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Singapore Math

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Everyone raves about Singapore's Word Problems (Story Problems). See some examples.

Singapore Teaches Comprehension

From: Paula H

We're only up to fourth grade right now so I have no personal experience teaching higher math yet. But I'm really impressed by how well Singapore Math teaches comprehension. After a skill is taught, there are these great word problems. They do a few things:

  1. They look at the new concept from different angles.
  2. They're complicated, requiring several operations to solve them.
  3. They require skills which you learned in previous lessons, thus reviewing old work while practicing new work.
  4. Many of the problems just don't look like the skill you just learned. Why is this good? You learn to view your skills as tools which can be used to solve a wide variety of problems. You learn to look at unfamiliar problems and try to figure out which of your tools you can adapt to a situation.
picture frame

Let me give an intriguing example. Imagine you've just learned that the area of a rectangle is height times width. Now you're told to find the surface area of a picture frame. The frame is 15" x 10" on the outside and 2" wide. What is the area of the frame?

You could solve this two ways. The cut-away part (where the picture goes) is (15-2-2 [to allow for the frame]=11") by (10-2-2=6), or 66. The area of picture plus frame is 15 x 10 = 150". So the frame, less the cut-away part, is 150-66=84 square inches.

The other way would be to imagine cutting the frame into four strips and adding the area of each. Either way, see how these problems make you think?

One quality seems to catch everyone's attention in this curriculum: the story problems are wonderful. They require multiple steps, and the steps often review something you studied in a prior lesson. A conventional American math program might ask, "What is the perimeter of a rectangle with a height of 12 inches and a width of 8 inches?" Compare that to a Singapore Math problem, which might ask, "A rectangle has a height of 12 cm and a width of 8 cm. A square has the same perimeter as the rectangle. What is the height of the square?"

You will like the price of this curriculum. Most levels cost about $30 for one year of math. Levels are available for grades K through 12. Jenny of tells me, "as the popularity of this product increases, so will the support. There will be teacher's guides, solution manuals, etc. It just takes a while to get these things produced."

One more thing you need to consider: Singapore doesn't include speed drills, so you will need to provide that. You could use Calculadders, Flip-Overs, a computer program like Quarter Mile Math, etc.

One inexpensive drill option (under $8!) is Math Facts Now, which was created by a homeschooled teen. Joanne (mathmom) reviewed it and says it's easy to use, her kids really like it, and you can instruct it to create specific types of problems. She was very happy with it, for the price. Her only complaint was that if you try to do something which is not on the menus, the game quits working. You just have to get out of the game, get into it again, and it works fine.

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Joanne's Singapore Review

From: Joanne (mathmom)

I began home schooling my dd last year during her fifth grade year and used Saxon 65 with her. She hated it. (She had not used it before, however.) This year she is using Singapore and is much happier. Here are my thoughts:

We are presently using Singapore Math (I am home schooling two dds who are in fourth and sixth grades). The sixth grader who used Saxon 65 last year started with Singapore 5B this year. She recently moved on to Singapore 6A. It seems to me that someone who is fairly decent at math could teach Singapore without a TM. I think that most of the explanations given in the book are excellent. The material is presented so well that even my DD, who previously struggled when learning a new concept, is grasping the material rather quickly.

There are some exercises, however, which might be confusing without further explanation. I am specifically thinking of some of the geometry exercises we came across in 5B. Some of them required several steps in order to come to a solution and my DD just didn't see where the exercise was going. In fact, I had her skip a few of the exercises. I was just happy that she was doing well with the others and didn't want to stress her out. Also, in 4A, I have come across an exercise or two (but no more) in which I wanted to rely on algebra to come to a solution, but was forced to come up with a non-algebraic explanation so that I could explain to my daughter just how to finish the exercise. With that said, let me say that I don't think this would become a major issue. After all, there are resources available in which a parent can pop in and ask for advice ( Singapore Math User Forums and the Sonlight Math Forum).

I like Singapore because of the way in which new concepts are introduced. The explanations are very concrete, but proceed to the more abstract. Some of the techniques that are used in the Singapore Program are the same techniques that I used when I tutored math (and were different from the methods being taught in my students' schools). I found them to be very effective and was happy to see them in the Singapore Program. It served to increase my faith in the program.

Singapore does not use standard measurement at all, so supplement in that area will be needed. Also, while Singapore does provide review, my elder DD needs more than provided, so I provide review for her in various forms. I sometimes use McGraw-Hill Spectrum Math workbook pages in order to provide review for my daughter, as well as teach standard measurement. Also, I make up some "Saxon Style" review pages of my own, where I choose one of each type of problem and write them down for my daughter to solve.

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Why I Like Singapore

From: Laura in CT

Singapore doesn't let kids get away with memorizing algorithms. You can solve a few problems by following the pattern given in the text, but pretty soon the recipe-follower is over her head. You HAVE to think the problems through, think through what is really going on in order to solve most of the problems. They are like puzzles, and require mathematical thinking.

The word problems are also in a class of their own. I've never seen word problems that are as challenging as these! Without Singapore's picture-drawing approach to solving these problems, I would have either used algebra or given up completely. It's a great feeling to solve these problems [without Algebra], a real sense of accomplishment. My daughter is not crazy about math, even with Singapore, but I can see some sparks of interest with Singapore that I never saw with Saxon or any other math program.

Singapore Math is impossible to do without thinking, unlike, in my experience, Saxon. Saxon was a good confidence builder for my dd, but a year was enough. Now she's ready to start using her noodle, and Singapore requires just that.

