8 January 2009 01:22 PM


by Dr. Rick

Three out of ten of the top education new stories of 2008 – as collected by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (www.ascd.org) – were math-related.  Americans have been thinking increasingly about the math instruction of their children in the past few years.  In many households, parents say math has replaced reading as the school subject that challenges students the most.  Especially at homework time. 


One math program gaining attention around the country and the world is known as Singapore Math, developed for use in the Southeast Asia city-state where students always rank high in math.  Singapore Math is part of the math curriculum in about 10% of American schools.  Its use is growing.  So is its popularity.  So is its controversy. 


Singapore Math is noted for its attention to the basics as well as conceptual understanding.  The National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s 2008 math reforms pretty much reflect Singapore Math’s positions.  Its features include:

  1. A “mastery learning” approach, which builds upon skills and knowledge students have already learned.  In other words, you don’t move on until you’ve learned what you’re working on now.  
  2. A quick pace.  Students daily begin their lessons with a 60-second drill, a key part of the program.  These drills are to reinforce patterns of mathematical thinking. 
  3. Easy-to-read, simple texts that are quite different from the highly-visual typical American-style text books. 
  4. Lots of word problems.  Students are encouraged, first, to draw a picture of the problem and the solution, then, express the problem with numbers, and finally write it in words.  Students learn the “language” of mathematics as well as the skills.
  5. Very little repetition.  Because it’s based on mastery learning, each concept is based upon previous ones students have learned.  Building a strong foundation is key.  Depth is valued over breadth.  There are many fewer topics than in a typical American math curriculum.
  6. An assumption that the teacher knows math.  There are very few teacher-aids in Singapore Math.  Teacher-training is, therefore, vital.

Proponents of Singapore Math use words like “simple,” “direct,” and “step-by-step.”  They value its in-depth mastery of skills and its focus on problem solving.  They like its daily drill.  

But it’s not without controversy.  Singapore Math’s detractors complain of its lack of “manipulatives,” or objects designed for students to move around in order to develop motor skills or to understand abstractions.  They say that Singapore Math doesn’t address all of the state standards that are in effect around the country.  And some point out that cultural differences between the U.S. and Singapore are inevitably reflected in the program.

Singapore Math is still a small movement in the United States, but it’s growing.  As Americans become more interested and involved in math education, as we recognize the importance of our children’s mastering math today in order to be successful in tomorrow’s world and marketplace, as we look for remedies to homework crises tonight, and as schools look to expand and strengthen teachers’ math literacy, it may be time to look into alternatives to our current ways of teaching math.  In future blogs, I’ll examine other math-related topics.  

Does your school use Singapore Math?  Are you a Singapore Math teacher?  What do you think? What do your students think?   Share your thoughts by clicking on “comment” and let us have the benefit of your experiences.   




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