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Singapore Math

Monday, February 19, 2024

Thou shalt not use an arrow for an equal sign!

Shot from Tiesha Sanders/Facebook

The above grade one math question from Texas is debatably ill-posed. However, the child answer of “7 ones” is “non-mathematically creative” or “irreverently correct.”

The teacher’s reply to the mother that “… this is the new math they have us teaching.” would puzzle many math educators outside TrumpLand. Arguably, the correct answer to this routine question has little or nothing to do with “new math” or “new new math” or whatever politically correct mathematical term we want to christen it.

The child’s “correct” answer that was marked wrong by her teacher defies logic. The use of an equal sign instead of an arrow would have minimized any misunderstanding whatsoever.

In “fine” Singapore, few teachers and parents would disagree that similar grade one place values questions are deemed routine. The chances of any local school teacher or tutor using arrows rather than equals signs for these drill-and-kill questions are quasi-zero.

Even for this ill-posed elementary math question, in the first part, if a child has correctly inserted the digit 7 under the ones column, and to expect them to give the same answer for the fill-in-the-blanks for the number of ones, it doesn’t sound too logical or commonsensical. The problem poser is unlikely to ask (or expect) for “7 ones” twice!

MAGA math: 7 ones ✔️

Insisting that the answer of “7 ones” is equally valid as “27 ones,” or denying that “7 ones” is incorrect, due to the way the question is posed, sounds like the mathematical equivalent of an ex-president insisting that he didn’t lose the election, albeit all the facts or results proved otherwise.

If the child isn’t wrong (because the parent isn’t wrong), and the teacher, too, isn’t wrong, so who’s right then? Could two conceptual negatives give a concrete positive?

Logically & truthfully yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, February 19, 2024.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Did You Commit a Prime Murder?

More than half a dozen years ago, I coined “Prime Murder” as follows:

What proportion of integers are prime? What are the odds that you might commit a prime murder at some point in your mathematical career, be it in teaching, editing, or writing?

Over the centuries, both professional and amateur mathematicians weren’t spared from it. Think of Pierre de Fermat who erroneously thought that 2^(2⁵) + 1, or 2³² + 1, was a prime.

So, for the majority of us, whether we’re born or blessed with the “mathematical gene” or not, the chances of being found guilty of a prime murder might not be limited to a single-digit percent. 

A 2019 graphic novel that explores two most basic mathematical objects: integers and permutations

Below is a simple exercise that might help reduce the odds of someone being a “prime murderer.”

1. Which of the following numbers are prime?

a) 919     b) 1,001     c) 1,763     d) 3,221     e) 8,081     f) 123,321

2. MAGA Math

a) The Pinocchio-in-Chief faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments, all of which he had pleaded not guilty. What are the chances that he is a prime suspect to these charges?

b) A “very stable genius” claimed to have an IQ of 211 (base p). Find the value of p.

c) The “MAGA-in-Chief” wanted a Secretary of State to find 11,780 votes, which would have given him one more than his Democratic opponent. Show that the requested number is not a prime number.

d)  A judge determined that the ex-“Commander in Cheat” had overvalued his Mar-a-Lago property by 2,047% besides claiming that his penthouse in New York was three times its actual size. Is this a “prime percent”?

In Prime Suspects, when Prof. Gauss & team looked at the autopsies of the victims of two seemingly unrelated homicides, they discovered the shocking similarity between the structures of each body.

Let’s end with a prime factoid: The writers of The Simpsons and Futurama have been smuggling complex mathematical ideas into prime-time television for over a quarter of a century.

Primely yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, December 18, 2023.

Monday, October 16, 2023

A Singapore Grade 4 Geometry Question

On Facebook, someone recently posted the above primary 4 (or grade 4) geometry question, asking for help from fellow parents. How would you do it (without calling on ChatGPT)?

If you’re a parent, homeschooler, or tutor, how would you explain it to an eight- or nine-year-old child, who’s struggling with non-drill-and-kill questions on area and perimeter?

Give It a Try First!

Try figuring out the answer on your own first before peeping at two parents’ quick-and-dirty solutions below. Better still, could you present an idiot-proof or peasant-friendly solution that even a smart dog or cat could understand?

 Solution by Belinda Sim


6 width and 6 long = 3units  of the rectangle.

1 rectangle -> 16cm.

3 rectangle 

16x3 = 48cm.

Solution by Jesline Ang

Stretch Your Mind!

