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What’s Singapore Math?

addWritten by: By Laura Lewis Brown    Source:

Parents in the United States often hear (and stress about) how students in other countries perform better than our children in math and science. With that in mind, many schools and homeschoolers are implementing an approach to teaching elementary math that is common practice in Singapore.

Singapore math, which refers to the teaching methods or the actual curriculum used for kindergarten through sixth grade in the small island country, has become popular due to Singapore’s consistent top ranking on an international assessment of student math achievement called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In the latest TIMSS report in 2007, Singapore was ranked in the top three in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores, while the United States ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively.

Mastery, Not Memorization
Supporters of Singapore math credit the Singaporean methods of instruction and curriculum for its students’ success. While American math instruction often relies on drilling and memorization of many skills each year, Singapore math focuses on children not just learning but also truly mastering a limited number of concepts each school year. The goal is for children to perform well because they understand the material on a deeper level; they are not just learning it for the test.

“The sequence of topics in Singapore math has been carefully constructed based upon child development theory,” says Jeffery Thomas, president of Singapore Math Inc., the primary producer of Singapore math products for the U.S. market. “The means to mastery is problem solving, and the beauty of the approach is that the majority of students are well prepared to tackle increasingly difficult topics, such as fractions and ratio, when they are introduced in the third through fifth grades. Those students are also then typically ready for algebra and geometry in middle school.”

Students in the same classroom may learn the concepts at different paces, but ultimately they all learn them and help develop their own solid foundation for further math learning. This prevents the need for reteaching as students move to the next grade.

Thomas and his wife, Dawn, a native Singaporean, helped bring Singapore math to the United States in the late 1990s by adapting Singaporean textbooks and workbooks for the U.S. market through their company. Now Singapore math is part of the core curriculum at schools in 40 states, Thomas says. Many schools have adopted Singapore math as their core, others have brought it in gradually, and still others are using it for gifted and talented students, or for struggling students.

What Type of Students Benefit from Singapore Math? 
There is no guarantee that the Singapore method will make your child a math whiz, but teachers who use it believe it can help any child. “Most any child would benefit from this program,” explains Kevin Mahoney, a math curriculum coordinator at a private school in Massachusetts, who also maintains “That’s because of its reliance on understanding number sense, problem solving and conceptual understanding of what these kids are doing. Singapore math requires children to understand how something works, like long division. But they’re also going to understand why long division works, not just the how but the why.”

Singapore math also relies heavily on visualization, which is often neglected in the American classroom. “In typical American math teaching, you use a concrete-abstract approach. If I’m going to teach about multiplication I will bring out physical objects and demonstrate how to multiply, then move to the abstraction of lining up numbers in a multiplication equation,” Mahoney says. Singapore, on the other hand, introduces a middle step between the concrete and abstract called the pictorial approach. “It asks students and teachers to draw a diagram of the concepts going on. This is not an idea that’s exclusive to Singapore, but it’s so well expressed in a coherent idea in the curriculum in a comprehensive way,” he says.

Students also learn to use model drawing to solve those word problems that many of us remember fondly from elementary school. Instead of trying to picture the problem in their heads, then writing out the equation to solve it, students in Singapore math diagram the elements of the word problem. “Model drawing is really exciting to Americans because they’ve seen never anything like it,” Mahoney says. “It gives American teachers a tool to help students decode those sticky word problems.”

Success Stories
Since Singapore math was added to the core curriculum at Pennacre Country Day School, an independent K-6 school in Wellesley, Mass., there has been a noticeable change in student performance. Mahoney says a recent assessment found 20-percentile gains in standardized testing of third graders compared to previous third-grade classes. The school also determined that 89 percent of parents said their children had a very positive experience with Singapore math, and were more competent in problem solving and arithmetic thinking.

