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  • What’s The Big Deal about Singapore Math?

    We take a look into what differentiates Singapore Math from other methods, and why parents are raving about it.
    by Julian Vorpal .
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    Simpler language – One complaint about U.S.-based math textbooks is how complex the explanations and word problems are because of the way they are written. Cunning intricacies exist in the way the text is phrased that result in misinterpretation and confusion. Educators argue that this is a function of language and is not wholly necessary for teaching mathematics. In Singapore, where the predominant ethnicities are Chinese, Indian and Malay, English is a secondary language for all, so the developers of Singapore Math opted to keep instructions brief and clear enough to fit into small cartoon balloons. “If you look at Singapore Math textbooks, the problems aren't wordy or flowery,” continues Esteves. “You won’t misinterpret the problem.”

    Interestingly enough, word problems are a popular practice method in Singapore Math; it gives students greater resiliency in abstract and analytical thinking, as compared to the more common method of formula memorization.

    Encourages variable thinking – “Singapore Math is also about the theory of variability,” she divulges. “You have to represent a concept using any number of tools such as popsicle sticks, beads, pebbles - you can use those as manipulatives or teaching materials that the kids can use or work on.”  This makes children more resourceful as they are exposed to more real-world examples on how to apply math to everyday life. “When we discuss a solution to a problem in class, we’re not bound by a single solution to a problem. We encourage the students to think out of the box, to come up with creative ways to solve an equation. It’s more of a life skill that you are giving to them - you are exposing them to the value of being able to attack a problem through different ways, to show our pupils that there is more than one way to arrive at an answer.”

    “We’re not afraid to let our students struggle with a problem, and you can see that they enjoy it,” explains Esteves.  “Before, we were so reluctant to give them complex problems. Now, our kids see math as fun. The anxiety of math is not as bad as it used to be anymore.”

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    Teacher and parent empowerment – Educators are more challenged by Singapore Math – in a good way. “The methods we use are so exciting that the teachers become problem solvers themselves,” she says of her colleagues. “There is more enthusiasm, articulation is more meaningful, we engage ourselves in it, as compared to just having idle chitchat in the teachers lounge during breaks. Singapore Math has also gotten more of our teachers taking a masters degree in math education.”

    Many parents are also encouraged by the techniques of Singapore Math. “I get many parents telling me, ‘Oh, how I wish we had this when we were growing up!  I would’ve understood math better.” As a result, more parents and kids are learning Singapore Math together.

    Positive results – “You can give algebra to grade 4 students without realizing that they will be learning algebra!” she exclaims. “There has been a significant improvement in terms of the kids’ problem solving skills, comparing our results with our academic counterparts in Asia. The grades of kids have been going up, we have fewer students failing math, and fewer in the deliberation list (troubled kids).”

    “In the end, you really want your students to learn the whys and hows of it all, a proper balance of both,” concludes Esteves. “Your learning has to have a purpose.”

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    Photo from blog.chron.com

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