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What is “Singapore Math”?
The Wikipedia has a good definition: In the United States, Singapore Math is a teaching method based on the primary textbooks and syllabus from the national curriculum of Singapore.
If one continues to read on and search more on the internet, one can find that Singapore Math has received high compliments from researchers, educators, and users. The superior features of Singapore Math was further evidenced by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that ranked Singapore’s students first among participating nations several years in a row.
So, we applaud those schools for adopting Singapore Math as their math curriculum. But using the books is only the first step since the “teaching method” is what really counts.
Singapore Math is not suitable for self-studying. Even with an instructor, the instructor has to be well-trained and knowledgeable about Singapore Math. Sadly to know, however, some teachers still cannot teach well even after they attended the so-called "training workshop".
Well, maybe even the “trainers” of Singapore Math do not necessarily know the essence of the Singapore Math method. It is well put in the Wikipedia: “… In SM books, such line segments are regularly used to show and teach one's thinking process in solving an arithmetical problem. For aesthetic reasons, the segments are typeset as colorful "bars" of a fixed width (hence bar-models). In this form, they fascinated many educators as being a miraculous "novel method" (hence Singapore Math Method) of problem solving. While mathematicians endorsing Singapore Math see the use of bar-models at best as one of many attractive features of the curriculum, the focus of the U.S. media and of education experts has been almost entirely on this feature.”
So, many people’s impression of Singapore Math almost equals to the “bar model”.
Ms. Rueyin Chiou, the founder of IQ Abacus Math & Language School, has been teaching Singapore Math since 2004 to cover all levels from k to 12th grade. She indicated that the bar model is useful and handy in solving many word problems. She always encouraged and guided the students to use the approach when applied. But the bar model is only a small portion of Singapore Math.
Many people make the “bar model” as the big and primary topic in Singapore Math, even spent tons of hours to train the students to use it even when they are second grade or younger.
Rather, Ms. Chiou knows that it’s not easy for an 8-year-old and younger to draw two parallel lines to form a bar. It’s time consuming for their age. Sometimes the slow process adversely stagnates their thinking flow. She taught them to use their fists to perform the effects of addition and subtraction. That is much quicker and better concrete aide in visualization compared to drawing bars.
In the early elementary years, however, it is appropriate and important to train them to write “number sentences” or equations to solve the word problems. Ms. Chiou, to the opposite of most of other teachers, actually discourages the students to use the vertical arithmetic forms for the word problems. But using the horizontal forms has to happen after the students have practiced the vertical forms to get the ideas of lining up the corresponding digits of the same places.
Using equations in word problems is not the creation of Ms. Chiou. It's the purpose of the Singapore Math. In most of the “Practice” pages of Singapore Math, the top a few questions are equations for arithmetic exercises followed by a few word problems. Why? The purpose is for the students to know how to handle arithmetic calculations in the horizontal form then the skill can be applied to solve the real-life problems.
Ms. Chiou especially emphasizes the bar-model approach when students are in the fourth grade and higher and intensively learning fractions and the related topics. However, she replaces the bar-drawing with lines which is much quicker and easier to draw than bars.
Many people also knew that Singapore Math emphasizes on mental math method. This may be a reason for Ms. Chiou’s students to excel in learning Singapore Math, because many of her students learn abacus mental math as well. By the way, she never needs to use 1st grade math books, not to mention the kindergarten math books, to the abacus students. They all jumped start from 2nd grade and above even for the 5-year-olds.
However, it does not mean that those who do not learn abacus cannot do well in Singapore Math. The mental math method in Singapore Math was based on solid number sense and active calculation skills. With the proper guidance, everyone can quickly do mental calculation with double-digit numbers. For example, by knowing the trick of getting the complement numbers for 100, one can quickly get the answer of 100 – 74. The similar number sense can transfer to knowing the complement number for 1000 as well. The skills will be later useful in getting the answer of “addition and subtraction of compound units” between meters and centimeters or kilograms and grams.
The Singapore Math nicely covered the measurements in both the standard metric system and the customary system, to accommodate the convention used in the US. This area is normally either skipped or not well covered in most elementary schools. So, when the students initially tested in Ms. Chiou’s class, most of them failed in the area of measurements. On the contrary, those students who have sit in Ms. Chiou’s for the topic of measurements, they remembered the relations of both systems clearly and got flying colors in the tests.
Ms. Chiou grew up with the similar method to Singapore Math and can teach and speak for it like her second nature.
Not only she knows the purpose and essence of Singapore Math, she developed unique and interesting teaching method for students to comprehend, remember, and utilize the techniques of various topics. All the teaching method have been descripbed in database, files, and computer programs, so that all the IQ Abacus teachers can deliver the same quality to the students.