This book is a summary of the “Mathematical Problem Solving for Everyone” (MProSE) program that was implemented in five secondary schools in Singapore. The purpose of the program is the universal one of improving the mathematical problem solving ability of students. The problem with all such initiatives is summarized nicely in the first paragraph of the preface. The designers of the program state that they knew the work would be “hard and unglamorous.” That is the best description of curriculum modification that I have ever heard.
The program itself is logically executed. As described in Making Mathematics Practical, it is based on the standard four steps of problem solving as espoused by Pólya in his classic book on problem solving, published in 1945. In the five reports describing the implementation of the programs in five schools, there is nothing that veterans of the curriculum change process have not encountered. First and foremost, it is necessary to get the instructors to buy into the curriculum change and that includes the appropriate level of professional development. It also includes giving the educators the opportunity for constructive input, including criticism.
One significant problem was that the program was implemented as an extra-curricular activity and the students complained about it. No surprise here: if a program is designed to improve problem solving abilities, it should be part of the regular curriculum and not an extra that students can dismiss. Other difficulties, such as poor selection of problems (both too easy and too hard) are also described.
The goal of the educators in Singapore is of course an admirable one and something that is a regular feature of mathematics education. The problems of mathematics education are universal in both the geographic and temporal senses. The MProSE program does not solve them, but it is another step in the right direction.
Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.