Sunday, July 23, 2017

Math Thinking Skill: The 96 x 2 vs 92 x 6 question

Last week, Dolly asked while I was driving if "96 x 2 gives the same answer as 92 x 6". Typical of me, I asked her to share with me what she thought first, and also promised that after she had at least tried to explain to me, I would show her.

She did not have an answer straightaway but for the rest of the journey, she was working it out. There was a lot of mumbling and thinking out loud. Haha....

By the time we reached home, she had worked it all out by herself that the two equations will not yield the same answer. Her exact words were...

"96 x 2 is 2 sets of 96. So 90 +90 is only 180 and 6+6 =12. So it is only 192.
92 x 6 means there are 6 sets of 90+2. So 6 9-tens is already 540! So the two cannot be the same".

(In upper Pri Math representation, we know 96 x 2 should be 96 twos but at this age, it is fine to think that 96 x 2 = 2 x 96).

Considering she is not 6 years old yet, I must admit I was really thrilled and proud that she was thinking this way.

Dolly has been very interested in learning Math concepts in the last 12 to 15 months.

Just like with my boys, I did not set out to teach her any Math concepts in isolation. I just leave that kind of teaching to her kindergarten.

Instead, I usually present inter-disciplinary scenarios as part of her lapbooking activities that require her to apply Math concepts. Those activities that she was introduced to in my K2/Primary 1 Bright Minds Lapbooking classes are challenging and very different from those simple ones introduced in her kindergarten.

She enjoys them so much that she begs me for more scenarios sometimes. Haha... I must admit it is so satisfying to know that kiddos are so intrigued and motivated to learn by the activities that I have painstakingly designed.

To me, to acquire a headstart advantage in Math is not about doing repetitive questions or practise questions from assessment books that are one or more years ahead.

It is about training the child's mathematical thinking and communication skills. Once the child is strong in these skills, you can throw any questions to them and they will have the confidence to use logic and reasoning skill to work their way through.

I also think that  too often adults are distracted by the ideas pushed forward by the "Make Learning FUN or Kids Won't Learn" advocates and thought kids need colourful books and worksheets, expensive games and manipulatives or prizes in order to be motivated and excel in Math.

I beg to differ. In fact, I strongly disagree.

It’s not about making math fun. Games and prizes are just quick fixes.

Instead, it’s about encouraging the sense of accomplishment that comes from deep understanding of difficult concepts. It’s all about making the process of learning Math meaningful. Once kids realise how and why the Math concepts they learn can help solve a meaningful problem or situation, suddenly, it is not about learning a silly Math question and plucking a figure from air, but about using their reasoning skill to derive at a solution.

Friday, July 14, 2017

My After-Kindy 2 Thoughts, Once More.

Now that the Primary One registration process has started, I am reminded once again of those weeks of anxiety and excitement I felt many years ago, when I was researching and considering the various options for my first-born.

Back then, I was not deliberating over the different local primary schools but instead, I was thinking whether international schools would benefit him more.

Reading the old post on my consideration between local primary schools and international schools was a good reminder of how steadfast I have been all these years of what I considered to be a good education. 

My fears
After accompanying my eldest through his Primary school journey, and nearing the end of another with my middle child, I believe I am qualified to remark that there are many aspects of the local education system that are far from good, in my humble opinion. 

The negative effects of our local education system on our children in both the short and long terms are actually far more damaging than the decision makers will admit. Sometimes I wonder, if it is possible that the decision makers are not even aware of the negative long term impact. 

Unfortunately, most parents are unlikely to realise the damage too, as they are distracted/blinded by the immediate milestones that their kids must hit. Most will just cross one hurdle at a time, and realise the reality only when it is too late. My guess is majority will remain oblivious as they struggle to get through the daily grind. 

The biggest shame, I think, lies in the fact that we are a nation full of parents who are so invested in our children's education and yet in decades to come, many parents will realise too late that the calibre of our children we have raised is simply not going to be ready to take on the challenges presented in the global market. 

The simple truth is, to navigate the world out there requires much more than perfect scores and excelling in examinations. We simply cannot hire an army of tutors to prepare us for the world or bury our heads in stacks of assessment books to drill till we can produce model answers.

Leaving kids to their own devices and to just "do their best" while they lead carefree childhood years may not necessarily be a wise move either. This might be the 'way of life' decades ago, but the world has changed so drastically since. Unless our offspring are equipped with the right skills and mindsets, they may find themselves obsolete sooner than expected.

I often reiterate to my boys my goals and dreams of what a truly great education system should provide and what a really superior education should be. They know my grumbles all too well. I know they appreciate how I work tirelessly trying to compensate for the shortfalls and mitigate the damage that I fear the education system is inflicting on their young minds and souls. 

They are the reasons I founded my programmes. 

The Bright Minds Lapbookers, Bright World Thinkers and Chinese Lapbookers are my effort to ensure my inquisitive children will remain passionate about lifelong learning by showing them how we can make learning relevant and meaningful. 

Time will tell, if my efforts paid off or if all these are just my wishful thinking. 

Are all schools a good school? 
It really depends on one's definition of 'good'. It is idealistic and naive to even try to chant 'every school is a good school' and believe that parents will eventually buy this impression. 

If we define a good school as an institution which provides a minimum level of teaching in a safe environment (i.e. kids are unlikely to be killed), and kids will be taught how to be a good person etc. then yes, all schools here are good. 

But if we aim for any loftier definitions and expect a good school to be one that provides equal opportunities to every child, bringing out the best in the child, and teaching not just enough to ace the exams but to impart knowledge and equip him with skills that will truly benefit him for life, we will be disappointed. 

Inequalities exist in too many ways and one has to be naive to believe that all schools give equal opportunities to everyone.

The system does not encourage schools to bring out the best in every child. Instead, it encourages parents and kids to march on like hamsters on a wheel. Once you are on the 'wheel', you better keep running or risk being trampled on. More often than not, the glory, pride, fear or embarrassment felt by parents and/or kids will keep them on the race.

The reality is, once you have a kid in the primary school system, you will realise the rat race is real as the stakes are too high. There really is no other way to say this except that the stakes are too high. The implications of the outcome of a national exam at age 12 are far too great to ignore. 

It takes true courage, foresight and determination on the parents' part to remain focused and realised that they can still choose NOT to be a hamster on wheel.

But here is the other thing. We may choose not to participate in the rat race in schools now, but also fail to prepare our kids for the true race in life. Leaving things to chance and let nature take its course may be a chosen path by some but I have a hard time convincing myself that 'one's destiny is pre-determined'.

For me, my parenting goals are quite simple. I raise my kids to accept that the rat races exist instead of pretending they are a fragment of our imagination. If they choose to participate, they should strive to win. If they choose to be a by-stander in one rat race, they have to aim high somewhere else and not waste life away either. Ultimately, we should always aim to lead life in the most meaningful ways.

So with these parenting goals in mind, we have decided on a school which aims to inspire students to always strive for excellence. That said, after so many years with the local education system, I know all too well that leaving our child's development entirely to the school is akin to leaving her development to chance and that is against my belief of good parenting.


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