As parent’s we are constantly questioning whether or not we are doing right by our children. Have I taught them the right way? Is there a wrong way to teach them? Every year schools are flooded with emails from panicked mums and dads over the different methods being taught to children that they were never exposed to when they were at school. The main culprit behind these emails, Maths.
It would seem that each culture, country and family has their own way of working out sums and this would be amazing if the teacher could mark the answers and they were all correct. Sadly, as it is when we are learning, we often get things wrong. Our errors lie in our methodology, and if every child has used their own method it would take hours for a teacher to mark one lessons worth of work and find out exactly what misconception the children had in that lesson, should they all be working things out in their own way. So to ease the stress on staff, most schools follow a particular method, which would be great, if only the parent’s knew it too.
As each government changes, so too does the curriculum, and now the ‘new’ focus is on Maths Mastery. A lovely term for the not so new; Singapore Maths Method, which came about in the 1980’s. The fundamental differences between the Mastery Method and our traditional school of thought are as follows:
We (westerner’s) were taught the hows (how to add, subtract, and multiply) however, the Mastery Method aims to teach children the whys before the hows (Why do we borrow? Why do we carry in addition? Why is 4 x 3 = 12? Why is there a remainder?)
This sounds good on paper but is in fact a massive shift for how Maths is taught in the classroom. In order to understand maths, or anything for that matter, one has to be shown. Now to show something as abstract a concept as maths, can be tricky. The Mastery Method calls this the ‘Concrete Phase’ of learning which comes before the traditional ‘Abstract Concepts’. In place of a rote style of learning 1+1=2, 2+2=4 etc. You will now find teachers asking children to count blocks, group them, and visually display a sum. The old ‘2+2= 4’ written on the board becomes counting blocks (concrete objects) on the table. We can group those four blocks in different ways; they can be group in pairs or children could create one group of three 1’s and add it to the one left over. Once they have seen this grouping the Mastery method then goes to the Pictorial Phase, a bridge between concrete and abstract where children see drawing representations of concrete objects before moving on to abstract equations. It is then much easier to introduce the concept of number bonds adding in the symbols behind grouping numbers.
4= 1+1+1+1 in the same way that 4= 2+2 and 3+1 or 2 groups of 2 (2×2).
With this simple illustration of bar modelling one can see the depth at which children following the Mastery method now understand the sum, rather than just knowing the answer through rote learning. They are also exposed to correlated maths facts such as multiplication and division seeing topics build gradually one after the other. The end goal being deeply developed analytical thinking skills through an understanding of math concepts and visualization.
So to answer my original question; is there a wrong way to teach your child? My answer would be no, so long as your teaching aims to answer the question ‘why’, otherwise, children haven’t learnt anything, they have just remembered.