What is Singapore Math?
In the U.S., the term “Singapore Math” often refers to a collection of math teaching strategies common in Singaporean classrooms. Sometimes it describes the full math curriculum used in Singapore for grades K–6. Singaporeans do not use this phrase.
Why are people interested in Singapore Math?
In an international assessment of student math achievement (the TIMSS Report), Singapore has been one of the top ranking countries since 1995.
What makes Singapore Math such a strong curriculum?
Singapore Math emphasizes the development of strong number sense, excellent mental-math skills, and a deep understanding of place value.
The curriculum is based on a progression from concrete experience—using manipulatives—to a pictorial stage and finally to the abstract level or algorithm. This sequence gives students a solid understanding of basic mathematical concepts and relationships before they start working at the abstract level.
Singapore Math includes a strong emphasis on model drawing, a visual approach to solving word problems that helps students organize information and solve problems in a step-by-step manner.
Concepts are taught to mastery, then later revisited but not re-taught. It is said the U.S. curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas Singapore’s math curriculum is said to be just the opposite.
The Singapore approach focuses on developing students who are problem solvers.
What are some of the biggest differences between Singapore Math and the more traditional U.S. approach?
First, it’s important to recognize that there is no single “U.S. approach.” In this country, most curriculum decisions are made at the local or state level. In Singapore, the Ministry of Education determines what will be taught nationwide. That said, certain elements of the Singapore approach are distinctly different from what’s typical in the U.S. Although some of these strategies may be used on their own in U.S. schools, it would be rare to find all of them in an American classroom that is not adopting or supplementing with Singapore Math. Examples include:
Model drawing and an emphasis on the concept of part-whole that precedes the teaching of model drawing
Daily activities to build on teacher-directed lessons
“Look and talks” to build understanding of mathematical language
Number bonds, ten frames, and place value charts
The connection of pictures, words, and numbers
What are other important differences between the U.S. and Singapore that would have an impact on student achievement?
The country of Singapore is about the size of the city of Chicago.
Singaporean teachers are among the most respected professionals in their country.
Parental support for education is huge in Singapore.
Singaporean teachers get more training and have more prep time than most U.S. teachers. They also work longer hours, averaging 10- to 12-hour days.
Most Singaporean primary-school classes have 30–40 students.
Daily math classes in Singapore are usually 60 minutes in length.
What would you recommend in terms of training for schools wanting to supplement with or adopt Singapore Math?
Singapore Math is different enough from the typical U.S. curriculum that you can’t just pick up a set of books and know what to do with them. A teacher who will be supplementing an existing curriculum with one or more Singapore strategies will need 1 to 5 days of training, not necessarily all on consecutive days. Full adoption would require 4 to 5 days of intensive training on strategies, grade-specific content, and product training, as well as follow-up training for any challenges encountered in implementation. In either case, your school should plan on having a very well trained Singapore Math “go-to” person in the building to support other staff.
What is a rolling adoption?
A rolling adoption introduces Singapore Math in kindergarten only during the first year. The following year, those students continue with Singapore Math in first grade while new kindergartners start from the beginning. In year three, Singapore Math is taught in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. This progression continues to sixth grade, by which time Singapore Math has been fully adopted.
If considering an adoption, should I start with a rolling adoption or a full-school adoption?
The best way to adopt any program is through a rolling adoption, and this definitely applies when adopting a Singapore curriculum series. Singapore Math is a mastery-based program. Topics are never re-taught, just revisited. Students need the fundamental skills and strategies taught in the lower grades in order to understand the new skills and strategies taught in the upper grades. In a full-school adoption, teachers need to spend a lot of extra time playing catch-up so that when they reach the more advanced topics, their students will understand.
How do you determine which level book to start your students on?
If you are using a rolling adoption, you should start with the very first (1A) book in a regular education classroom. If you are doing a full-school adoption, you should start with the A book for the grade level you are teaching. Prior to using the book, though, make sure to teach your students the strategies that they may have missed from the lower grades. If you are using the text as a supplemental curriculum for gifted and talented, for special education, or in your regular education classroom, have your students take the placement tests. These will help you determine the level your students are on and where to start.
How do you reach out to parents to get them more involved?
Hosting parent nights, providing them with send-home directions, and going over some of the strategies at back-to-school night are a few ways to reach parents. Allowing them to come into class during math lessons is another great way to introduce them to new skills and strategies.
A final thought
More and more schools in the U.S. are using Singapore Math as their core curriculum. Others are using it for pull-out gifted and special-needs programs or to supplement existing math programs. The fact that this approach is working well in such a wide range of applications certainly says something about the power of the program!
For information on training and on products to be used with Singapore Math strategies,
call SDE at 1-877-388-2054.