Oct 05 2022

What is Singapore Math, and what are the features of this approach?

Yanis Temby

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What is Singapore Math?

Singapore Math is an approach that was developed in Singapore in the 1980s. The country was in dire economic status, on the verge of collapse, and this prompted politicians, economists and scientists to look for a solution that would save the country in all respects at once, namely, education, economics and technology. After many months of research, reflection and agreement, authorities, scientists and financiers came to the conclusion that it was necessary to develop a curriculum that would lead children of early school age from basic study of sciences to specialists who could become the driving force of progress and bring the country out of stagnation. And they succeeded.

They developed a mathematics curriculum that covered not only arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, but modeling, communication, diplomacy, and critical thinking skills. Soon, literally in a decade, the country rose to an acceptable economic level, and in a couple of decades it became one of the leading economic powers in the world.

This led other countries around the world to start exploring this approach. It turned out that despite the difficulty, complexity, uniqueness and rarity of such a way of mentality among children in different countries, it is Singaporean mathematics that helps to shape the vision that is so necessary for success in the 21st century.

What is Singapore Math, and what are the features of this approach?

CPA Approach – Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract

This is the basis, the foundation of the program, which is that children gradually move from concrete, physical concepts to abstract ones. Those, before starting to explain equations, powers, square roots and making mental calculations, children are clearly shown the elementary concepts of numbers and operations, such as addition, subtraction, and later division and multiplication, on physical objects. These can be toys, fruits, vegetables and any other items that can be found in the child's environment.

The advantage of this approach is that the child can perceive abstract things more clearly, because he/she already understands them on physical manner. In standard curricula, abstract concepts and mathematical operations are taught to children right in the beginning. Also, the CPA approach includes an explanation of the comparison and the concepts of "more-less". Thus, having immediately mastered the concept of numbers, comparisons and elementary calculations in a playful way, children move on to the study of abstract concepts.

Spiral learning

The spiral learning system implies that children do not return to the material they have covered, as is the case in standard programs. Having studied one topic very deeply, having passed the placement test, which shows how successfully the material has been mastered, the child moves on to the next topic. If he/she did not pass the test, then he/she stays on the same topic until masters it on 100 %. Thus, what is studied, for example, in the 5th grade, will never be met in the 8th grade, etc.

The advantage of this approach is that the child studies the material so deeply that it does not need to be repeated. The child can independently look through notes and individual notes and quickly recall the material if needed, but neither the child, nor the parents, nor the teacher will spend a lot of time on long repetition of forgotten topics.

Although each topic takes more time to study than in a standard curriculum, this ultimately saves overall learning time and helps to better learn new materials.

Multiple-solution approach to problem-solving

We are used to focusing on the result and finding only 1, maximum 2 solutions to one problem. Often, a child and then an already established specialist, finds it difficult to look for a plan B, C, and further, for more serious problems. In Singapore Math, each equation or problem is viewed from many angles.

The teacher explains 1-2 solutions and then asks the child for searching for up to 10, sometimes more, solutions and theories. Thus, each child can voice his/her vision of the problem, which is very often an innovation and discovery.

The advantage of this approach is that the child and in the future a specialist in any field of production, economics or science looks at the situation / problem on a larger scale and has a mindset that allows each issue to be considered from different points. Eventually, in case of any kind of problem, such a specialist will be able to find several effective solutions at once and much faster than his/her colleagues who received basic education according to the standard system.

Related skills

None of the math curriculum includes skills such as diplomacy, communication and critical thinking skills. Even modeling, which is directly related to solid geometry, is very rare in such programs.

At first glance, it may seem that the skills mentioned above have nothing to do with mathematics, although mathematics helps to predict the results of negotiations for several "steps" ahead. Also, critical thinking, which Singapore mathematics develops through a multiple approach to the problem, helps to find the most accurate solutions, incl. answers and approaches during negotiations, which leads to success, or at least protects against failure.

It is similar to a game of chess: due to the fact that a person thinks not only logically, but also critically, realizing that the interlocutor or partner is also an intellectual and a specialist, he / she can think over all the possible reactions that the interlocutor will potentially demonstrate.

As for modeling, it is crucial not only in areas such as design, architecture, engineering and construction, but also for the development of abstract thinking in general, which contributes to the development of:

  • - Orientation in space, which is very important for people working in the tourism industry or who are and just amateur travelers;
  • - Skills required in the field of logistics and transport;
  • - Abilities required for diagnostics by the method of medical imaging, etc.

Thus, the advantage of this approach is that related skills expand the horizons of the influence of mathematics and the mentality of the child, and in the future of the specialist, in general.

Is it worth?

Singapore mathematics is a non-standard approach to teaching and learning. However, non-standard does not mean ineffective. Many studies of children from different schools, classes and countries have shown that students who receive education in this curriculum not only keep up with, but also surpass their peers in the results of international Olympiads and exams.

Today, with the expanding possibilities of the Internet and the emergence of new norms such as remote learning or work and virtual ESM program, amazing curriculum is no longer a curiosity from far Asia – you can launch a curriculum for your child today right from your home.

The choice in favor of the curriculum should be based on the goals and capabilities of the child. If your toddler is fidgety and has a tendency to memorize, and in general he/she is much more successful in such subjects as history or literature, it is likely that an intensive approach to learning math will not give him/her much benefit.

On the contrary, if your kid loves to philosophize, spends long hours studying a particular book or informative TV show, then Singapore mathematics is what you need!

Listen to your children, they will suggest the right decision.

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