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Singapore Mastery / Bar Method in Secondary Schools

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by biancalang03, Feb 15, 2016.

  1. biancalang03

    biancalang03 New commenter

    As you may be aware, rrecent research has shown that teaching by the Singaporean mastery method (the bar method) has proven faster learning and more progress in primary schools pupils. I am a secondary school teacher and I am finding that a lot of the students in year 7 join our school having been taught in this manner, but members of staff do now know how to continue teaching in this method or, whether or not they understand the method, have not had any training in it.

    Any ideas where training or resources in secondary Singapore maths can be found?

    Also: do you think you might benefit from that?
  2. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    The most diplomatic thing I can say here is that the National Curriculum does not endorse this thing at Primary nor at Secondary. If you wish to teach Singaporean methods then emigrate to Singapore.
  3. adamcreen

    adamcreen Occasional commenter

    You will find lots of bar model acolytes on Twitter and blogposts if you search for it. You can also jump on the publishers bandwagon and spend £££ on new textbooks, they are available from Oxford (Inspire Maths), MathsNoProblem, and several others.
    Of course, bar modelling is not from Singapore and is not a mastery method. In 1992 I did it in my PGCE, and many of the Singapore "experts" trained in the UK and learnt it here.
    The reason Singapore and Shanghai do well in international comparisons is nothing to do with mastery, CPA or bar models. It is to do with teaching and preparation time, and cultural aspects of the school day.
    Don't waste your money.
    Violalass likes this.
  4. PFCDaz

    PFCDaz New commenter

    I'm not sure how much genuinely solid research is out there, but I would also hesitate to write it off completely simply down to its lack of endorsement on the curriculum. If students have been taught it, and it acts as an aid to their understanding then making use of it to help them progress seems perfectly legitimate. There are two advantages to the bar model method as far as I see it:

    1) students well versed in the method can use it to help extract the mathematical structure from quite complicated paragraphs of text, allowing easier access to, for example, ratio and proportion problems
    2) it is a very nice bridge between concrete arithmetic and abstract representations of algebra, its not a big conceptual leap to move from recording missing values as box based diagrams, to representing them with a letter instead.

    The major disadvantage is that to get the kind of depth of understanding of the method to make the advantages legitimate, students need to have started using the method back when doing basic addition and subtraction problems and have internalised it throughout primary school, which goes back to my earlier point, if the students are comfortable using the method and it enables them to feel confident in their maths and consistently get correct answers, it would be crazy not to see how far they can be stretched within the bar-model method and then use it as a stepping stone to more formal mathematical techniques, if they have never seen the method before, I wouldn't suggest spending time trying to teach it as you will never have the time necessary to make it worthwhile.

    this is not a bad introduction to some of the more "secondary" level ideas that can easily be supported...
    colinbillett likes this.
  5. Shatnerbassoon

    Shatnerbassoon New commenter

    I had never heard of this method until now, but looking it up, I am not convinced that it seems quicker than long multiplication or division. Requiring less learning of tables maybe, but not more efficient. Maybe it is down to the school I teach in (relatively affluent area so fewer D-U candidates at GCSE), but the only interest I have in secondary pupils' arithmetic methods is whether they can perform them fluently and as preparation for polynomial division in the sixth form.

    In terms of how i teach, i allow whatever method pupils have learnt from primary school, but will use traditional methods in any examples on the board. I see it as similar to when taking on a class in year 12, who in general will have learnt around 5 different techniques for factorising quadratics, half of which I have no clue what they are doing ( dome weird zigzag method comes to mind..). I let them use whatever they are comfortable with, but split the x coefficient in any example.