Many moons ago, I was commissioned to write Mind Stretchers 2*, a grade 5 problem-solving math book, which was popular in a number of local schools and tuition centers—disturbingly, they’re guiltlessly or blatantly photostating entire chapter questions as part of their worksheets.

And I still recall that on the topic of Perimeter, I’d posed a number of routine and nonroutine questions. What surprised or tickled me then was when the Managing Editor asked me whether or not some of these questions are solvable, because at first glance, they look like there are missing information to solving them.

These geometry questions can give students (and probably their oft-math-anxious parents and teachers) some goose pimples out of fear or panic if they can’t figure out the answers offhand. 

Understandably, without a cool mind and some patience (or perseverance), even perimeter and area questions at the elementary (or olympiad) level can prove to be a challenge to math educators if they’re not trained to tackling them using the right approach.

Frustration and fear usually set in, especially for nonroutine questions that don’t normally appear in drill-and-kill school textbooks and workbooks.

Premature Testing

The danger of setting these types of brain-unfriendly questions too early, or having them prematurely in a class test, especially when most students have yet to fully grasp the concepts of area and perimeter, could be detrimental to the mental health of most average math students.

Parents who freeze at the sight of these questions would often exhibit a knee-jerk reaction, by getting a tutor for their child, if they’d afford it.

Tuition or No Tuition?

Most stressed parents often reason that if they couldn’t even solve these grade 4 questions, things would only get worse in later years, as the higher-grade topics get more complicated and the questions become more challenging. They just don’t want to see their child struggle in math, especially when they themselves had had a negative experience of the world’s most disliked school subject.

Even for math teachers and tutors, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if at first or second reading, they’re clueless how to tackle these nonroutines. Yes, they do appear in mid- or final-year exams arguably as a social filter to separate the nerd from the herd, but once math educators and homeschoolers know how to approach these questions from the right angle, before long, these math problems would become routine to them.

The 4F’s of Mathematical Problem Solving

Few math teachers and writers would admit that (school or olympiad) math involves lots of fears, false starts, frustrations, and failures. The sooner parents and homeschoolers (and their children and grandchildren) are aware of this oft-unspoken problem-solving process or ritual, the pressure or expectation level for all parties ought to go down significantly in reducing any unnecessary mental or mathematical stress.

Pain is (always) part of the joy of creative mathematical problem solving—the no-pain-no-gain mantra is axiomatic in math at all levels.

Geometrically & perseveringly yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, October 16, 2023.

* When the wallet-friendly title was out of print, a senior editorial staff emailed me that he’d pay me a cosmetic S$150 to buy the copyrights. I never bothered to reply to his laughably ridiculous suggestion. I wouldn’t be surprised that they’d since plagiarized the content to be used and reused for other purposes.

Monday, September 25, 2023

How to Celebrate Zero Day

Zero causes so much pain and suffering to tens of millions of students and their parents every day. Indeed, zero is the real troublemaker among the numbers! It's not too late to get even with the Roman Catholic Church’s once-deemed blasphemous infidel number (again).

Below are ten idiot-proof activities you’d do to celebrate Zero Day.

10. Avoid writing the now-redundant zero before a decimal point: .23, .583, .0045, …—move away from dated deception, faux religion, or numerological superstition.

9. Use the letter “o” or “O” when you mean the number or numeral “0”—for example, when giving a bank account or ID number to someone requesting it on the phone for verification purposes.

8. Use “nothing” to half-truthfully convey the idea of zero, even though the number zero is “anything but nothing.”

7. Fight for the Year Zero to be included in the timeline, to avoid confusing billions of people that the year 2023 is conventionally in the 21st century rather than in the 20th century.

6. Canvass for the number zero instead of the number one to be the first number in the set of whole numbers, especially in some puritan or radical circles, where the devil number is excluded.

5. Mobilize semi- or quasi-innumerate folks to use a different numeral when zero is used as a place number and as a number itself—strip zero of its double personality. For instance, use Ø in lieu of 0: 3Ø14Ø to emphasize place-value.

4. Be a zerobreaker, by defying the eleventh commandment, Thou shalt not divide by zero! without life-threatening consequences—that one has the (civil or political or religious) rights to divide by zero, although the answer may prove insensible or unreasonable.

3. Puncture the egos of haughty geeks who think they know it all, by exposing mathematical loopholes in their reasoning, resulting from illegally (or unknowingly) dividing by zero—humble them with fallacies and paradoxes, such as 1 = 0 or π = 3.

2. Have a law that fines companies from offering 0% interest rate as a gimmick to lure gullible customers.

1. Warn people to flee from the free—beware of free gifts, free seminars, and free air tickets, which seldom have zero strings attached.

