Weekly Math Updates

May 3, 2006

  • Singapore Math, Part 2
  • Why Singapore Math? - A few comments from a mathematician
  • Maeser Prep Charter School
  • Summer Soccer (off-topic)
  • Weekly Comic

Hi all,

Last week's column on Singapore Math seemed to be pretty well received from the emails I got back. I received a few questions and so I'm going to try and briefly respond to each of them and then toss in a couple of other items this week.

Singapore Math, Part 2

Q1) Isn't Singapore Math just like Investigations Math? It's so visual...

A1) Singapore math is just like Investigations math ONLY in that respect. (DEEP sigh). Have people been on my list this long and think I would recommend something just like Investigations?????????

From E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge website one can find these two snippets:

"Many Core Knowledge schools have had success with Saxon mathematics, but choosing a math program is a school's choice. Math programs that follow sound cognitive principles and therefore lead to greater student mastery are: Singapore Math, Saxon Math, and Direct Instruction mathematics."

"Another case in point is TIMSS, the Third International Math and Science Study, which has found that Singapore and other nations with national curricula rank near the top of international math and science scores. In the 1999 installment of TIMSS, Singapore ranked first in the world in math and third in science, in spite of the fact that the country was ranked next to last for the level of home educational resources available. In other words, Singapore’s impressive academic results seem to have very little to do with an advantageous home environment and a great deal to do with an effective school system structure organized around a solid, rigorous curriculum."

Q2) Does Singapore math use the metric system instead of U.S. measurements?

A2) Nope, a couple years ago they revised all the U.S. books to include yards, miles, pounds, etc...

Q3) Will the Singapore math programs meet and align with the Utah standards?

A3) How could they not!!! :) Actually, there is another charter school in Utah using Singapore math and someone is trying to contact them to see if it perfectly aligns or requires a little supplementing. Just so everyone's aware, Investigations doesn't meet the state standards and is required to be supplemented. If Singapore needs supplemented to meet the state standards, it is only in the respect that the state may say teach a concept like probability in some grade level and Singapore may cover it in a different grade. So you would just add that concept into the curriculum.

Q4) How can I know if my kids will be up to grade level if I purchase supplementary materials from Singapore Math?

A4) If your child is in K-6, have him or her take one of the Singapore math placement tests. Follow this link:


Scroll down and read through the page to understand what test you ought to consider giving to your child. You probably want to start your child with an exam one full grade level below your child's current grade level. If your child scores better than 80% you can probably move up a grade level.  If your child gets less than 80%, you probably ought to start with that grade level.  There is the potential that your child is more than 2 years behind Singapore math. It is an advanced program, but don't let that statement make you think your child can't succeed in Singapore math. U.S. math, and particularly Investigations math, will set your child behind Singapore math but you can catch up. If your child is lost on the exam, step down another level.

Q5) Where can I purchase Singapore Math workbooks for my kids to do this summer?

A5) www.singaporemath.com and no I don't get paid for endorsing this program. :) For K-6, you want the Primary math workbooks. For older grades, I've seen the New Elementary and New Syllabus books and they're the standard programs available for 7-10. N.E. is more widely used, and N.S. is, I think, newer, and supposedly covers more geometry than the N.E. books, to help better prepare students for 9th grade geometry. Workbooks are about $7-8 and there's two workbooks per grade level, although some schools that want a slightly slower rate of progression may step back half a year and thus use the 2B and 3A books for the 3rd grade year instead of 3A and 3B.

Q6) Is Singapore math better than Saxon math?

A6) The two programs are different. Where Saxon covers 30+ topics in a year, Singapore covers about 15 but in greater depth than Saxon or any other program. By year end, I would feel confident that either student could do the problems the other student is doing. If you've been reading these emails for a while, you know these are both the top programs in the world for teaching math.

The other major way they differ, is Saxon math has drill sheets every day that reinforce concepts repeatedly. Saxon is also very scripted so the teacher's learn the words to use to teach children math, and it's very effective at doing this. Some people call Saxon "teacher-proof" because everything is so well lined out for you and I see nothing wrong with that title. It doesn't stop excellent teachers from teaching well, but helps weaker math teachers follow a set program where kids are going to learn the concepts regardless of their skill level.

Singapore, on the other hand, has a trade-off in that it requires stronger teachers (or better trained) and the kids have fun learning (this is very subjective of me to say this but in speaking with others that use Singapore math that is the consensus--kids actually enjoy the math). There are such clear visual examples children can actually teach themselves many of the concepts presented. Kids enjoy the math because tough concepts are presented in games and activities that help the kids learn, but keeps the learning fun. Look for the pdf link in last week's email update if you want to see a selection of challenging activities presented in a fun way. Singapore math absolutely looks for mastery of concepts along with abstract reasoning to ensure kids "get it." Love of learning (especially in math) in the early years is so important and that's another reason to like Singapore math because kids just enjoy the work.

Q7) What research has been done to show Singapore math is really effective?

A7) Well, consider that Singapore scored 1st place on the TIMSS test for 4th and 8th grade (the two grades tested) in 2003, 1999, and 1995. The test is administered every 4 years. I'd guess they'll do pretty well in 2007+4x (a little math equation to keep you thinking...)

