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Can Using the Singapore Math Method Equal Success in Math?

written by: Patricia Gable • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 10/28/2015

What is Singapore doing in their math classrooms that has resulted in so much success? Take a look and see how Singapore math methods could help your students.

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    Education is important in Singapore. When the world started taking notice of the students’ math achievements in this faraway country they asked why. Why are they doing so well? What curriculum are they using to achieve such success? Let’s take a look at what they are doing.

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    How is it different from Common Core?

    Common Core is a set of standards or benchmarks in Mathematics and English/Language Arts that the student should accomplish before finishing each grade level. These are goals not curriculum. The school, district or state decides how to achieve these goals. In other words, what method will they use? Singapore Math is one method that has become successful in achieving the goals in Mathematics. This method teaches fewer topics but each topic will be taught in greater depth.

    Key Elements:

    There are three elements to the Singapore Math Method: Number Sense, Model Drawing and Mental Math.

    • Number Sense: Students work on overall understanding of numbers and their relationships. It is taken to a new level from early addition through calculus. It is accomplished by beginning with concrete representations (blocks, beans, etc.) moving to pictorial representations and then finally using abstract representations. As an example the students would not just learn the number 10 and move on. They would see how many ways 10 could be shown (1+9, 2+8 and so on). They will soon be able to break apart (decompose) other numbers. Later they would move to pictorial representations and finally to abstract representations. The point is that students will not just visit this a time or two but will immerse themselves in understanding numbers.
    • Model Drawing: This is a strategy to solve math word problems. By drawing visual representations using bar units the student dissects the problem to understand what is being asked and how to solve it. Model drawing can be used with many types of word problems even fractions and ratios. Fewer word problems would be given for an assignment so that the time can be spent on practicing and understanding the strategy. Below are very simple examples:
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    Natalie has 20 hats and 10 scarves. How many accessories in all?

    Natalie has 20 hats and 10 scarves. How many accessories in all? 
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    Caitlin is 2/3 the height of her brother Michael. Michael is 60" tall. How tall is Caitlin?

    Caitlin is 2/3 the height of her brother Michael. Michael is 60 

    We need to find out how many inches in each unit. 

    • We know that three units equal 60”. 
    • So one unit equals 60” divided by 3 = 20”
    • Caitlin has two units so it would be 20”x 2= 40”
    • Caitlin is 40” tall.
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    • Mental Math: Students practice computational skills with paper and pencil until they are able to solve problems in their heads. In the below example prior knowledge would be the ability to expand numbers. This is a skill that has been practiced repeatedly.

    For example: 256+7 is done in expanded form

    (200+50) + (6+7)=





    Other strategies that have been practiced at length such as “counting-on" for addition, “counting-back" in subtraction and “repeated addition" for multiplication could be used in mental math.

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    How Do Parents Become Involved?

    As a teacher, parent and grandparent I know that the math homework can be baffling. This is not the way most of us were taught. But don’t be afraid! Often the work comes with an example that might explain the strategy for the homework. If not, ask your child if he or she learned the technique in class. If this doesn’t work send a note or an email to the child’s teacher asking for some guidance. Remember that there is a team consisting of the student, teacher and parent and you are all working for a common goal. Ask the teacher if there are handouts, websites or meetings where you can learn more about Singapore Math. If you have a positive attitude your child will, too! In the long run, Singapore Math adds up to success in math.