe (many) parents, teachers and students here would be interested to learn as well. My reply: I am impressed that although mathematics is your weakness, you chose to take up engineering. Most people who dislike math would definitely shy away from it and would most likely take up courses with the fewest math units required. Since I mentioned the workshop in the column, I have been inundated by requests from readers to do the same in their areas. Thank you for inviting me to do a model approach (Singapore Math) workshop in Baguio, but because the trip is long, I cannot do so right now. At present, I confine my speaking engagements and workshops to some areas in Metro Manila. As a full-time professor at Ateneo de Manila University, my classes and my students come first. But the model approach is not very difficult. Though it may seem intimidating to many people, it is steadily being adopted by many countries. I sincerely believe that, with your engineering background, you can make sense of the approach from your readings on the Internet. Why don’t you try it and see? You will be amazed by its simplicity and usefulness. I have to caution you, though, that if your children learn and use Singapore Math but it is not what is taught in school, their teachers might not understand the solutions. Your children will still have to learn and use traditional math in school. I know that the need for Singapore Math is great, so I have been trying for years to empower people to learn this approach. I have discussed the need for more training with Marshall Cavendish Singapore (publisher of the most widely circulated Singapore textbooks) and their local arm, Edcrisch. I am happy to say that one of my friends, Singapore educator Banhar Yeap, has been regularly visiting the Philippines for several years and talking about Singapore Math. Other trainors from Singapore have also come to observe classes in certain schools here. But Singapore trainors are not enough. Ultimately, we need to have Filipino trainors and teachers who are well versed in the approach. Right now, I can say that math teachers of Ateneo de Manila Grade School, Xavier School and Immaculate Conception Academy know Singapore Math well because it is part of the curriculum. I have talked on Singapore Math in these schools as early as five years ago. I interact with these schools constantly, I know their math coordinators well and I know that their teachers have undergone training. These schools also regularly invite Singapore trainors to give them feedback. Since the students in these schools and many others (over 20 schools have adopted Singapore Math into their curriculum) are using Singaporean textbooks now, many centers have been rushing to offer lessons on the subject, with mixed results, based on student feedback. But as long as tutors master the approach and teach it well, then all is well since the need is great. Which centers are good? I don’t know, and I cannot endorse anything that I have not personally checked out. But perhaps you can contact Galileo Enrichment Center, talk to the master teachers and see if they can conduct workshops for you in Baguio. Call them at 2165936. As for books, I will try my best to do more math tracts, if I can find the time. Check out my latest parenting book “Home Work” (which has an entire chapter on math learning) and “Learning” (which has math tips for students and parents). They should be available in National Book Store or Powerbooks. By the way, I do not get paid by any school or center for endorsing them. (I get paid if I do workshops for any group.) I only want to make Filipino students (and their parents) and teachers become better in math, and to empower everyone to learn as best they can. Advanced or basic math Willie (last name withheld) writes: I would like to ask about math activities near our place in Valenzuela. Last year, our son transferred from a small school here to a bigger school in Caloocan. In his old school, he topped his math classes, while in the bigger school, he encountered difficulties and had to catch up. What would be a better math activity for him this summer: an advanced class or just a workshop? My reply: Unfortunately, math teaching and learning are not the same in all schools. While your son may be the best in math in his old school, he may indeed need to study harder, smarter and more often in a more challenging environment. I am not a fan of summer classes but your son seems to need remediation. Thus, my answer to your question is neither—certainly not an advanced class (he should not be exposed to advanced concepts yet if he has not mastered the basics), nor a summer workshop (though I don’t think this will hurt, since workshops are usually not difficult and may provide him with the confidence he needs to tackle higher math). Since he needs remediation, then perhaps he can go through ALL the exercises in his previous math book during the school break. Most likely, since he was busy catching up, as you say, with the other students in his new school, then he would not have mastered all the concepts yet. He needs to get a firm grasp on them before the new school year begins. The logical thing is for him to work on the exercises of the previous year until he is confident he understands them and can do them on his own, within a reasonable time limit. I know this is not a jazzy activity, and your son may resist, so you need to help him. Many studies, including some I spearheaded in the Philippines, show that the best tutors of children are still their parents. There is no shortcut to math mastery. You or your wife (or both) probably have to sit down with your son for the first few weeks, and help him with difficult topics. Focus your efforts on his weaknesses. If fractions, then he needs more practice. If geometry, then better visualization. If word problems, then more analysis. If he understands the past year’s lessons thoroughly, then he will be better prepared for the higher-level lessons next school year. E-mail the author at [email protected]

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