In Hawaii, students and teachers at Shafter Elementary are also taking to Singapore math in a big way. “The students just grab onto it because it makes sense to them,” says Robin Martin, principal of the Honolulu school that is using Singapore math in its K-6 curriculum. “I don’t exaggerate: every day a teacher was coming into my office and saying, ‘Oh my god, the kids are getting this.’ The kids are just so excited about it. When the teachers see the kids excited, the teachers really put effort into it. They see that it’s really having an impact.”

A Parent’s Role in Singapore Math
Singapore math instructors encourage parents to be open-minded. Singapore math is not what most parents in the United States studied in school, but that doesn’t mean they need to resist it. While you may want to help your child learn the times table the way you did, you should also consider this different approach.

“Many parents want to tell their children not to do a math problem this way, or they discourage, saying there is an easier way,” Martin says. “Part of Singapore math is children making meaning of the math. Just because the parents understand it one way doesn’t mean the children won’t another.”
Char Forsten, a consultant and writer who helps schools implement Singapore math, explains, “When I was in school, the emphasis was on getting the correct answer; here it’s about understanding the math and explaining your answer. That’s a big thing that parents need to understand.” We may want our children to get the right answer, but we also want them to know why it is the right answer.

Even though Singapore math may seem strange to you, you can still help your child access it. If your child is not learning Singapore math in school, you can purchase materials on your own. offers a placement test to determine where your child may be in the curriculum, so you can select the right textbook and workbook combination.

Be aware, however, that although doing practice problems is helpful, it cannot replace learning in the classroom. “Just looking at textbooks themselves can be misleading. The textbooks don’t include all the rich teaching and dialogue that go on in a Singapore math classroom,” Mahoney says. “To an untrained eye they look simple, but the math involved is really quite deep, and that really gets drawn out in the Singapore math classroom.”

Regardless of your child’s relationship with Singapore math now or in the future, your goal should be to support and encourage the style of math learning that works for them. “The parent is the supporter. The parent is the guide in asking questions,” Forsten says. “I believe the best thing they can do is question their children. Questioning children is an excellent way to develop their thinking.” So when your daughter or son comes home with a math problem that you don’t understand, simply ask what they know about it, what they were taught in school, and so on.

A parent should also be open to playing games that rely on math skills and pointing out math in the environment, such as asking what shape the kitchen cabinets are and other real-life math questions.

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Instill a Love of Math

muslim_familyParents are bombarded with messages to read with their children, but it’s rare to hear about the importance of doing math with them. Here are some helpful tips on why and how to instill a love of math in your children.

Early Math Matters
We may take for granted that our children will inevitably learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but early math lessons establish the base for the rest of their thinking lives. “Mathematics that kids are doing in kindergarten, first, second and third grades lays the foundation for the work they are going to do beyond that,” says Mdm Siti, main trainer at MathsExCEL. “They are learning beyond just counting and numbers.” That’s why it’s so important to help children love math while they are still young. Parents can build on those first preschool lessons by counting with their children, asking them to look for patterns and recognize shapes, then moving on to numbers.

The goal should be to make math “real” and meaningful by pointing it out in the world around you. That could include checking and comparing prices at the grocery store, driving down the street counting mailboxes, reading recipes, calculating coupons, or even measuring food or drink at the dinner table. When Mdm Siti child is little, she kept a small measuring tape in her pocketbook. While they were waiting for their order at a restaurant, the child would measure different items on the table.

Just as you encourage your early reader to look for familiar letters, ask your child to watch for math, regarding math as highly as you do reading. “Every parent knows that it’s a good idea to read to your child every night, but they should also realize the importance of talking about mathematical situations with children every day,” says Mdm Siti.

So What If It’s Hard?
What if you hated math as a child? Parents should try to set aside their distaste for math and encourage their children as much as possible. Young children are eager to learn. “It’s hard to learn to talk or walk. But they don’t care,” says Sue, a community college math teacher in MathsExCEL. “They just push themselves over their limits. They are going to come at math with that same attitude.”