    Ultimately in most instances I don't think it matters what techniue is used, as long as the pupils can use it fluently. So in answer to your question, i dont personally think I would benefit from resources on the bar method, though I would be academically interested to see how it generalises to polynomial division or the binomial expansion
  6. primenumbers

    primenumbers New commenter

    I was taught by this method. Kids like us were bored rigid using it to solve equations until we were introduced to Algebra. Since that day onward, we never used the bar method anymore :)

    Would it work with lower ability kids, maybe, who know?
  7. PFCDaz

    PFCDaz New commenter

    I'm very interested by your response primenumbers, I wonder if by being secure in the bar-model method, the transition to algebra was conceptually more straightforward, allowing you to move on more rapidly to what we would all agree is a far more powerful technique in the long run?

    I would love to see proper solid research around this kind of thing, i.e. is it better to repeatedly replace early models with a more sophisticated model as students progress through maths or is it better to teach a pared down version of the "best" formal technique from the word go and add complexity. Also, is this different for groups of students, so would early developers benefit from going straight to algebra, while later developers work through multiple representations, would this allow the weaker students to make more progress in the long run or does it create a barrier to learning, and is this necessarily a bad thing if the students can solve sophisticated problems above the level they will experience in day to day life on leaving school by using the "inferior" models.

    So many questions, and so little proper research to help answer them...
  8. primenumbers

    primenumbers New commenter

    We did a lot and a lot of number work and logic problems like the ones in Primary Maths challenge. When moving onto Algebra, we did find it very straight forward. I don't know the reason behind it. Either because of the methods that we were taught gave us a much better conceptual understanding or we were just very bright kids or maybe both.

    I, however, like you mentioned, would have prefer to be taught Algebra a lot earlier so we could have approached more complicated problems. In the end, we started Algebra in year 4 and by year 7, we were constructing proof by induction. The timescale were too short so we made up for it by doing a lot of work outside normal school.

    Going back to the Bar method, there are advantages and disadvantages to going slowly and master each skill. But does it mean that the students will not come across a wide range of topics and concepts like students in the UK? Admittedly, I never came across Statistics until I started A Level in the UK because I only studied a very narrow range of topics at secondary school back in my country. Imagine the struggle I had studying T1 to T3.
  9. PFCDaz

    PFCDaz New commenter

    I think the key thing for me which makes me feel vaguely positive about the bar-method is that it seems like a solid framework for interpreting a wide range of problems from basic numeracy, to missing values, to ratio and proportion problems that would require fairly sophisticated algebraic constructs. It has the feel to me of a "writing frame" in other subjects in that it can be a lens through which lots of different scenarios can be viewed and analysed, it seems to be a a method that helps broaden access to topics rather than restrict it...but...everything I have seen has been based on the perspective of people who are already convinced it is a good thing, having left classroom teaching I have not had the opportunity to try it myself with students, and I haven't yet seen any convincing evidence that it works as well as the intellectual argument for it suggests it might...yet!
    colinbillett likes this.
  10. cach9801

    cach9801 New commenter

    Mathematics Mastery uses a lot of bar modelling along with numerical / algebraical approaches. My school signed up for Mathematics Mastery and I think it's the best thing that could have happened to our school! Pupils of all attainment levels are expected to be able to use bar models, blocks, numbers, and algebraic approaches interchangeably.
    colinbillett likes this.
  11. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    At the age of 40 I got a pair of running shoes. I couldn't believe how much easier it felt to run. But they shoes did not do the running - I still had to do that.

    Bar Models remind me of those shoes; they do not do any calculations, they simply make it far easier for children to see WHAT calculations they need to do. In other words, they address the 'reasoning' rather than the 'fluency' aspect of problem solving.

    I agree with Adam in that bar models are not new, nor are they even originally from Singapore. The man who wrote 'My Pals Are Here', the book they use in Singapore State schools (but called 'Inspire' in the UK) Dr. Fong, freely admits he wrote the scheme after studying for his PhD in Maths Education in London. I'm sure many of us have used the bar model years; I started using it in KS3 to teach ratio and it was excellent then. It's just become standardised and popularised by Fong, hence being referred to commonly but incorrectly as the Singapore Bar.

    It is a very helpful way to teach children to 'unpick' word problems, and I love it, but it is not the solution to world hunger.
    googolplex and Vince_Ulam like this.

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