The Singapore Math method is, to the United States, a radically different way of teaching children math. The program uses a three-step learning model, moving from the concrete (such as showing something using manipulatives), to the pictorial (creating a visual representation on paper), to the abstract (solving problems). As with any program, Singapore Math has pros and cons.
Pros of Singapore Math
- Doesn’t use the spiral approach to teaching. The spiral approach is used in most math programs. The approach introduces a topic or concept, covers it a little bit and then revisits (or reteaches) the concept a little more in-depth over the few next years.
- Textbooks and workbooks are simple to read with concise graphics.
- Closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
- Textbooks are sequential, building on previously learned concepts and skills, which offers the opportunity for learning acceleration without the need for supplemental work.
- Asks for students to build meaning to learn concepts and skills, as opposed to rote memorization of rules and formulas.
- Covers fewer topics in a year, but in an in-depth way that ensures students have a foundation to move forward without needing to re-learn concepts.
Cons of Singapore Math
- Requires extensive and ongoing teacher training, which is neither financially or practically feasible in a number of school districts.
- Materials are consumable and must be re-ordered for every classroom every year. This can put a huge financial burden on already strained school budgets.
- Less of a focus on applied mathematics than traditional U.S. math textbooks (American Institutes for Research, 2005). For instance, the Everyday Mathematics program emphasizes data analysis using real-life, multiple step math problems, while Singapore Math’s approach is more ideological.
- Doesn’t work well for the nomadic student population. Many students move in and out of school districts, which isn’t a big problem when the math programs are similar. However, since Singapore Math is so sequential and doesn’t re-teach concepts or skills, using the program may set these students up for failure, whether they’re moving into a district using it or out of district using it.
Despite the number of pros to Singapore Math and the research (AIR, 2005) that indicates the methodology is “superior to U.S. textbooks overall,” some schools are finding that the method is not easy to implement. As the number of schools adopting the program increases (California has implemented the system statewide), perhaps implementation and staff support will increase as well.