Avoid talking negatively about math, even if you have no need for trigonometry in your daily life. “A lot of people will only joke that they cannot do math or announce publicly, ‘I’m not a math person.’ When a parent does that in front of a child, it suggests that math’s not important,” says Char Forsten, education consultant and writer, who urges parents to create that desire to learn by constantly screening the environment for math. “Have you seen any good math lately?” she likes to ask students.

If your child believes that math doesn’t really matter, he’s not going to be as open to learn. “Attitude has everything to do with learning. You can’t make anyone learn. If a child has learned not to love math, if they don’t love math, and aren’t willing to learn, you have to deal with that first,” Forsten says.

If you are stuck on how to foster math enthusiasm, talk to your child’s teacher about some ways to support math learning at home. There may be a new game that you have never heard of, which both you and your child will love.

Play Games
With so many facts and figures to memorize and apply to math problems, children learn early that math is something that requires work. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun; keep the pleasure in math by playing games with your children. Many games, even the ones adults play, rely on math. With countless websites, computer games and phone apps, parents have endless options, but don’t forget about the nondigital games you loved as a child. The classics that require manipulating cards and game pieces, calculating along the way, may have the same appeal for your kids as they did for you. One game worth considering is Chutes and Ladders. A 2009 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Maryland found that preschoolers who played the game improved math skills significantly compared to those in the study who played a different board game or did nonmath tasks.

As you play with your kids, try to tap into your own love for math. When you play Trivial Pursuit, you are using math to determine how many spaces you need to get to the next wedge or predict which category you can answer best. The game doesn’t have to be about math, but should involve it. If you have a good game store in your area, stop by and ask the salespeople for help. Some of Mdm Siti’s favorite games really push logic, which is the basis of math, and get children thinking visually. Check out Link, SET, Rush Hour, Blokus and Spot It, to name a few.

“Playing games is a great family activity,” Mdm Siti says. “The more you have a tradition of playing games, the easier it is to bring in other games you like.” So while you may not be passionate about your child’s latest board game, you can work up to another game you like. Try to make the game personal to your family by playing it in your own special way. “Mathematicians make up their own rules,” Mdm Siti says. “It’s really important to be open to making up your own games. Change the rules. ‘In our family, we play the game this way.’”

Flexing Math Muscles
Riding a bike, swimming in the deep end, and playing an instrument are just examples of our favorite childhood activities that require practice to master. So does math.

“Math is an intellectual muscle building; it’s crucial for fully developing a child’s potential,” Mahoney says. “Those muscles can atrophy. If school is the only place you do math, then it becomes something you only do at school. Then you don’t even think about using it in real life.” So brush off those negative feelings about math and instill enthusiasm. Math will play a role in your child’s life forever.

“It’s important to remember that those basics are essential for later learning. A lot of the stuff we learn in math we apply in different ways later,” says Mary, who emphasizes the thinking skills that math provides. “I might not have to worry about what an isosceles triangle is, but it’s still an important part of education.”

As they grow, kids will learn that they are willing to work hard at something they love. It may just be math. Either way, remember that your child does not have to excel at math to enjoy it. “It doesn’t matter if they’re good, it matters whether they like it,” Mdm Siti says.

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Preparing For P1: INTENSIVE Preparatory Class


Five months before Primary 1 starts is an ideal time to start actual preparing your child for the next stage in education, educators say. As Ms Siti, the Executive Director of MathsExCEL assures, “Children should be prepared for Primary One at the preschool they attend daily.”

She adds that the process of incorporating skills and content is best spread over the span of three years — from Nursery Two (N2) to Kindergarten Two (K2) — to gradually build P1-ready children. This is because preschool teachers are regularly updated as the lower primary school curriculum progresses; they know first-hand what skills and abilities the pre-primary children need to attain before they head off into the great big world of primary school education.

