Math and science | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Math and science

/ 12:50 AM November 25, 2015

Most of us “old biddies” at the media women’s table at the Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel yesterday heaved a sigh of relief that we had long put the days of classroom math behind us.

Yesterday’s session coincided with the launching of “My Pals are Here!”—a set of textbooks plus an e-book following the so-called “Singapore math” method of teaching mathematics.

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Targeting students of K-to-12 in Philippine schools, the “Singapore math” texts are a new generation of teaching materials aimed at helping both students and teachers understand and appreciate the principles of mathematics from kindergarten to high school.

Simon Crisostomo, who heads the local distributor, Edcrisch International Inc., says this new method of teaching the principles of mathematics aims to make the lessons more accessible and easily “learnable” by Filipino children.

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But why is it called “Singapore math”? Rahim Ghani, e-solutions manager of Edcrish’s partner, Marshall Cavendish Education, says this method of teaching math is really the product of an international team of educators who happened to be meeting in Singapore where the method was first adopted. “In Singapore, it’s not known as ‘Singapore math’ but simply as math,” added Yu-Jin Lau, regional head for the Philippines and North Asia of Marshall Cavendish.

In brief, “Singapore math” is based on the use of “material representation”—that is, the use of actual objects and of “visualization,” or photos of objects, graphs, bars and models, to convey the principles of mathematics to young minds.

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Adopted by a number of private schools in the Philippines, educators invited as guests at the launching testified to the ease with which their students “took” to the tactile and visual approach to learning math, as contrasted, for instance, with the purely abstract way of learning, based mainly on memorization in which we “older” members of the audience learned our numbers.

The teaching materials—a set of books for different levels of learners that cost, on average, about P200-300 per book, plus loadable content through an e-book—are reasonable in cost and, so the teachers say, easily communicated to students.

One teacher at St. Scholastica’s Marikina admitted that in the beginning, the teachers were resistant and reluctant to adopt the method. “But once we got more acquainted with it, we saw how easily and quickly the students learned their lessons,” she said.

Apparently, using models they can see and handle and manipulate helps young people better understand the principles of addition, subtraction and multiplication, helping them move on to the more abstract realms of algebra and so-called “higher math.”

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But as far as the senior guests were concerned, it was simply a blessing to put the days of struggling with math behind us, content in the knowledge that we had managed to get on with life despite our ignorance of the world of numbers.

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To those gnashing their teeth about the slowness of the Internet in these parts and the seemingly endless problems with connectivity of our local service providers, Angelo Palmones has a simple reply: a space program for the country.

A what? Yup, you heard it right, a space program. Palmones, a radio personality who also happens to be the first nominee of the party-list group Agham, says that aside from lack of infrastructure on land, the Philippines is hampered by the lack of a “devoted” satellite. “Do you know that Bangladesh will soon be launching its own satellite?” he asks.

In contrast, we have only been leasing satellites owned by other countries, which accounts for our exasperating problems with Wi-Fi connectivity and slow Internet speed. Investing in our own satellite, he says, will also make it possible to improve our capacity to conduct aerial surveys, particularly of environmental conditions, of brewing weather disturbances, and even threats to national security.

Agham, which is also the Filipino word for “science,” is a nongovernment organization pushing for the development of science and technology and for strengthening the application of research and development output for the good of all.

Recently, Agham’s nominees for seats in the House of Representatives filed their certificates of candidacy. Aside from Palmones, Agham’s nominees are retired general Leocadio Santiago, Victoria Bartilet, Manuel Austria Jr. and Elizabeth Dumaran.

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Palmones represented Agham in the 15th Congress and did creditably, helping author 10 laws dealing with S&T and coauthoring 19 other laws passed during the 2010-2013 term. Among the laws passed were those on risk reduction and preparedness equipment, the Enhanced Basic Education which includes a provision on improving science and math education, and on food safety, meat inspection and agricultural and forestry mechanization.

Aside from working on legislation, Palmones also pushed for the offering of a course leading to a bachelor’s degree in meteorology with the collaboration of the Department of Science and Technology, the weather bureau Pagasa, Science Education Institute, and the Commission on Higher Education. The undergraduate program on meteorology was offered by four state universities and indeed 16 scholars were able to graduate in 2014 and joined both government and private firms. But when Agham failed to win a seat in the subsequent elections, funding for the program was stopped and the institutions stopped offering the course.

It is the desire to continue the many programs it put in place that has primarily convinced him and the other Agham nominees to join the electoral exercise anew, Palmones says. They also wish to “continue what we have started and give science a strong voice in policymaking,” he adds.

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TAGS: Agham party-list, Angelo Palmones, education, internet, K to 12, math, Science, Singapore math
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