Also consider that the country of Israel has switched early grades to Singapore math and as I'm typing this I can't recall now how high up the grades go, but that's a pretty good endorsement.

Here's a link to a 192 page study I've read through about a dozen times now (OK, just kidding) which lists the below table explaining the feedback from teachers at a school where Singapore math was used:

Link to full AIR Report-"What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System (and what Singapore can learn from the United States)"

Pg. 130 Regarding Singapore Math


• Greater depth/less breadth
• Fewer topics covered each year; greater emphasis
on mastery
• Topics are revisited throughout the curriculum, but
not retaught
• Higher level of mathematical content
• Higher level thinking
• Texts clearly present concepts using pictures,
numbers and words
• Multistep, multiconcept, and multistrand problems.
• Challenging word problems empower students to
become critical thinkers
• Algebraic concepts introduced at an earlier age


• Some students have never had Singapore before
and some of the strategies are new to them.
• Written communication skills are not stressed
• Matching to the State Framework; Probability strand
is not covered
• Language differences including metric units (fixed in new US edition)
• Few hands-on activities are provided for grades 7
and 8.1
• Not enough practice within some of the units, so
supplemental problems are necessary.

Oak's notes regarding the "weaknesses": the 2nd weakness listed is one of the major hangups educators seem to have with math these days. Math is not essay writing. Learn English in English class and math in math class. Learn to communicate your math skills, but lets not bring English into math class. As for not enough practice within some of the units, there are Singapore books for extra practice, intensive practice, and word problems. Implementing Singapore math doesn't require you to go outside of the program to find extra supplemental work.

I will now summarize(shorten) the report's conclusion from page 131:

"On the basis of our findings from the pilot sites, we recommend that the following actions be considered in districts and schools that plan to introduce Singaporean mathematics textbooks:

1. "Districts should be prepared to provide teachers with extensive professional development opportunities to help them use Singapore mathematics textbooks effectively." (Oak note: this is the number one factor in making the program succeed for all children. Recall E.D. Hirsch's note above that Singapore is effective for all children, even those with little support at home.)

2. "The ideal time for districts to begin using Singapore books is in kindergarten and first grade because the textbooks are built around a spiral curriculum that builds new content on top of previously taught mathematics... Continuing instruction of students who have used the Singapore curriculum from the beginning is far less difficult that arranging individualized or whole-class catch-up for students new to the program."

3. "Districts should offer weaker students more time and extra help in mathematics. They should identify weaker students beginning in grade 1 and provide them with extra mathematics." (Oak note: Weaker students don't have to be remediated outside of Singapore math programs. They may just need a little extra practice such as the supplemental book with standard level problems.)

4. "Districts should make sure that any the misalignment between the Singapore textbook and state mathematics frameworks and assessments is addressed in advance. Teachers in the pilot sites found that, at some grades, the Singapore mathematics textbooks do not include all the topics that their states’ curriculum framework and assessments include, statistics being the topic most frequently cited. Before adopting the Singapore mathematics textbooks, districts should conduct a curriculum alignment analysis and identify supplementary mathematics material, preferably from other Singaporean textbooks, to fill any gaps."

Q8) What happens when a student does Singapore math for K-6 or K-8 and then switches to another program?

A8) If a student has learned via the Singapore math method, that student will be very well equipped to do any other program out there. The downside is the student reentering a public school system after having Singapore for the early grades, may be bored to death by the lack of stimulation. That's a better problem though than lacking such a solid base education. It's far better to have a rigorous set of early grades to set the tone for upper math than to take it easy in the early years and then get swamped the moment challenging problems appear in upper grade levels.

Why Singapore Math? - A few comments from a mathematician


I started using Singapore Math in professional development courses in 2000 as a vehicle to connect teacher knowledge of mathematical content with elementary and middle school student work. The biggest challenge we face in improving K-8 mathematics instruction is teacher content knowledge of the subject. We would never be satisfied if our third grade teachers read at the sixth grade level. But we have accepted that many operate mathematically at the sixth grade level. This is not meant to be a criticism of teachers; but rather of some of our teacher training programs and state departments that license teachers. Many elementary school teachers will readily admit that they don’t feel comfortable with mathematics. I believe that teacher content knowledge is critical and see the Singapore Math books as a vehicle for improving it. I also suspect that it’s the best elementary textbook series around. 

Maeser Prep Charter School

A new charter high school is being formed for grades 9-12. Location will probably be in the Lindon area somewhat close to Timp Academy. If any of you are interested in helping or getting more information, there is a meeting on May 10th at 7 pm in the Timp Academy school located at 55 S. 100 E., Lindon. Check out www.maeserprep.org for more immediate information.

Summer Soccer (off-topic)

For anyone in the North Utah County area that has played soccer, or ever wanted to play, last year I organized an adult co-ed summer soccer league. A ton of the players had never played before and had a blast. It's a relaxed style of play, no score is kept, and it's just for fun. I'm organizing teams right now and invite anyone that would like to participate to sign up at:


Here's a few comments from last year:

"I enjoyed playing in the league. It was great to be able to get out and just have fun and play with other people who aren't allstars!"

"I had never laid foot on a soccer field until playing in this league and I ended up having a great time. Thanks!"

"I will definitely be there next year."

"We had a lot of players on our team that had never before even kicked a soccer ball. Everyone on our team had a great time."

Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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