Tag Archives: drill-and-kill questions

Anything Funny about Singapore Math?

Math educators, especially stressed [often self-inflicted] local teachers in Singapore, are always on the look-out for something funny or humorous to spice up their oft-boring math lessons. At least, this is the general feeling I get when I meet up with fellow teachers, who seem to be short of fertile resources; however, most are dead serious to do whatever it takes to make their teaching lessons fun and memorable.

20140421-203849.jpg
© Sidney Harris Sea animals are mathematical, too!

It’s often said that local Singapore math teachers are the world’s most hardworking (and arguably the world’s “most qualified” as well)—apparently, they teach the most number of hours, as compared with their peers in other countries—but for the majority of them, their drill-and-kill lessons are boring like a piece of wood. It’s as if the part of their brain responsible for creativity and fun had long been atrophied. A large number of them look like their enthusiasm for the subject have extinguished decades ago, and teaching math until their last paycheck seems like a decent job to paying the mortgages and to pampering themselves with one or two dear overseas trips every other year with their loved ones.

Indeed, Singapore math has never been known to be interesting, fun, or creative, at least this is the canned perception of thousands of local math teachers and tutors—they just want to over-prepare their students to be exam-smart and to score well. The task of educating their students to love or appreciate the beauty and power of the subject is often relegated to outsiders (enrichment and olympiad math trainers), who supposedly have more time to enrich their students with their extra-mathematical activities.

Singapore Math via Humor

20140421-203921.jpg
© Sidney Harris The lost art of Roman numerals

A prisoner of war in World War II, Sidney Harris is one of the few artists who seems to have got a good grasp of math and science. While school math may not be funny, math needn’t be serious for the rest of us, who may not tell the difference between mathematical writing and mathematics writing, or between ratio and proportion. Let Sidney Harris show you why a lot of things about serious math are dead funny. Mathematicians tend to take themselves very seriously, which is itself a funny thing, but S. Harris shows us through his cartoons how these symbol-minded men and women are a funny awful lot.

Angel: “I’m beginning to understand eternity, but infinity is still beyond me.”

20140421-203941.jpg
© Sidney Harris There is nothing new under the mathematical sun!
20140421-204019.jpg
© Sidney Harris Isn’t mathematics just a man-made game?
20140421-204119.jpg
© Sidney Harris The world’s first “mathematical plagiarizer”
20140421-204146.jpg
© Sidney Harris The aftermath of Pi addiction
20140421-204413.jpg
© Sidney Harris Maybe we’d soon spot some bunnies running around!
20140421-204454.jpg
© Sidney Harris Some step just needs to be accepted on faith!
20140421-204714.jpg
© Sidney Harris Who says mathematicians don’t need drugs?

Mathematical humor is a serious (and dangerous) business, which few want to invest their time in, because it often requires an indecent number of man- or woman-hours to put their grey matter to work in order to produce something even half-decently original or creative. The choice is yours: mediocrity or creativity?

Humorously and irreverently yours

References
Adams, D. S. (2014). Lab math. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Harris, S. (1970). What’s so funny about science? Los Altos, Ca.: Wm. Kaufmann, Inc.

© Yan Kow Cheong, August 20, 2015.

Check out an inexpensive (but risky) way to make a Singapore math lesson less boring: The Use of Humor in Mathematics. The author would be glad to visit local schools and tuition centers to conduct in-service three-hour math courses for fellow primary and secondary math teachers, who long to bring some humor to their everyday mathematical classrooms—as part of their annual 100 hours professional upgrading. Please use his e-mail coordinates on the Contact page.

7000+ Drill-and-Kill Singapore Math Questions

Based on the average number of questions contained in an assessment (or supplementary) math book these days, it can be estimated that most students in Singapore would have solved some seven thousand math questions by the time they had graduated from elementary school. Indeed, an awful lot, to say the least.

