Why Singapore Math?

Singapore Math, our new math program at MPS is an exciting, proven system of teaching math in grades K through 6. Originally developed in the 1980’s in Singapore, the program has consistently placed Singapore’s students in the top ranking of student math achievement on a test called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In 2007, Singapore ranked in the top three in 4th and 8th grade math scores, compared to the United States ranking of 9th and 11th respectively.

The U.S. version of Singapore math is now tied to the Common Core Standards. At the center of Singapore math is the belief that mastery, not memorization in the key to math learning. This is accomplished in a three stage approach to mathematics that involves concrete, pictorial and abstract modes of learning the concepts.

In the concrete stage children learn through hands-on activities using concrete objects. This may be counting small cubes or starting with ten cubes and then removing five cubes. After a series of hands-on activities, children are able to move to drawing pictorial representations of the concept. In this same example a child would draw perhaps ten red cubes and then cross out five red cubes to represent a total of five remaining. It is at this stage that teachers ask children to explain their thinking. The final stage is the abstract when the child moves from hands-on and pictorial methods to abstract, the writing of an equation:   10 – 5 = 5,  solving using the algorithm.

Singapore math puts great emphasis on having students be able to explain their thinking as they master each concept. All of us have experienced adding a column of numbers and getting an incorrect answer due to a careless error, but it was not indicative of whether you have mastered addition. Being able to explain the concepts presented not only re enforces to the student their math ability, but serves as a check in with the teacher. Yes, we still want the correct answers but we want to be certain the student really understands what they are doing and not just rotely solving problems.

This system of teaching math is based on the work of an American psychologist, Jerome Bruner who in the 1960’s found that people learn in three stages: handling real objects, moving to pictures and then to symbols. Bar modeling is often used in the pictorial stage. To solve the problem

40 X 4 = 160 students could create a bar, divided into four sections with each section representing 40:

40 X 4 = 160

Singapore math has been based on sound child development theory. Through problem solving in an orderly conceptual manner children are able to attack increasingly difficult topics with the end goal of being able at the end of 6th grade to pursue algebra and geometry in Middle School.

Parents can assist their children by keeping a flexible mind set and acknowledging that there are multiple ways to solve many problems. While parents may wish to explain an easier way to solve a problem, it is best to serve as a listener, offering gentle guidance and acknowledging several ways to solve a problem. When most of us were in school, the emphasis was on getting the right answer. Here we want that too, but are equally concerned why it is the right answer.

-Señor Escaber