Singapore Big Math for Little Kids: Developing Understanding of Foundation Mathematics Among Identified, Low-Achieving Primary 1 Students

Project Number
OER 33/08 MAH

Project Duration
March 2009 - February 2012


Research has shown that all children are capable of learning mathematics at a young age. Children do not need to be prepared and made ready to learn (Greenes, 1999). Children possess basic mathematics concepts and skills and engage readily in mathematics through play and through informal and incidental learning opportunities. Moreover, young children are capable of dealing with a comprehensive and challenging mathematics curriculum. They show spontaneous interest in complex mathematical concepts such as symmetry and greater numbers and are able to deal with genuinely interesting mathematics ideas (Ginsburg, 1999). When children commence formal schooling in Primary 1 and are presented with more advanced concepts and skills, knowledge gaps emerge between children who have strong mathematics (and language) competencies and those with weak competencies in these areas. Key findings from the CRPP Core I research relevant to primary level mathematics showed that: (a) depth of knowledge presented in mathematics classrooms was mostly at the procedural level, whereas factual knowledge was more prevalent in other subjects (b) knowledge was strongly classified, in that subjects were taught independently of other subjects (c) systematic shifts in levels and kinds of knowledge presented (also known as ''weaving'' in the coding scheme) were hardly presented by teachers and (d) rationale for learning was not given to students in 60% of the lessons, and when given, it was usually disciplinary knowledge or institutional performance The Big Math for Little Kids (BMLK) curriculum programme (Balfanz, Ginsburg, & Greenes, 2003) is the result of a four-year effort from 1998 to 2002 to create a research-based and developmentally appropriate early childhood mathematics programme for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children. The programme has been field tested with children from diverse backgrounds, including minority children from low-income families and children beginning to learn English, as well as children from middle-income families. Key features of BMLK: (a) ''Big Math'' concepts make strong connections between mathematics, language and literacy so that ''math talk'' develops important language skills and helps children acquire fundamental metacognitive abilities, and (b) assessment of children's mathematical development through observing and talking to children over an extended period of time and asking probing questions to elicit deeper understanding of mathematics The aims of the proposed research study are to: (a) adapt the BMLK curriculum for use with identified, low-achieving Primary 1 students who are not in the Learning Support for Mathematics Programme in two case schools in Singapore to develop, extend and enrich the mathematics and literacy skills of academically weaker students who do not have strong grounding in foundational mathematics knowledge and skills, and (b) engage in collaborative work with teachers implementing the curriculum intervention programme to co-plan and co-develop the Singapore BMLK curriculum, provide mentorship to teachers, as well as help teachers become comfortable with and proficient in use of clinical interviewing (Ginsburg, 1997) so that teachers are able to provide better instruction. The project seeks to help teachers obtain formative assessment data on student learning so that teachers are better able to understand how children learn and why some may fail to do so. The preliminary, baseline research work for this study has been done in a one-year pilot project with the case schools in 2007.

Research Themes

Funding Source

Related Links
ReEd Vol 7: Little Kids Talking Math

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