Now is the time to teach Zero who’s in charge here—zero is your servant, not your master.

Nøtøriøuly yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, September 25, 2023.

Monday, August 21, 2023

A Numbers Puzzle

On X (formerly Twitter), @wiseconnector posed the following question:

How many numbers can you find?

It’s never too late for an eye check-up and also an opportunity to hone your logical and visualization skills.

This logic or math question can serve as an icebreaker at a birthday party even for those who proudly or unashamedly boast of being “hopeless at math or numbers.” 

Try it! The answer is anything but obvious.

Ask a toddler or kindergartener, and also your seniors at home, especially if you’re concerned that they might succumb to dementia or Alzheimer’s in their later years, based on your family health history—a [generational?] curse you can break in the name of Jesus if you don’t want your children and their children to go through this mental illness in their golden years.

Summarize the answers to this puzzle from different age groups in a statistical diagram, say, a pie or bar chart. The information is likely to surprise you, giving you some insights what is going on in people’s minds when they try solving this kind of trick or tricky math question.

This little mathematical quickie has the potential to unite rather than divide people, by bringing them and their loved ones and friends much joy and laughter—never mind if they can’t always agree on the correct answer.

Logically & visually yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, August 21, 2023

Monday, August 7, 2023

Racism in Singapore Math Publishing


Does the comedic rant on “Racism in Maths Problem Sums” serve as a “proof” that inequality or racism is rampant in math and math education?

Often times, math educators pose and solve these artificial or contrived word problems without giving much thought to them, especially when they’re oblivious that they might trigger mixed or negative feelings among highly sensitive schoolchildren and parents that belong to certain racial or minority or economically disadvantaged groups.

Math in Multicultural Singapore

It’s no harm nor too late for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to occasionally review their approved textbooks presently used in local schools, which might perceivably promote some form of racial inequality in multiethnic or multicultural Singapore.

Not too long ago, to promote multiculturalism in math education, there was this unofficial or unwritten directive from the MOE for local math teachers and textbook writers to mindfully or multiculturally use people’s or children’s names from different racial groups in their word problems or problem sums. An educational move that would likely be banned and dubbed “woke math” in some political circles or polarized parts of the globe today.

Because Singapore has four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil), math educators are encouraged to permute or vary their choice of names in order not to appear racially prejudiced, especially when the majority of textbook authors have traditionally been Chinese.

In the name of racial or religious harmony, commendable or encouraging as the curricular or political move was then, its implementation wasn’t a walk in the park, because in practice, it’s not a mere change of substituting a Chinese name with a minority or non-Chinese one.

The present trend appears to revert to generic names in math textbooks and assessment titles for reasons unknown to me. Is it part of a grand marketing scheme to internationalizing (or colonizing?) the Singapore math brand to as many countries as possible?

XX, XY, or Others?

Some Chinese first names are used by both males and females; in other instances, it can be tricky to guess the gender by just looking at some Asian or Chinese names—the task doesn’t get any easier if you’re a non-Chinese. In fact, just recently, I needed to Google a Chinese name (in Hanyu Pinyin) to make sure that I don’t mistake one gender for another. Indeed, it’s pretty embarrassing or unacceptable to address a he or she (or he-she) by a Miss or Mr. When in doubt, don’t assume—ask!

For a long time, I thought the name of one of the original math co-writers of the then MOE’s Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) writing team belongs to a certain gender, when I later found out of my mistaken assumption, because in the olden days, certain names were used by both sexes.

Foreign Editions: Pluses & Pitfalls

A similar situation arises when Singapore math textbooks are adopted or adapted for overseas markets. Changing names of living and nonliving things that have both British and American equivalents, or replacing local names or terms like local food or fruit with foreign substitutes that readers elsewhere are familiar with, is a common practice.

Of course, local publishers would also caution math writers to avoid using any Chinese or Asian names if their titles are being tailor-made for a Western audience, or if they don’t want to alienate potential “anti-woke” homeschoolers-customers.

Lesser known or discussed is that math publishers in Singapore have mixed feelings about local authors using their full Asian names, because in their marketing eyes, readers in the US and in the EU would prefer a Western name of the form X Y (with the first name X before the surname Y) rather than an Asian (or traditional Chinese) name of the form Z Y X (where the surname Z precedes the first name Y X) on the cover of a math textbook or supplementary math title.

Western Names Preferred

Many moons ago, I vividly recall a respected experienced publishing manager advising me to use a Western or European name, because my targeted (American) audience might not be receptive to seeing an Asian or Chinese name on the covers of my recreational and problem-solving math titles. 

