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Not Just a Numbers Game

31 Jan 2017

Hou Yin Fatt_students_PAT 2016 (2)

Yin Fatt understands that children need a conducive and engaging environment in order to learn

Every primary school has programmes to help those weaker in Mathematics. Those at Holy Innocents’ Primary can train at Hou Yin Fatt’s ‘Math Gym’ – a programme so popular that students are queuing up to participate.

Hou Yin Fatt, Holy Innocents’ Primary School, President’s Award for Teachers 2016 finalist

Every recess, Yin Fatt holds court in a special room at Holy Innocent’s Primary School. It’s filled with colourful props and games – flash cards on the wall, a toy cash register in a corner, Snakes and Ladders and Bingo games strewn about. Outside, children form a line, all of them eager to consult her on Maths questions or simply play in the room.

Yin Fatt is the coordinator of Holy Innocents’ Learning Support for Mathematics (LSM) programme, an intervention effort to help Primary 1 and 2 students who’re weak in numeracy. LSM is run in all primary schools, but Yin Fatt has put her own spin on it.

Multiplying the fun

It begins with the physical learning space. Yin Fatt understands that children need a conducive and engaging environment in order to learn. For students struggling to even count, a normal classroom may not suffice, hence the dedicated room at Holy Innocents’ – a relaxing, inviting refuge plastered with colourful visuals of mathematical concepts.

Then there are the games. Learning through play is a cornerstone of LSM, and Yin Fatt has embraced this wholeheartedly. She’s devised several activities for her students, such as multiplication songs, a game of Snap using number cards, and an ‘Inno Bingo’ game where students have to add up rows of numbers in order to win.

There are also real-life applications, like bringing their families’ grocery receipts to class and calculating the totals. “They always like to play with this,” she says, pointing to the cash register. “They’ll pretend to be the cashier and buy things from each other. They love it!”

In addition

Yin Fatt’s support for numerically-challenged students doesn’t stop when they move on to Primary 3 and beyond. “I am very happy to help them all the way through to their final year if they need me,” she says. And some of them do, so she makes herself available at the LSM room for coaching and consultation during recess and after school. She sets this time aside as “the reinforcement of concepts is very important.”

Together with the Allied Educators, Yin Fatt does this even for non-LSM students. Her 7a.m. ‘Math Gym’ sessions are open to Primary 3 and 4 students who are performing poorly, and the sessions are a hit. Some students enjoy Math Gym so much that they wait for Yin Fatt outside the LSM room before she arrives. Several have written of their fondness for the programme in their end-of-term reflection journals. Yin Fatt’s methods are so effective that her colleagues have borrowed some of these games to motivate their own students.

Numerical skills aside, Yin Fatt is mindful that weak students may have lower self-esteem, so she nudges their confidence upwards whenever she can. “Some of the students find the taste of success unfamiliar, so it’s important that we make the effort to encourage them by not just focusing on their grades, but their character.”

Dividing the effort

Yin Fatt’s Maths remediation efforts require her to start work earlier and get off later on many days. She also ropes in parent volunteers, allied educators and stronger upper primary students to help out in her LSM programmes.

Parents can play an even larger role in helping struggling students, Yin Fatt reckons. Numbers are everywhere in real life, and it’s easy to involve them in conversations with children. For instance, while driving, parents could ask their children to read the license plates of other cars, and take it a step further by asking them to add the first and last digits.

Too often, busy parents leave education entirely to schools. In fact, Yin Fatt has found, from her one-on-one meetings with parents, that some of them need advice on how to even communicate with their children. Others want to know how to create a good learning environment at home. Her most common piece of advice is to begin by asking their children about how their day was, instead of asking about their results. She also intentionally holds her conferences with parents in the LSM room, hoping that they can take inspiration on incorporating educational visuals in their children’s bedrooms.

These experiences have prompted Yin Fatt to develop a toolkit for parents to help them bond with their children. She’s currently gathering feedback from parents and teachers on what they would like the toolkit to include.

“Children need to know that they are supported by their parents,” Yin Fatt says. That’s why I am keen to help parents if I can. The school-home partnership is so important in the overall learning and development of a child.”