The Singapore method of math instruction has been making waves among parents, teachers, schools and the public in general. But what is it really all about? Is there basis behind all the hoopla? Ms. Virgie Gayda Esteves, the middle school math subject area coordinator of the Ateneo Grade School where Singapore Math has been adapted into the curriculum for the last six years now, gives us a crash course.
“At its core, Singapore math is just like any other math instruction method,” explains Esteves. “However, the Institute of Education of Singapore really studied how to teach math, such that the pedagogy and theory of math are really integrated.” This incorporation of teaching methods as it relates to pure and applied math follows a philosophy called the CPA Approach – Concrete to Pictorial to Abstract. “Children have to understand the theories concretely,” she continues. “Their learning is transformed into pictorial representations, drawings and models. These also aid students in solving abstract, complex problems like algebra.”
So how does Singapore Math differ from the way math is usually taught?
Spiral curriculum – The usual system for primary math classes involves going back to the basics. Children from Grade 2 get refresher lessons on what they picked up in Grade 1, Grade 3 kids go back to the subjects they learned in Grade 2 and so on. Traditional educators deem this drilling necessary in order to eventually master rudimentary skills such as the multiplication table. “With Singapore Math, we don't rely on the ‘drill and kill method’ – we don’t repeat the lessons we taught in previous years,” clarifies Esteves. “It’s a spiral system. Children are expected to master the subject they are taught in their specific grade.”
A Glimpse of the Singapore Math Curriculum by Coverage
Grade 1 – addition and subtraction Grade 2 – multiplication and division facts Grade 3 – mastering multiplication with certain digits (multiples of 2, 3, 10, etc.) Grade 4 – coverage of multiplication by the other digits (6, 7, 8), two-digit by two-digit multiplication and division Grade 5 - three-digit by two-digit and three-digit multiplication and division Grade 6 - fractions, whole number applications, decimals
In the above example, Esteves notes that at Grade 6, students are actually encouraged to use calculators. “At that level, we as teachers are more interested in finding out whether the thought processes of the kids we teach are logical,” she states. “This system makes teaching the kids less time consuming; it’s more efficient. We focus on getting them to learn new things without having to go back to what they took up in Grade 2.”
Visual appeal with a purpose – Old-fashioned math textbooks are thick, cumbersome, ponderous books written with all the thrill and excitement of a phone directory. “Singapore Math textbooks are slim, very colorful and have lots of illustrations,” reveals Esteves. “It’s to make the ideas and symbols stand out, it’s easier to understand the theories and make sense of the logic.” Visual and tactile aids such as bars, models and real world examples done with coins and rulers give a more tangible and concrete reference point for students to understand, as compared to arcane terms such as least common denominator, complex fractions or transposition. Children learn and apply these complex ideas through Singapore Math – they just don’t use fancy words for them.