More U.S. schools are adopting Singapore Math, reports the New York Times, which characterizes the program as a balance between traditional and reform math.
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.
Despite the slow start, Singapore Math students can be a year ahead by fourth or fifth grade, advocates say. Singapore, which developed the program 30 years ago, is first in the world in international math tests.
SingaporeMath.com sells books to more than 1,500 schools, about twice as many as in 2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Math in Focus, the U.S. edition of a Singapore math series, is used in 120 school districts and 60 and private schools.
The books and materials cost about as much as other math books, but teachers need training, which can be expensive.
“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.
Mr. Thomas said that about a dozen schools had started and dropped Singapore math, in some cases because teachers themselves lacked a strong math background and adequate training in the program.
Scarsdale hired math coaches to help teachers use Singapore Math. Bill Jackson observed a fourth-grade math class devoted to analyzing the number 82,566 (the seats in New Meadowlands Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play football).
They built it with chips on a laminated mat, diagrammed it on a smart board and, finally, solved written questions.
Mr. Jackson said that students moved through a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, abstract. American math programs, he said, typically skip the middle step and lose students when making the jump from concrete (chips) to abstract (questions).
For those of you using Singapore Math, does the Times describe it accurately?
Utah’s Math Future wants to use Singapore Math as the basis for the state’s math standards. The site links to Let’s Play Math, which shows how students use bar graphs to solve math problems set in Narnia.