What is Singapore maths?

The key to understanding mathematics

Singapore maths focuses on problem solving instead of computation and has proven to be highly successful in both classroom and homeschool settings. Singapore maths has consistently produced the best maths students in the world. Many academic studies have been conducted on the benefit of the Singapore maths curriculum that validate its methods over traditional maths instruction. So how is Singapore maths different from other maths curriculums?

Singapore maths was developed over several decades, with the goal of Singapore investing in its people and producing a population highly capable in mathematics. This has largely been achieved with Singapore students consistently outperforming other countries’ maths students year after year.

The developmental and sequential learning style of Singapore maths is an efficient way to teach students maths concepts and problem solving, and avoids busywork. It uses a spiral approach and always begins with manipulatives and concrete models where children can discover what the numerals and the functions of maths represent.

The content of Singapore maths programs is not necessarily different from other maths programs – it’s the philosophy that differs. (This is where having the teacher guides is a good idea.) Singapore maths is developed around the idea that learning to problem-solve and develop mathematical thinking are key to a solid foundation in maths. Without this solid foundation, students are more likely to struggle when it comes to more complex maths concepts in the higher grades.

Discovery approach to problem solving

Although many maths curriculums recommend the concrete-pictorial-abstract approach, not as many adequately address the value of  students discovering multiple strategies to solve a problem. Teachers usually teach one strategy and expect all students to apply it.

With Singapore maths, when a  teacher introduces a problem, the students are encouraged to explore and discover different strategies that work. More importantly, this is done before opening the textbook or directly teaching a lesson. The teacher/parent discusses with the students which problem-solving strategies work best.

Journalling as part of the anchor task

Singapore maths adds journalling as a step in the process of exploring and discovering multiple problem-solving strategies at the beginning of a lesson to anchor the students . Along with discussion, journalling keeps the student’s thought process connected to the problem and gives them the opportunity to write, read and discuss the vocabulary of mathematics. This extra step ensures that the vocabulary and process are both integrated into a student’s memory.

Manipulatives  are incorporated into most maths curriculums to help children understand number concepts. However, these are often not used with the opportunity to reflect and discuss the activities and the benefits of using them are minimal.

Getting the right answer is not the primary goal of Singapore maths, but more importantly to understand maths and be able to apply its principles to any problem-solving situation. Singapore maths is designed to encourage children to think deeply about maths and apply its principles to any problem, not just the one strategy or method they see on a worksheet.

The value of dialogue

Singapore maths emphasises the importance of training students in the unique vocabulary of mathematics. This enables clear communication is clear prepares them for higher level mathematics. The teacher may be tempted to use simple words that they think are easier for students to understand, like “take away” instead of “subtract”. Using the vocabulary of mathematics is an integral part of Singapore maths.

It is a common complaint of teachers and homeschool parents alike that they don’t understand why a child did not learn a concept, because they knew they “taught” it. Singapore Maths understands that learning is not the same thing as listening to someone teaching. For children to learn, a two-way conversation needs to take place so that the brain integrates the vocabulary with the maths concepts.

Meaning is tied to understanding. By asking “What do you think?” rather than telling the child how to solve a problem. Engaging students in dialogue about the problem helps them to think and contribute to the problem solving process.

A balance of mastery and higher-order thinking to build confidence

Basic maths instruction emphasises the mastery of computation. Singapore maths uses computation as one component of the problem-solving process.

There are often many ways to solve a problem, and students benefit from going on their own problem-solving journey, exploring ideas and encouraged to try different methods to discover which one is most effective for them to use.

Singapore maths uses higher-order thinking to combine mathematical reasoning and computation, which builds confidence in students. Students do not see maths as boring or difficult but an interesting challenge to overcome.

If you want to learn more about Singapore maths, and more particular aspects of it, spend some time watching Dr Yeap Ban Har’s videos. He is a renowned expert on Singapore maths.

Things to know when planning your maths curriculum.

Singapore maths product information.