Of course, parents also have do their part — to nurture independence and a sense of responsibility for self and belongings. And here in Singapore, parents tend go beyond that. We want our children to be able to read, write, and count before they begin formal schooling. Actually, we want our children to be able to do all that at primary level even before they have stepped foot into a primary school.

Fatimah’s daughter Tina grew up in a Malay-speaking household and hardly spoke any English until one year ago. She believes that their preschool is preparing her child well for P1. However, Fatimah also teaches Tina Maths herself, and familiarises herself (and Tina) with the P1 syllabus through workbooks that she bought from Popular bookshop.

“I don’t want my son to suffer when he starts school,” says Lisa, 35, whose son Zaki has been attending a Primary 1 preparatory programme since the June holidays. “There are more children in each class; the teachers will not have the time to coach each child individually so if the child is slower, he gets left behind. I also want my son to have a headstart so that he will not be overwhelmed when the time comes.”

Agreeing, Mabel Chan, mum to a six-year-old girl, says, “If the child cannot follow the lessons, she may lose interest and become unmotivated.” Mabel teaches her daughter at home, and buys Primary 1 assessment books for her child to do at home.

Obviously, there is no need to do any of this. Ms Amy, a teacher, says that as long as the child can read and speaks confidently, he or she will be fine in Primary One.

But parents will be parents and chances are, some of you may be thinking about ensuring that your child is perfectly prepared for Primary One. In Singapore, there is no shortage of learning centres which offer enrichment classes for preschool children. Some of them offer intensive programs especially designed for K2 children. Compared to regular enrichment classes, preparatory classes cover fewer topics, but in a more in-depth manner.

Here is the content P1 Preparatory Class programme offered by MathsExCEL:

A new class begins on 17 May – 25 October 2014

  • 24 weeks, 8 sessions per term (refer schedule)
  • Every Saturday, 2 hours per session
  • Choose-a-Slot: 9AM – 11AM | 11:30AM – 1:30PM | 2:30PM – 4:30PM
  • 2 Subjects – English and Math (1 hour per subject)
  • Venue: Blk 125 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #04-190 Singapore 150125 (see map)
  • 10-15 Students per Class (max) : 2 Teachers


  • One time payment: Registration $30 + Materials $60
  • $280 per term at 8 sessions

Click here for programme detail.

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PSLE Timetable Schedule 2014

240114ePrimary School Leaving is a national examination (PSLE) in Singapore administrated by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The PSLE is taken for the 6th years students and moving them to the next level, example Secondary. The exam purpose is to check the proficiency in English Language and other Mother Tongue Language (usually Chinese, Malay, Tamil), and Mathematics and Science. The students who are appearing in exam have time of 2 hours for each subject paper, except language subject.

The time table and schedule has been published on the official website at .

PSLE Time Table 2014

The registration for the PSLE exams starts from the March second week each year normally.

  • Registration in 2014 ………………….  14 – 28 March 2014
  • Oral Examination …………………….. 14 & 15 August 2014
  • Listening Comprehensive Exam ….  19 September 2014
  • Written Examination ………………..  25 September – 17 October 2014
  • Marking Exercise …………………….. 14 – 17 October 2014

All the best for all students taking PSLE in 2014!

Also learn how our PSLE A* Achievers Maths Programme has benefited many students in Singapore.

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New Bar Modeling iPad Apps!

For many years, I’ve highly recommended to my students who hone their bar modeling skills while playing really fun games. These flash-based programs work great on a desktop or laptop, but required third-party solutions to work on mobile devices.

Tired of using Rover to run on your iPad?

Well, hop on over to the iTunes app store because Math Playground has just published  four new iPad apps based on the popular website that work perfectly, provide tracked progress and are FREE for a limited time:

Addition and Subtraction:

Thinking Blocks Addition and Subtraction

Multiplication and Division:

Thinking Blocks Multiplication & Division


Thinking Blocks Fractions

Ratios and Proportion:

Thinking Blocks Ratio & Proportion