Singapore Math

CJ’s school is using it — this already comes as a surprise, since I have heard of it only in the context of “I hate my school’s discovery-based math curriculum and I’m supplementing with Singapore Math” and didn’t know it was actually used in schools.

The second surprise, given that context, is that Singapore Math is not brutally drill-oriented; in fact, I’d call it fairly balanced.  No flashcards, no pages with 100 problems all essentially the same.  Instead, when students are asked what 3×5 is, there’s a 3 x 5 rectangular array of stars drawn next to the problem so that the kid can see what the expression 3 x 5 actually means, not just what it evaluates to.  Similarly, kids are asked to color in 86 boxes in a 10×10 grid (the point being to learn that you can do this by filling in 8 whole columns and then 6 more.)  And with all this, there’s enough practice with basic arithmetic operations to build fluency and speed.  (Educational equity klaxon:  but of course I’ve already done a lot to teach CJ to be fluent and fast in arithmetic operations, because that’s what parents with cultural capital do.  (Subparenthetical: note that thanks to Peli Grietzer I now know the difference between cultural capital and social capital!))

Sometimes people criticize a curriculum for teaching students to do computations mindlessly, but I’m OK with that — mindlessness is a skill you need in life.  The right goal is to be able to do a computation either mindlessly or mindfully, as the situation demands.

Side question:  would Singapore Math have the cachet it does if it weren’t named for a country that’s both authoritarian and East Asian?  What if it were:

  • non-authoritarian, East Asian:  Korea Math?
  • non-East Asian, authoritarian:  Moscow Math?
  • non-East Asian, non-authoritarian:  Israel Math?



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10 thoughts on “Singapore Math

  1. Evan Jenkins says:

    My former employer, UCSMP (best known for the infamous “Chicago Math”), has published translations of both Japanese and Russian math curricula. So Russia Math and Japan Math are out there, though I don’t know how they compare to Singapore Math in popularity.

  2. Defne'nin Annesi says:

    Israel Math would be a niche. I would buy Moscow Math since I was not so much scared of the Soviets growing up. Korea Math would sell, probably. Finland Math could also be an option. I use Singapore Math with my children but I think they lack the boring drills. It should not take a minute to figure out what 3 times 5 is. Somethings, you first memorize, then understand.

  3. martyweissman says:

    I don’t think that the authoritarian/not and East Asian/not are the right things to look at and they oversimplify the politics and educational systems of the countries. I thought the cachet of Singapore Math outside Singapore is a combination of good marketing, coherent content, and the fact that Singapore performs extremely well on international comparison tests (TIMSS).

    I don’t have intimate knowledge, but I think that Korea’s testing-culture is at least as strong as Singapore’s.

    Authoritarian is a risky word to apply in these contexts. On one hand, it’s used by some to describe government policy. But it seems even more risky to use the word to describe the classroom. Classrooms in Japan, Korea, and Singapore follow a tradition of “respect-the-teacher-as-expert” that might look authoritarian from a Western perspective. But I’ve seen inspiring video of Japanese math classrooms where the teacher not only has a disciplined class but also asks wonderful probing questions about mathematical problems and achieves great student involvement.

  4. byesac says:

    South Korean math.

  5. Cassyt says:

    You can get Japanese textbooks (but not teachers guide) from Global Education Resources: You can get get Korea math, It’s called gecKo :

    And the materials currently in use in Israel are…Singapore’s Primary Mathematics.

    I like the reference to a “cultural capital”. This is a common problem in high socio-economic communities in the U.S. using Singapore’s materials. The parents don’t have the time to work with their kids on memorizing facts. But there plenty of websites and ipad apps that will help those kiddos.

  6. Cynicism says:

    One employer advertising a job for math people on this job market was a Houston outfit that aimed to produce American curricula based on Russian classroom habits. If there is not “Moscow Math” now, there will be in the future.

  7. Joseph Nebus says:

    martyweissman’s comment about Singapore having a “respect-the-teacher-as-expert” culture strike me as so. I did teach at university there for a couple of years and felt myself always on the receiving end of more deference and respect than I thought I should have, particularly outside the classroom. I don’t mind the students speaking to me as Doctor or Professor, but I couldn’t see reasons the secretaries ought to, or worse, the guys who did maintenance in the apartment building.

    (Happily they deflated it some by speaking of me as “Prof Joseph”. There’s a bit of a guessing game at work to whether the family name is written first or last on a person’s nameplate, and I was delighted many guessed wrongly in my case.)

    The brand, though, and the idea that Singaporeans are exceptionally good at training students in arithmetic seems to me part of why the name “Singapore Math” has caught on for the trend. That Singapore is a tiny country which seems to come in at or near the top of international rankings so often helps surely too. Nobody should be surprised if the best students from India or China were better than the best the United States manages; just the population size makes that seem probable. For Singapore, which has something like half the population of New York City, to be competitive gives the impression that the teachers know something big and secret.

  8. Dima says:

    We have to deal with the products of Singapore system on a daily basis; the system here mostly produces test-obsessed zombies. So it’s not the material that matters, it’s the system (totally test-oriented, kids expect to be taught for the test even in grad school :/)…

  9. Yiftach says:

    What is Israel Math?
    I guess given a problem, you first deny there is any problem and then you insist that the teacher will negotiate with you a solution face-to-face, meanwhile you stick lots of stickers in the notebook so there will be very little space to write any solution.

  10. Did not know about the Israel Math stuff and I publish a site called JapanMath and you could already guess the focus of that site.
    Learning every day, and in this case about the idea of Israel Math :-)

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