Math the Singapore way

Private Post Falls school hopes curriculum counters declining scores

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Breanna Ronald, 12, answers question on an exam Thursday at Pascal Academy in Post Falls. The private school is the first in the area to adopt Singapore Math, which takes a different approach to teaching students math.

POST FALLS - A private Post Falls school has found a touch of Singapore as a plus to counter global declining math scores.

Pascal Academy Director Dave Ronald said he believes the Christian K-12 school is the first in the area and possibly the state to use Singapore Math.

The curriculum, named after the tiny island in Southeast Asia where its founders were introduced to a style of learning that ranks Singapore's math students among the top in the world, addresses the "why" of math.

"It tells you 'why' instead of just 'how,'" said seventh-grader Zoe Chatin. "It explains the concepts, and it's organized."

Ninth-grader Chris Major called the math "really structured."

"I noticed that Singapore Math seems easy at first, but it just keeps building and building," Major said. "They may not call it algebra, but you're learning algebra. I believe that I'm reinforcing what I'm learning every time I do an assignment in Singapore Math."

Ronald said the program has changed students' attitudes toward math and received overwhelming approval from parents.

"Singapore Math demystifies math so it opens up math to more students," Ronald said.

Pascal Academy, which started last fall and has 16 students enrolled in grades 2 through 9, looked into Singapore Math because of declining United States math test scores internationally, Ronald said.

In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old students' scholastic performance performed first in 2000 and repeated every three years, the United States finished 24th in 2003. The U.S. slipped to 30th in 2009, while Singapore finished second.

It investigated the cause and found that students were being taught to memorize methods for solving problems, but did not understand why it was being done that way.

"With Singapore, they break the numbers down and model the problem," Ronald said.

Singapore Math offers a group approach to solving problems.

"Students are mentoring each other," Ronald said. "They are working together to solve a problem and they're seeing how other students are solving it."

Parents said Singapore Math has filled in students' gaps in their math background and have made them want to do their homework on their own.

"We're a new school trying a new state-of-the-art curriculum that is renowned internationally for high achievement," said parent Lorna Finman. "I think this is very unique to the school and I believe it to be superior to the current choices out there."

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education, said she's also unaware of any schools in the state that have adopted the curriculum, "but there are aspects of Singapore Math that are similar to the Idaho Math Initiative."

Some home-schooled students have also been taught using the Singapore Math method.

"(The math) has gotten quite a bit of attention lately because Singapore students score very well on international math tests," said Barney Brewton of the Post Falls School District.

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