“That is not the way I learned maths.” This is the most common phrase that both parents and teachers say to me when discussing primary school maths in the past 15 years. It’s true; the method for teaching maths changed drastically about twenty years ago and that change reflects a much more conceptual approach to teaching mathematics. At SIS Pfäffikon-Schwyz, we use the SIS Maths Curriculum, which embraces this approach and aims to teach maths for understanding, as opposed to memorization.
Kindergarten: Building Number Sense through Manipulatives
In kindergarten, conceptual mathematics manifests itself in children gaining number sense through the use of manipulatives. Children use cubes, beads, pattern blocks, and objects to represent quantities. They learn different formations of numbers, such as the many ways to make ten, so that they are able to pull numbers apart and use them in flexible ways when solving equations in the future.
Primary School: Problem Solving before Algorithms
In primary school, children learn how to solve problems without algorithms, but rather by thinking through the problem first and representing the situation with pictures, objects or numbers. Often, teachers give word problems to the pupils, so there is real-life context attached to the problem, which makes it easier for pupils to relate to or visualise. Then, of course, algorithms are taught later on in primary school, once the pupils truly understand the way the algorithm works.
Secondary School: Advancing Mathematical Skills with Structured Guidance
In secondary school, the Zürich teaching materials guide the teachers through the maths content. It is suitable because the teaching material is structured according to the Swiss Lehrplan 21 (the Swiss Curriculum) and offers differentiation possibilities, making it possible to teach at different levels of difficulty within one class. This approach allows pupils to progress individually and at their own level. These aspects make a smooth transition from primary school possible, meaning that the pupils are gradually introduced to more challenging problems and can build on what they have already learned. For example, equations and roots are taught along with fractions and new topics are also added, such as probability or calculating with proportionality. In geometry, the program also builds on what has already been learned. Thus, the use of compasses and set-squares is deepened by learning about symmetry types and constructing figures. Additionally, the properties of familiar figures such as triangles and quadrilaterals are treated and transferred to 3D solids.
At SIS Pfäffikon-Schwyz, students from kindergarten through to college share the same campus. Maths teachers of all levels can readily exchange ideas and discuss their planning and teaching. This is another major factor which makes it easier for the teachers to ensure that there is a smooth transition from one level to the next and that the students’ individual progress and continuity in maths are guaranteed, all the way from kindergarten to college.