A Guide for Parents to Help Their Kids With Secondary School Singapore Math
– What to do & what NOT to do
Just about 5 months ago, I received a text from a father of a Secondary 2 boy…
He wrote in because he had read our blog post about how some kids seemed to score well in Primary school, but strangely, not in Secondary school – and vice versa.
He wanted to know why, and if possible… how he could help his son.
His son had scored an A for PSLE math.
But for some reason, had not been able to score above 30% for his Secondary School tests, even from Secondary 1.
After speaking to this father more, I realized there was more than just the grades.
His son had stopped speaking to him.
Whenever the father would try to ask “How was school?”, the reply was short and curt “ok.”
Then he would go back to playing his computer games, or typing away on his hand phone.
It was worse when his son brought home his test results. 29%, 24%, 18%.
When the father asked what had happened, and why the results were so low, the son would get angry and hide in his room. He even started coming home later. Don’t know if it was to avoid confronting the parents.
When he approached the son’s school teacher, his teacher only said that the son was always day dreaming in class, and even if he didn’t understand, he wouldn’t ask.
What was even more shocking, was that the teacher said that his son would copy his friends’ homework – finding the easy way out, rather than making the effort to understand it himself. The teacher warned that if this happened again, his son would be in bigger trouble.
The father definitely didn’t want to continue pushing and lecturing his son.
So that’s when the father googled “How to teach Secondary school Math” and chanced upon our article. He read it, and subsequently reached out to us. He felt embarrassed that he was asking how he could learn math, even at his age. But he was at his wits’ end.
It was difficult to understand the whole situation over the phone, so we ask if he could make the time to come down to our centre for a personalized paper review and consultation.
We took a look at the son’s paper, and we found that there were a lot of workings that stopped halfway. This showed that the son was actually making an effort! But somehow, the workings didn’t get very far.
When we asked the son why he made certain steps, that was when we realized some major misconceptions that he had with regards to Secondary school math. Primarily, on the topic of algebra and algebraic equations.
And it was BECAUSE he did not get this foundation right from the beginning of Secondary 1, that it carried on to the rest of Secondary 1, and even over to Secondary 2.
The important thing to note, is that Primary school math is vastly different from Secondary school math (for the Singapore Education system).
From the way it is taught, to the way the children are expected to answer the questions. And what happened was that the son was not taught how to TRANSITION from Primary School math to Secondary School math (more on this later).
Now, what I want to share is the amazing transformation that the son experienced once he got his misconceptions in Math foundations addressed:
- He started with almost disbelieve that he could get the Math questions correct so easily.
- He started asking for more homework!
- He started solving questions by himself, and checking the answers by himself, to test his own understanding. Then he would ASK the coach if he did something wrong, or if there was any other misconception.
- He would TEACH his classmates who didn’t understand. (very much the other way around now!)
- He even corrected his teacher’s workings, when the teacher made a mistake on the whiteboard!
- In his most recent exam, he scored 80% (up from 29%)
- And the best thing – he loved sharing with his father the things he learnt, and how he plans to get A1 in Math over and over again!
We almost couldn’t believe how much this boy that transformed, after just a few months of coaching.
We knew he had it in him all along – and it was just a matter of correcting his misconceptions, building the foundation in Math, and showing him an easier method. This same boy, had transformed in his attitude, confidence, and view of learning as a whole.
And we couldn’t be more proud of him, and his father.
I would like to share a very similar story as well… this time, from a father and daughter:
17th May, 2017
15th June, 2017
12th August, 2017
So indeed, this isn’t an isolated case. If you’re feeling unsure or frustrated as a parent, do know that there are very actionable ways to help your child.
Here’s a summarized list of why there’s such a GAP between Primary and Secondary school math:
- Primary school teaches how to solve Math Problem Sums using CONCEPTS (e.g. Guess and Check, Units and Parts, etc.) and Topics are kept very basic; however Secondary school math focus more on TOPICS (e.g. Whole Numbers, Algebra, Angles, Geometry, Speed, Volume, etc.) and really go in-depth into the topics
- Primary School teachers are NOT Secondary School teachers, and they rarely share notes or learn the other’s syllabus.
I was shocked when I first found out that many Secondary school teachers (or tutors) don’t know, or couldn’t solve Primary School Math Problem Sums! It’s a wonder why our kids find it so difficult!
- In Secondary school, the topics build upon one another.
In Secondary 1, although the topics are fewer, they really go in-depth into each topic. Also, certain larger topics such as algebra and algebraic equations, form the FOUNDATION of many other Secondary School topics. This is why falling behind in the early part of Secondary 1, may have drastic consequences in the later part of Secondary school Math.
So, in knowing this, what’s a parent to do?
We recommend some DOs and DON’Ts:
- Do understand that Primary and Secondary syllabus are very different, some of which are pointed out above.
- If you can, do check out what are the difference in the syllabuses (the MOE website offers the full syllabus, and most schools would have some curriculum guide for parents), and try to guide your child into understanding these differences as well
- If your child is in the early stages of Secondary 1, this is a good time to build up on their foundation in Secondary school math topics. It’s never too early to get a good, solid, foundation – and this also builds up confidence for your child to continue the momentum into the later stages of Secondary school math. Especially when the topics get more and more challenging in Secondary 2, 3, and 4.
- If your child is not doing so well in Secondary 2 or above, and you are unsure of how to help them, do seek some advice on which areas they can improve on.
- Be there for your child. In the case above, I really admire how the father was always watching over his son. He could identify that something was not right (even though he didn’t know how to help exactly) – and took active steps to find a solution.
- Never stop believe in your child. You are their strongest pillar of strength, before they learn to find the strength from inside on their own. We believe that every child sincerely wants to do his/her best, but perhaps for now, does not know how or why. But once they know the METHOD of how to learn, and how to prepare for their exams, they will LOVE learning and showing their parents and teachers how well they can do.
- Assume that Primary school is the same as Secondary school Math. And because a child did well in Primary school, Secondary school would be a breeze. Vice Versa – if your child didn’t do so well in PSLE, this doesn’t mean that he/she would be struggling in Secondary school Math.
- Wait until it’s too late. Learning Secondary school topics should start right from the beginning – this may take more time, but it’s the easier and smarter path to success in Math. If the misconceptions are left to pile up over time, the stress, lack of confidence, and frustration will only escalate exponentially.
What are some immediate steps that I can take?
- If you are looking for some guidance, do reach out to us.
We currently have a complementary face-to-face consultation and paper review.
- Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Call us at: +65 6681 6636 to discuss how your child can overcome their roadblocks in math, even if they are failing and have no apparent interest in math
Have you and your child been experiencing similar problems with secondary school math?
Helping kids love learning,
Math Scholars Program Manager