Sunday, June 05, 2005

Grade school whiz kids show math is easy as 1-2-3

By Volt Contreras Inquirer News Service

WHO'S afraid of math? Certainly not these grade school kids whose recent achievements abroad should make our education officials rethink the traditional methods of teaching numbers.

Tutored early on in a computing technique based on "finger math" and the abacus, six Filipino children recently bagged top places in an arithmetic competition held in Ipoh City, Malaysia, which drew some 300 contestants from the Philippines, India and the host country.

The 13-member Filipino delegation included Patricia Brazil, 10, whose idea of fun is to add up the cost of her mom's cartload of groceries well before they get to the cashier-without using paper, pen or calculator.

It also included Gerard Pacifico "GP" Capuchino, 11, whose warp-speed skills in addition comes in handy in the family-owned mini-grocery in Naguilian, Isabela, whenever there are too many customers and only one pocket calculator to go around.

Of course, GP would have no need for the gadget.

The team, pooled from private and public schools, won two first-places and four second-places in what even typical college students would consider the most brutal of math exams-a single-round race to solve 50 problems in four minutes.


Held last May 1, the contest was the annual Olympiad of students from various countries that had joined the "Aloha" school system.

Aloha stands for "Alternative Learning on Higher Arithmetic," and its first school in the Philippines was established in 1998.

The technique is just one of the many versions derived from "finger math"- the use of one's digits to perform the four basic operations-which originated in ancient China, according to Mer Elenzano, president of Aloha Learning Systems Inc.

In this method, the two hands can represent numbers 1 to 99- not just up to 10, which is how children do their first math in kindergarten, said Elenzano, who is also a math professor at the University of Sto. Tomas.

He offered a view on why Filipino schoolchildren tend to be "intimidated" by math the moment they enroll in grade school: "Maybe because as younger kids, we are taught to count, add and subtract using our fingers or stick drawings or actual objects-and then suddenly in the classroom we're introduced to Hindu-Arabic numerals that are merely 'symbols' of an amount."

"Children somehow get shocked [by] that change," Elenzano said in an interview last Thursday, when his winning team of Aloha students and their families celebrated their victory at a restaurant in Manila's Chinatown.

As he spoke, his ace apprentices played around the tables like typical pupils let loose during recess.

Honor roll

The youngest winner-Jeremiah Brazil, 6, Patricia's younger brother, of Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School in Manila-appeared to be the most mischievous of the group. He won first place in Group A, the only Filipino entered in that level.

Adrian Judd B. Gaw, 11, of St. Jude Catholic School, won first place in Group C, where three Filipino participants competed. His compatriot GP Capuchino (the boy who minds the store), of Merry Sunshine Montessori School in Cauayan City, Isabela, took second place in the same group.

Of the seven Filipino participants in Group B, 9-year-old Oscar Joseph N. Brazil, another brother of Patricia's, also from Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School, bagged second place.

Keefe Colin A. Tan, 11, also of St. Jude Catholic School, and Rikki Lee B. Mendiola, 12, of Infant Jesus Montessori Center in San Pablo City, Laguna, were the only Filipino participants in Group D-and they tied for second place.

The other members of the delegation were all cited for exemplary performance for having an "accuracy rate of more than 80 percent" in their answers.

They were Leandro Martin A. Ong, 11, of Morning Star Montessori School in Los Ba¤os, Laguna; Michaia Bea A. Gregorio, 11, of A. Beka Correspondence School in Pensacola, Florida, USA; Daniel M. Matchoc, 9, of Trinity College in Quezon City; Austin Jed B. Gaw, 9, of St. Jude Catholic School; Patricia Monique N. Brazil, 10, of Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School; Queenie Angelie A. Tejero, 9, of St. Jerome's Academy, Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya, and Marcus B. Alcantara, 9, of Canossa College, San Pablo City.

'It's easy'

Despite their feat, the kids have remained, well, kids-loath to stop playing even as the Inquirer tried to settle them down for an interview.

Gifted with something that is for them as natural as riding a bicycle, they groped for answers when asked "deep" questions like: "Why do you like math?"

Their common answer: "It's easy."

But it's not—if you ask ordinary mortals who grew up minus their kind of training.

Elenzano said Aloha students, for example, could be taught to multiply a 4-digit figure by a 4-digit figure in a matter of seconds—even if the numbers were written horizontally.

He explained this as if to emphasize what the Philippine public school system has sorely been missing in its yearly struggle to improve the math competence of Filipino students.

In Malaysia, the Aloha system has been adopted by the government and is being taught nationwide, he said.

Free training

But Aloha in the Philippines, which currently runs around 20 tutorial centers nationwide (accepting pupils aged 5 to 13 for Saturday sessions), has begun working in this direction by providing free training to teachers in selected public elementary schools.

Up to 56 teachers have been trained since 2003, and most of them began applying what they learned last school year, Elenzano said.

The Department of Education may consider including "workbooks for mental math" in its yearly budget for textbooks, he said, noting that the Malaysian-developed workbook used in Aloha-which is good for one school year-can be had for just P150 each.

"We really want to promote this in the public schools and hope the government can give its support," he said.


cagayan de oro schools said...

Fantastic! im really proud in this kids ^_^. i hope i can have a chance to meet them in person and greet them.

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