Maths: Year 8 Tackle Bar Modelling
Maths lessons in Year 8 classes have seen Bede’s Prep pupils struggling recently – not with answering questions from textbooks but with new approaches to learning which have stretched them far beyond what is expected at Common Entrance.
Thankfully, the worst of their challenges are now over. The bones have been reset, to coin a phrase, and now they are tackling advanced concepts not expected of them until GCSE with ease and panache.
How has this happened? It's all due to a small island state in South East Asia.
“It has been statistically proven that children in every country in the world get worse at maths as they get older,” explains Head of Maths Mr Fasciolo-Barnes, “with one exception - the Republic of Singapore.”
An anomaly at the top of the PISA ranking lists, Singapore does not teach its children maths by rote – the surest method to success in the international educational rankings. Unlike China, Taiwan and South Korea, which teach children by drilling them over and over, Singapore has turned the world of maths education on its head in the last 20 years - by doing the opposite.
“Singapore doesn’t have lots of minerals or fossil fuels to dig up,” Mr Fasciolo-Barnes continues, “so the government decided that to make their economy great they needed to become the best educated country in the world. That’s where the phrase ‘Singapore-style Maths’ comes from. And they have shot up the league tables since they started doing this. There’s no stopping them.”
Grounded in the work of Jerome Bruner, Zoltan Deans and Richard Skemp, ‘Singapore-style Maths’ sees problems exploded; rather than learning example answers and repeating them, children are taught the conceptual roots of equations and are encouraged to solve problems figuratively.
These approaches are the result of reams of research from British educationalists, and since the Asian nation pulled its whole school system apart in 1995 and rebuilt it from the ground up, it is surprising that Bede's Prep is the only school in the Sussex doing the same.
“Bruner’s research showed that there are 3 distinct ways to learn a solution to a problem; one is Concrete – a physical manipulation, involving real-world ‘things,’" says Mr Fasciolo-Barnes.
"The second is Pictorial – drawings or pictures. The third is Abstract. By taking children through these steps one by one, rather than jumping in at the Abstract stage as is currently the case with most Maths teaching, the results are dramatically better in the long-term. The children really genuinely understand what they're doing.”
Since joining Bede’s Prep School in September 2014, Mr Fasciolo-Barnes has introduced Singapore-style Maths to every year group from the bottom up. The children in Years 2, 3 and 4 have taken to it like ducks to water, but - interestingly - the children at the top of the school have found it harder to get to grips with.
“It felt like trying to give a cat a bath at first,” explains Mr Fasciolo-Barnes, “But that’s because our current Year 8 had never learned like this before. They’re a very able year group, but they had learned to answer questions in the way the exams ask them. Now though, they can attack a question from any angle – they are thinking laterally and conceptually, as evidenced by our recent Bar Modelling exercises.”
These recent tasks, which have seen the pupils solving linear equations through visualisation techniques, have enabled the children to not only be ‘good at maths’ and get the marks but also comprehend dozens of lines of inquiry - far beyond what is required by the National Curriculum.
“They are already rewriting the rulebook when it comes to exam results,” Mr Fasciolo-Barnes concludes, “and I’m increasingly confident that they will breeze through the common entrance. After that though, they sky’s the limit for them.
"Moreover, this approach to education isn't a gimmick. It's proven to work. Why more schools aren't doing it I don't know, but I'm very proud that we are."