Teaching Human Thinking Skills Through Mathematics

Math education in Keys means much more than learning just the usual math. In Keys, we move away from the tedious computations, senseless memorization, and long procedures that have made mathematics a fearsome and irrelevant area of study for many children. We do not stop at teaching children math skills that can be easily done by calculators and computers. Instead, we want the children to hone their higher-order thinking skills–the abilities that set humans apart from machines. Through math, children in Keys learn to think critically, find creative ways to solve problems, form sound inferences, and communicate ideas and arguments.

Conceptual Understanding of Mathematics

Our math program is centered on inquiry and experiential learning. During math period, children discuss their ideas, use a wide range of materials, and experiment with different ways of solving problems. When a new math topic is introduced, the children first experience the concept concretely. For example, to discover division, the 6‘s and 7‘s will find the different ways to distribute 10 cookies equally into plates. To understand algebraic expressions, the 11‘s to 12‘s will use algebraic models to visually appreciate how (2x+y) looks like using colored blocks. After exploring the topic concretely, they then transfer the learning to pictures before working with abstract symbols. This approach enables children to develop their own understanding of math concepts and techniques. It develops children’s confidence in their ability to respond analytically and creatively to mathematical questions and problem-solving.

The teachers serve as guides during these structured explorations. They pose questions that challenge children to test judgments made about how numbers work and find other ways to solving a problem. They work with individual children, pushing those who show readiness for a deeper understanding and giving support to those who need more opportunities to master the topic.

Singapore Math Curriculum

To provide a world-class program, Keys adopted the Singapore math curriculum. This curriculum has consistently shown exemplary results in Singaporean children for more than ten years now. A number of school districts all over the world have adopted this curriculum and have achieved successes as well. Keys was introduced to the Singapore math curriculum through our work with Dr. Yeap Ban Har of Singapore’s National Institute of Education at the Nanyang Technological University. Dr. Ban Har has the travelled the world training educators about good math teaching practices in Singapore and he has also written Singapore math textbooks used in various countries. Dr. Ban Har works closely with all the teachers of Keys by conducting in-house seminars and lesson studies, an innovative teacher-training program that involves Dr. Ban Har coming into the classrooms of Keys and engaging the teachers in an authentic learning-on-the-job experience. This is the same teacher-training method employed in Singapore for its math teachers.