Singapore Math comes to the U.S.

Franklin Lakes, NJ — By the time they get to kindergarten, children in this well-to-do suburb already know their numbers, so their teachers worried that a new math program was too easy when it covered just 1 and 2 — for a whole week.

“Talk about the number 1 for 45 minutes?” said Chris Covello, who teaches 16 students ages 5 and 6. “I was like, I don’t know. But then I found you really could. Before, we had a lot of ground to cover, and now it’s more open-ended and gets kids thinking.”

The slower pace is a cornerstone of the district’s new approach to teaching math, which is based on the national math system of Singapore and aims to emulate that country’s success by promoting a deeper understanding of numbers and math concepts. Students in Singapore have repeatedly ranked at or near the top on international math exams since the mid-1990s…

For decades, efforts to improve math skills have driven schools to embrace one math program after another, abandoning a program when it does not work and moving on to something purportedly better…

Singapore math may well be a fad, too, but supporters say it seems to address one of the difficulties in teaching math: all children learn differently. In contrast to the most common math programs in the United States, Singapore math devotes more time to fewer topics, to ensure that children master the material through detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards and bar charts. Ideally, they do not move on until they have thoroughly learned a topic.

Principals and teachers say that slowing down the learning process gives students a solid math foundation upon which to build increasingly complex skills, and makes it less likely that they will forget and have to be retaught the same thing in later years.

And with Singapore math, the pace can accelerate by fourth and fifth grades, putting children as much as a year ahead of students in other math programs as they grasp complex problems more quickly…

“All along, people have said it’s too hard, too demanding for teachers,” said Jeffery Thomas, a history teacher who founded SingaporeMath.com with his wife, Dawn, after using the books to tutor their daughter at home in the suburbs of Portland, Ore…

Well, that’s almost the “American” reason for reversing course on any program, isn’t it?

I haven’t read anything about Singapore math. Though “KB” and I have discussed the absence of maths improvement in some of the school systems which have increased success otherwise. Sorry to say, it’s been so long since I learned my basics – I don’t remember how it worked, though it probably was mostly rote. Given my geezer age.

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One comment

  1. ZeroSum Ruler

    I was sent an interesting article with tables that I posted on my blog showing the difference in number of math topics covered per year in the US vs. A+ countries (including Singapore). With the number of topics we throw at our kids per year in the US, it’s amazing that any of it ever sinks in!

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