Singapore Math is back in the news.

Schmitz Park Elementary School is scoring high in math, an achievement in a state that has been stuck on math progress for the last few years. Their secret? Singapore Math.

American schools are picking up Singapore Math as well. Of course, to Singaporeans, it’s just “Maths”, not “Singapore Math.” I imagine that the education minister who wrote up the curriculum never expected it to be very effective. (link)

What I imagine really happened was about the time that Singapore Math was being developed, the rest of the world started to embrace Reform Math, or “Fuzzy Math.” The Singaporeans wisely passed on this fad. After a while, their country started to stick out among all the other countries of the world as producing the best math students among other things.

Bringing Singapore Math to America is really easy because of the low cost of the materials. That’s a major selling point. Compare a $10 workbook with a $15 textbook to the hundreds you would have to spend for an American-style textbook, and you quickly begin to see why home schoolers love Singapore Math.

My children are currently attending government schools, but I teach them Singapore Math after school. My third grade son already knows how to add, subtract, divide, and multiply fractions, more than what high school graduates can do in Washington State. Along the way, I realized that the Singapore Math curriculum was teaching the most basic and important principles of Algebra. All that is left is to move away from numbers altogether and into the great expanse of symbolic reasoning and my son will be ready to master Algebra.

The Singapore Math curriculum progresses from really basic stuff you’d expect to see in preschool until college level mathematics at the 12th grade level. It’s taught in the way you expect math to be taught.

- Identify the principle. Give it a name.
- Demonstrate the principle.
- Practice the principle.
- Review the principle regularly, incorporating it into more advanced principles.

People say that Singapore Math is “drill and kill.” Honestly, I don’t see it. The exercises and reviews are just about the right length for the age and maturity of the child. The lessons are just the right combination of review and new principles.

My son and daughter both look forward to the next lesson at the end of each day. It’s oftentimes dinner that interrupts our math sessions, not movies or video games. Once they get started, they can’t stop.

Because our schools are government schools, change is all but impossible. In the real world where businesses and people have to compete for market share, new ideas are almost instantly adopted and perfected, or investigated and discarded. This is not so in the government world, because everything is done by edicts and laws and agreements and committee meetings. Successful programs aren’t allowed to succeed, and unsuccessful programs never die.

February 20, 2010 at 9:50 am |

There is actually no such thing as “Singapore math”. The program that was successful in the Seattle school and has proven successful in other schools in the US already is called Primary Mathematics. Even Singapore (the country) now has different math programs, and is going more reform math now, and more trying to follow US math lately. Primary Mathematics is the the original program.

February 21, 2010 at 9:01 am |

I keep seeing the statements that Singapore is going towards reform math … I am from Singapore, and I dont see that happenning. In addition, I dont understand the statement that different math programs are being introduced. At the end of grade 6, there is a common nation wide exam known as the Primary Schoo Leaving Exam. All students will learn the same material except that different schools have the flexibility to try different approaches. The “Singapore Math” texts are basic materials and tests are way beyond what is thought in the workbooks.

If there is a critisicm to the system, it appears though denied by the ministry of education that the exams are getting tougher.

June 30, 2010 at 12:16 am |

Singapore Math is basically a visual representation of what many of the schools around the word are being taught. They use models and bubble diagrams to teach kids at a very young age algebra. Of course nobody calls it algebra, its models, but basically that is what it is. At at young age of 6 or 7 kids minds typically cannot cope with algebra so using the models allows the kids to visualize the problem sums. As the previous post said we have a national exam called PSLE and while “reforms” are constantly happening the math programme will remain intact until at least 2014 when the next tender for text books is out. That said, reforms are unlikely to change the approach the Ministry takes but rather some fine tunning to keep pace with moder times. For example, each school has the autonomy of teaching the kids how they wish within syllabus and within reason. As such most schools will purchase the recommended text book called Mypals however most of the top schools will supplement that with other materials such as onsponge thinkingmath books which go beyond models helping the kids achieve higher marks in PSLE. I don’t think any “reforms” (meaning changes) will change this and I believe we will see “Singapore Maths” ie models and beyond models for a long time to come. Either way my kids will have sat for their PSLE by then :)

I studied in America and Australia so have a little bit of background on both to make as a comparison. Also I used the American books Everydaymath for a while with my kids but got rid of them in favour of the schools recommended supplements. And I must say my kids actually enjoy doing their math now.

June 30, 2010 at 8:57 am |

Do you mean to say that other schools in other countries are “teaching to the test”? And that the results are that kids actually like math?

You do realize that if you said such a thing within one of the 50 states (or 58, if you are Obama), the local education union would start frothing at the mouth.

July 1, 2010 at 11:35 pm |

Not sure what you mean by “teaching to the test”. If you mean other countries are using / following the materials than yes. I recall reading somewhere that “Singapore Math” has been adopted (leveraged) by numerous countries or part there of because of the TIMMS results. I also read some blogs of mothers / parents who claim their kids enjoy math now – go figure ! Here is one I stumbled across before http://domusacademy.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/more-about-math/

You mean the unions would be agree that kids are having fun .. haha

July 2, 2010 at 9:55 am |

“Teaching to the Test” is a phrase used by teacher’s unions to deride any efforts to measure the success or failure of any education system. See, if you grade teachers by how well their students do on a test, then teachers may be encouraged to actually teach the students how to answer questions on that particular test. If you are to believe the teacher’s unions, this is abhorrent and fundamentally wrong behavior. Teaching is not an art that can be standardized or measured! No, we must shovel increasingly magnificent sums of money to solve problems that cannot be measured nor fixed.

Of course, here in Washington State, what the teacher’s union has done is create a monstrosity of a test (the WASL) that is extremely poor at measuring academic ability. Then they teach to said test, and wonder why our kids are falling behind faster every year.

July 3, 2010 at 7:55 am |

Ah OK. Well I have heard a lot about the US education system. I am grateful that I do not know enough about it and even more grateful that my kids are not there caught up in the middle of it. I am sure there is lots of good in it, but I never liked playing Russian roulette.