Just as every (additional) equation in a general or pop math book targeted at the lay public might potentially halve its sales, the odds of an Asian math author, who insists on using their real rather than a [Western] pen name, achieving a decent sale in front of their non-white audience are significantly (or unprovenly) reduced. There is this apparently unspoken bias towards nonwhite authors appearing on covers of math titles.

Personally, I’m not sure of the extent of this alleged or perceived discrimination vis-à-vis Asian math authors, but I’ve faith to believe that those who’ve taken a risk to order my wallet-friendly, brain-unfriendly books online, or to buy them in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, have got their money worth, except for a few one-star haters or sour grapes who revel in posting vitriolic book comments on Amazon.

At the other extreme, it’s also not uncommon for math publishers in Singapore or Asia to conveniently or unethically omit the names of the authors, consultants, or foreign advisors (if they can get away with it), especially if foreign editions exist, or sale of copyrights occur at book fairs, with zero knowledge from the authors (until or unless morally convicted or vindictive editors leaked out the news).

Recently, upon requesting my author’s overdue complimentary copies to one of my foreign editions titles, I discovered that both the author’s name and his American Curriculum Advisor of Challenging Word Problems (Grade 6) were missing from the title page and imprint page, respectively, which raises serious IP and ethical concerns on the part of the publisher and potential customers and readers.

Without a name on the cover or title page, when previous editions had carried them, it just makes one wonder about the rationale of these unconsulted omissions, when the parties involved in the writing or reviewing of the content were kept in the dark. This only opens up the floodgate to unauthorized use, or helps promote plagiarism or piracy, where the party that often benefits is the lawyer.

The Chinese Advantage (in Singapore)

Years ago, a non-Chinese co-author on Singapore’s bar modeling approached me, and wanted me to be his co-author or consultant for one of his upcoming math projects. He’d pay me for being his faux partner, because understandably having a Chinese name associated to a new book or website would add credibility to the project.

Businesswise, I couldn’t disagree with him, and I was praying that he’d find someone else more qualified than me, who wouldn’t mind being his lifelong business buddy.

Indeed, the Singapore math publishing industry is an ethical minefield that few have traversed without compromising their character or reputation. This is one of the oft-unspoken reasons why unlike other developing (and developed) countries that pay lip service to copyrights, Singapore is a first-class economy with a third-class educational publishing industry.

Ethically and multiculturally yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, August 7, 2023.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Musk vs. Math

In the aftermath of Twitter being rechristened to X, the letter or symbol X can now boast of a new nonmathematical meaning.

The Lawsuit of the Century

Would the world soon be witnessing the legal case of the year: X vs. Math Educators? Or Musk vs. Math?

Meme © Anon.

What on earth is behind the choice of the letter or symbol or logo X to rebrand a once-beloved app, whose shelf life now looks shaky, to say the least?

The X of Singapore Math Publishing

Earlier, I’d x-ed (or “tweeted”) tongue-in-cheek that

“Changing Twitter’s iconic bird logo to a white “X” hoping to launch a "super app" is like Singapore math editors—who’re responsible for their publishers’ MOE-rejected titles—rationalizing that by joining a competitor, their odds of approval would be higher.”

Most mediocre math editors are often deluded into thinking that their new higher position or pay in another publishing house would magically make them a better “word doctor,” thus increasing the chances of their manuscripts getting approved by the Ministry of Education.

Twitterdamus: The Fall of Twitter

Late last year, when the founder of SpaceX started downsizing Twitter’s workforce, the temptation to coin Twitterdamus was just too strong.

I tweeted the above definition with this hypothesized question: “Twitter Math: Guesstimate the number of Twitterdamuses who secretly wished to witness the bankruptcy of Twitter in a-not-too-distant future.”

Threat from Threads

Below are some tweets I recently posted related to the privacy or security of our personal data. 

Your metadata has now a choice. Who’s your less trusted or beloved billionaire? [Cartoon from FRusty.creates]

Threads’s Threat: Is the Threads app an Alibaba version of Twitter? Sounds like the social media equivalent of Trump’s frivolous lawsuits against those who expose him! Why isn’t Twitter also suing Weibo—China’s copycat?

When Free is often costly: If the product or service is free, you are the product. Think of Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, which have sold or resold your personal data multiple times for billions.

A prayer for millions of anti-𝕏 followers who sorely miss the little blue bird: Let 𝕏 Be Twitter Again!

© Yan Kow Cheong, July 27, 2023.