Sunil Singh - teaching math skill-interview

Educate & Inspire is a series of interviews which will feature the best educators around the world. These people are not just teachers. They are educators who have made commendable contributions to the world of knowledge and learning and are bringing prolific changes to the education scene with their efforts. The 4th edition of Educate & Inspire features Sunil Singh, who blogs about his experiences on teaching math skills to students.

Sunil Singh was a high school math and physics teacher for 19 years. Before he quit teaching in the classroom in 2013, he had taught everything from basic math for junior students to IB math for honors-level students. His achievements –

  • He has worked in a socio-economically challenging environment of an inner-city school in Toronto and at the prestigious International School of Lausanne in Switzerland.
  • His vast experience teaching math in every setting imaginable has helped him become a leader in creative math education in his province of Ontario.
  • Since 2005, he has given over 40 workshops on kindergarten to grade 12 mathematics at various locations—math conferences, faculties of education, and even the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
  • In addition to having been a regular contributor to the New York Times “Numberplay” section, Singh works full-time as a math consultant for Scolab, a digital math resource company in Montreal, Canada.
  • He travels all over North America as a speaker and promoting Family Math Nights in local communities.
  • He is an integral component of the Global Math Project, and his ambassador designation is helping him communicate the beauty and happiness of mathematics throughout the world.
  • He is also a highly-respected author.

More about Sunil Singh

1. How long have you been teaching now?

I taught math and physics for 19 years I left teaching in 2013 because I was unhappy the way that students were being taught mathematics.

2. What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

The most rewarding part of teaching has always been about building the trust and human relationships with students.

3. According to you, what is the one major challenge that a teacher faces in current times?

One of the biggest challenges teachers face today is juggling all the different pedagogical and technological initiatives in the classroom, all the while ensuring students are learning and thriving in creative and exploratory environments.

4. Every educator has a different style in teaching. What is your style?

My style of teaching has always been about being honest and a mutual learner with the students. I wanted to students to see me as a human first. Someone who has one personality–that is constant inside and outside the classroom. To always have my authentic self be freely available to everyone.

5. In your opinion, how important is math education for children?

I believe math education is only as important as what the goals of math education are. If we limit students to seeing mathematics as some kind of necessary, practical subject, then its importance will also become limited to things like financial literacy and commerce decisions. However, if we take Francis Su’s cue (former President of Math Association of America)–that mathematics is important for living a flourishing life–then math education takes on loftier goals of emboldening the lives of everyone. In my book, Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics, I connect eleven virtues for living such a life to the deepest ideas of mathematics.

sunil singh-teaching math skills-mathbook

6. Why do you think children fear math?

I think some children fear math because their lack of connection–which goes unaddressed–starts to get tested repeatedly under unfair time constraints. The anxiety of having to be correct, in spite of little understanding, becomes an unhealthy experience. And sadly, soon, they begin to fear mathematics.

7. 3 Ways you think elementary math can be best taught to children. Or 3 changes that you will bring about in math education to make it better.

Three critical changes for elementary students would be:

  • More time to play with mathematics.
  • More exploration with patterning and number theory.
  • Investigations and explorations that involve visual/tactile experiences.
sunil singh-teaching math skills-classes

8. What kind of impact learning through games makes upon a child?

Learning through play and games is absolutely critical for the emotional, social and academic development in children. This is especially true in mathematics.

9. Are there any games that you have used to teach math and would recommend to every math educator?

I have used several games with elementary students. These include, but are not limited to, Albert’s Insomnia, Tiny Polka Dot, Prime Climb and Blokus.

10. Education Technology, or EdTech as it is commonly referred, is one of the most talked subjects in education field today. Do you think EdTech is advantageous for kids?

Educational technology is important if it elevates the learning experience of children with mathematics. If it becomes merely an online textbook where students input answers, then technology is harmful. However, if is interactive/integrative and can help with the understanding of deeper concepts, then technology can be powerful. However, children need a balanced approach, one which has a positive digital combined with one with involves hands-on manipulative.

sunil singh-teaching math skills-math games

11. In your opinion, how is EdTech changing the math education scene and how is it benefiting students?

Ed Tech is rapidly shifting the landscape of math education with so many advances in technological applications. The goal of having students having positive and rich explorations is influencing the discussions as to what the learning of mathematics should look like and “sound like”–math discourse–in the classroom. With this quick shift, it is important that the changes are inclusive of not only all the different kind of learning styles, but also the different kind of teaching styles.

12. One advice for all educators out there?

One piece of advice? Be thankful and grateful for the opportunity to have shared mathematical experiences with thousands of students in your lifetime. Cherish each moment, and wear your heart on your sleeve. Always.