The New Paper article on our Maths newsletter, ‘+venture in Maths!’

Starting a new Add-venture
Retired maths lecturer starts newsletter to spread love of maths
SHE uses straws to make little hexagons, and parking coupons to teach the multiplication table.
By Karen Wong
27 November 2008
SHE uses straws to make little hexagons, and parking coupons to teach the multiplication table.Why? To put the fun into mathematics, Dr Rosalind Phang said.

On getting the young interested in her favourite subject, this 48-year-old former mathematics lecturer feels that they should be ‘having fun’ and getting some ‘play’.

And she hopes to spread her love for numbers to primary school children and their parents through a newsletter.

Up till last year – when Dr Phang decided to retire early to spend more time at home with her four teenage children – she has been teaching mathematics to teachers and teacher trainees at the National Institute of Education (NIE).

She had been at NIE since 1992. Before that, she had been lecturing at the National University of Singapore for about six years.

On her latest project, she said she embarked on it after she was egged on by former colleagues and friends.

She added: ‘I keep hearing parents say that maths is very hard and it seems like more students are having problems with maths.

‘As someone who likes maths, I wondered if there was something I could do to alleviate this phobia for the subject.

‘I wanted to make maths fun, so that you are learning maths without realising it.’

The newsletter, which is written with the national syllabus in mind, is also a platform for her to share some of her ideas with teachers and parents.

But it is not just about using card games to teach number bonds, ie. forming a mental picture of the relationship between a number and the numerical parts that add up to it.

Parents must get involved

Dr Phang also hopes to improve parent-child bonding during the process. She feels that parents should not be isolated from their children’s education because of the difficulty of the subject.

‘I just want to share what I did with my kids with other people.’

The newsletter will also contain tips for parents on reinforcing mathematical concepts through play or through questions they can ask their children.

In Dr Phang’s words: ‘Maths is in everything.’

Hers is not the only brain behind the newsletter.

On the team are Dr Tang Wee Kee, who specialises in geometry and who used to teach at NIE, and Mr Irwin See, a former junior-college teacher who had obtained a distinction for his master’s in modern history from Oxford University.

Mr See, who runs a General Paper coaching programme, is behind the newsletter’s story section, in which a history of different numbering systems is introduced, among other things.

Also involved in the project is Dr Phang’s eldest daughter, Gillian, 18, who came up with its ‘number-friends’ characters.

A lot of thought has gone into making the full-colour newsletter accessible to children, although Dr Phang would not reveal how much it cost to put it together. On the newsletter’s advisory board are leading mathematics educators such as Professors Lee Peng Yee and Koh Kee Meng.

There is also Associate Professor Lubna Alsagoff, head of NIE’s English and English Literature department, who helps ensure that the standard of English used in the newsletter will be accessible to most children, even those who do not speak it at home.

Dr Phang said she has gone to various schools that were keen on subscribing the fortnightly newsletter for their students.

Individuals who are interested can subscribe the newsletter directly from her via e-mail (

It will cost $30 for 20 issues, and will come with ‘freebies’ such as self-designed number cards. The first issue has 16 pages.

Mrs Lim Kian Huat, principal of Northland Primary School in Yishun, supports the idea of making learning fun for maths.

‘The teacher would then be able to hold and sustain the students’ interest throughout the lesson,’ she said.

Mrs Lim noted that if learning was not perceived as a chore, students would take ownership of their own learning and be more enthusiastic and committed.

She added: ‘When the children experience success, they would want to explore and know more about the subject.’

Strike a balance

To those who think that it is not so much the fun, but the results that count, Mrs Lim said: ‘We can always strike a balance between having fun in the classrooms and formal assessments.

‘The teachers, by engaging the pupils and motivating them through interesting lessons, will reap the good results at the end of the day.’

Professor Lee has this take: ‘What is important is not the fun element. It is children wanting to learn and learning well.

‘Fun could be a means to an end, definitely not an end.’

He says there are those who may not enjoy mathematics but still do well.

‘If you insist on fun all the time, you have a problem,’ he explained. ‘But if pupils learn well, they will score.

‘There are many ways to learn and there are ways to teach. Sometimes you can do it the fun way.’


~ by irwin on November 27, 2008.

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