Another thing I like about Singapore is the way geometry is included all along the way; I know Saxon does some geometry in the middle grades, but Singapore does more and more interesting stuff. I'm looking forward to tessellations, myself, as is my dd.

I started my 7 yo in Singapore 2A in September, and he started 2B this week [January]. My dd started 5A in September, completed it in about a month, and is partway through 5B. 5A had a fair amount of review for her, but the word problems were all new, as was at least one other topic. Some of 5B is also review, but not all. Each book is supposed to be a semester's worth; because some of these are review, I expect to be in 6A by spring.

Some of 2A and 2B have been review for my son from his Miquon year as well, because Miquon covers multiplication in that first year, but I'm glad I started where I did with him as well. BTW, I offered him the next Miquon book last week, thinking he'd like a change from Singapore for a while, and he rejected it out of hand, requesting Singapore. He had gotten frustrated with Miquon; Singapore is a different approach. It requires him to think and understand what he's doing, but it doesn't require him to discover everything the way Miquon did. I still think Miquon has a lot going for it.

Hope this helps. We've only been using Singapore since September, so I'm no expert, but this is our experience for what it's worth.

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Tourists & Natives

From: Laurie4b on the Well Trained Mind boards

With Singapore, you don't learn just one process as you do in more traditional materials. You learn many different ways to approach a problem.

Here's an analogy: think of times when you're stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident on a large highway. If you're a local, you can probably get out of the jam at the next exit and to your destination without a whole lot more hassle because you know several ways to get anywhere. On the other hand, if you're from out of town without a map, you're stuck because all you know is one route.

To me, that's the difference between Singapore and traditional materials. With Singapore, you become a local in the land of math; with traditional programs, you're a tourist.

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What Do You Like About Singapore?

From: Jenny, forum moderator for

I am using Singapore Math at the 3A, 6A, and NEM 1 level. It is very conceptual with many application problems. I like that because I think that is what math should be, rather than a lot of isolated equations. It teaches a pictorial approach to problems solving which allows much more complex problems than given in other texts I have used. It does not give much computation practice. My daughter using the NEM 1 level is having problems because she has never really had much problem solving before, but she still likes it better than any other math program we have tried. It is a bit difficult to jump into, and it does require a lot of critical thinking in just answering the problems, so it is good to start back a level. Material is presented in units with periodic review. It is not repetitive - there are a large variety of problem solving questions. It does a good job of showing the connectedness between the different math operations and numbers - for example between fractions and ratios, decimals, and division.

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Does Anyone NOT Like Singapore Math? If so, why not?

From: Maggie

Some people don't relate to the way it teaches everything through pictures of kids thinking little "bubble thoughts" (see the sample pages on the website). There are no explanations in paragraph/text form.

There is no teacher support in the curriculum itself (the only support available is from online loops, etc.). Some moms want more in the way of teacher support/help understanding and presenting the lessons.

Some kids would need more review than what Singapore has. Others like Singapore for this very reason---it does not keep on reviewing the same stuff over and over again in the same way. This is more a matter of what kind of math learner your child is.

It is harder for people to switch to in the older grades, so if you think you want to try it, try it as soon as possible rather than waiting until later. (Editor's note: I had no trouble switching in 4th grade. To switch in a higher grade, you'll probably need to back up first.)

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What Level Should I Start With?

From Jenny, forum moderator for

(Have you seen taken the Placement Test yet? -Paula)

3B is a good place to start for a fourth grader through sixth grader because it has a lot of mental math techniques, spends a lot of time on metric measurement (something not covered in most US texts and necessary for later levels), has some examples of using rod models in problem solving (which is introduced in 3A), and covers equivalent fractions (not covered in 4A, but necessary for addition and subtraction of fractions taught in 4A) 3A is a good place to start for anyone not comfortable with long division.

A 7th grader should start with 5B at least. It reviews conversion of metric measurement, teaches a different approach to solving percentage problems, and has some fairly advanced geometry. If he is not competent with fractions, word problems involving fractions, area of a triangle, and angles about a point and on a straight line, he should start with 5A.

It would be difficult for a 7th grader to do some of the word problems in the first few chapters of New Elementary Math without the background of the problem solving techniques in the Primary Math, and if he does not understand the interrelationship between fractions, division, decimals, and multiplication. He could skip the more difficult word problems. However, the algebra section in NEM 1 does not spend much time in teaching how to translate word problems into algebra - this is much easier to do if the student has had the visual unit rod model approach to problem solving as presented in the Primary Math. It is assumed that he has had this background.

A first grader can start with 1A, and a new K with Earlybird 2A and 2B. If he can count and recognize and write numerals, he does not need to do the Earlybird 1A and 1B.

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Grade Level Differences in Asia

Keep in mind that in the nation of Singapore, they start school at a different age. A first grader in Singapore is older than a first grader in the US (children born any time in 1994 began first grade in 2001), so you may need to choose a lower level of book to compensate for this. Before you order, be sure to give your child the Placement Test to determine the best starting level. I believe it's better to start with a book slightly lower than the child's ability to make an easy transition to a new math system and boost confidence.

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Singapore Math Placement Tests
Associated Press article
Review by Susan Wise Bauer, the main US distributor.
Description of Singapore Math on Sonlight site, with both pro's and con's.
Correlation of Singapore & Miquon

Learn the upper times tables in an hour with Times Tales for $12.95. Tracey in CA says, "I highly recommend Times Tales for 1st thru 3rd. Older children would see it as babyish. This is a great program that teaches an abstract concept in a concrete way. There is a story, characters & picture for each upper multiplication and division fact. Great product for any style learner!"

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