Researchers in the article compared mathematics ‘teaching methods’ in the United Kingdom to the Singaporean method. The mastery approach to maths teaching and learning focuses on problem-solving approaches.
Maths mastery approach concentrates on problem-solving
The finding in the report revealed that students taught using problem-solving mastery approach learn faster than their counterparts. And, the students of maths mastery strategy make an extra month of progress in a calendar year.
Another point worth reiterating is that student’s ability to do well in maths can be enhanced by tweaking it at a certain time. The report highlighted that even a small enhancement at age 10 yields long term economic benefits for individual and the country.
Performances of students in mathematics in Papua New Guinea
Students performances in mathematics examinations at Grades 8, 10 and 12 have been below the average levels compared to other subjects. Several regional and national tests have also shown similar indications of students’ dismal performances in mathematics.
The traditional methods of teaching mathematics – chalk and talk, recalling numeracy facts, performing mental calculations, etc. – may have to take on a new twist.
Perhaps, the policymakers and education leaders consider new researches and developments and act on them as a matter of urgency. Math in the country is at a low level. Students have difficulty recalling mathematical facts, let alone use the facts to solve problems.
The challenge today is to effectively address mathematics learning in PNG schools. It does not mean changing the whole structure and curriculum?
What is means is to look at innovative and practical ways of solving mathematics problems. There are some bests practices in Singapore and UK classrooms that maths teachers can use.
Mastery approaches to maths
There are two examples in this article. But first, if performances in maths in the country were to improve, there is a need to intervene in classroom teaching of maths.
The maths teachers must look at ways to create resources targeted at developing student’s problem-solving skills – ideally students between the ages of 9 and 16 years.
Examples of a mastery approach to teaching math in Singapore schools
A good example uses three wooden bars to find three consecutive numbers that add up to 42, Instead of rote learning as shown in methods one and two below. Maths mastery approach is problem-solving in class, not rote learning.
Curriculum designers design specific lessons in fractions, ratios, algebra, trigonometry, area, volume, capacity, etc..
Furthermore, a report puts it this way:
Based on this Concrete Pictorial Abstract (CPA) approach to learning, the team also developed a “spiral curriculum”, where each topic is revisited in intervals at a more sophisticated level. A concept is represented initially by “concrete” materials, later by models (pictures) and then finally by the abstract notation (such as plus or equals signs). There is also a strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids – using coloured blocks to represent fractions or ratios, for example. (Singapore Times, 03/02/2020)
In Papua New Guinean (and UK, US, NZ and Australian) teachers would solve the problem of finding three consecutive numbers that add up to 42 either by trial and error or by using algebra.
Method one: By trial and error – choose 3 numbers at random
Start at 10, 11, 13 (=34);
11, 12, 13, (=36);
12, 13, 14 (=39)
13, 14, 15 (=42)
Three numbers are 13, 14 and 15
Method 2: By using algebra to solve the problem
Let the first number be x, second number x + 1 and third number x + 2
x + x + 1 + x + 2 = 42
3x + 3 = 42
Therefore, three numbers are 13, 14 and 15
What does Maths Mastery approach mean
This is not about a complete shift in teaching styles. This is about enhancement – creating ‘power lesson’ effective enough to enrich students ability on a daily basis.
The importance of helping students to learn faster and think for themselves is far superior to preparing students for examinations. There has to be a balance between building strong problem-solving skills and preparing students to achieve good grades.
What Singaporean schools have done can also be done in Papua New Guinea. Giving students the best possible opportunity to improve apply mathematical reasoning to solve problems in real life.