I try to understand why local math writers feel that they’ve to provide such an unhealthy number of these drill-and-kill questions or routines for students to practice. Surely, their publishers are behind this “numerical obscenity,” arguing that many kiasu parents would feel that they’re buying a value-for-money book. Imagine the emotional or psychological harm it could do to a child who barely has any interest in the subject.

Even for those with a fluency with numbers, wouldn’t a thousand (or even half of that number) questions bore them to death? Many would end up getting a distorted picture of what elementary math is all about—imitate-practice-imitate more-practice more.

Primary One Mathematics Tutor—Book 1A
Imagine that’s just Book 1A for grade one! How many more drills are there for Book 1B?

The Junk Food of Singapore’s Math Education

Drill-and-kill math questions are like the junk food of math education. Every now and then, we all visit these fast food outlets, but to grow up on a diet that consists mainly of burgers, French flies, and Coke for most days of the week, that can only be a good recipe for unavoidable obesity and all sorts of preventable diseases that would pop up sooner than later. Likewise, over-exposing students to these math drills would only produce an army of drill-and-kill specialists, who wouldn’t be able to think critically and creatively in mathematics—and later in life.

The Baby [Math] Gift for Singapore’s Jubilee

For Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, when the nation celebrates its 50th year of independence in 2015, other than giving items like a special medallion, a multi-functional shawl, and a set of baby clothes, one of the suggested gifts by the mathematical brethren to be given to Singaporean babies born next year should be a check amounting to not less than a thousand bucks. This would help defray the average cost incurred by parents who would need to buy those elementary math supplementary titles during the child’s formative years—it’s a rite of passage for every child studying in a Singapore government school to expose himself or herself to these drill-and-kill questions. Even if parents are opposed to these math drills, school teachers or tutors might still recommend the child to buy one!

Primary Four Mathematics Tutor—Book 4A
It looks like an average grade 4 child has to solve not less than a thousand odd questions before he or she could graduate to grade 5.

Drill-and-Kill Specialists or Innumerates

Of course, it’s better to produce tens of thousands of drill-and-kill specialists than an army of innumerates. In the short term, this raises the self-esteem of the children, as they feel that they can solve most of these routine questions, by parroting the solutions of the worked examples.  We all learn by imitation, but at least the questions need to slowly move from routine to non-routine. We can’t afford to have hundreds of questions that test the same skills or sub-skills almost without end. We need a balanced percent of drills, non-drills, and challenging questions—not a disproportionate unhealthy number of drill-and-kill questions, which would only affect our long-term mathematical health.

Primary Five Mathematics Tutor—Book 5A
Interestingly, many average students find books like the above far more useful than their oft-boring school textbooks and workbooks.

The Good Part of Drill-and-Kill

One good thing about these wallet-friendly drill-and-kill math titles is that they can easily replace a lousy or lazy math teacher, or even a mathophobic parent. After all, we can’t expect too much from a mathematical diet that could help sustain (or even strengthen) us for a while. At best, they’re like Kumon Math, which subscribes to the philosophy that more practice and more drill could eventually help the child to become self-motivated, and to raise his or her self-esteem in the short term.

Maths Practice 1000+—Grade 5
Some of these reprinted or rehashed “math drills” titles cost on average less than one cent per question—no doubt, many [gullible?] parents think or feel that they’re getting a pretty good deal from buying these wallet-friendly books—cheap and “good”!

Are You a Disciple of Drill-and-Kill?

If mathematical proficiency is credited to be achieved through practice and more practice, would you buy a few of these math practice titles for your child? Or, as a teacher or tutor, would you recommend one for your student or tutee? Don’t you think that this is a case of “more is less”? Could the child end up being mathematically undernourished when it comes to creative problem solving and higher-order thinking? Or maybe the child could even be numerically constipated by an overdose of these drill-and-kill questions?

Maths Practice 1000+—Grade 6
Caution: The above title may be hazardous to your long-term mathematical health—it could atrophy your higher-order, creative, and critical thinking skills in mathematics!

© Yan Kow Cheong, July 4, 2014.