Singapore Math

Curiosity and wonder

At Rochester Classical Academy, we place a high value on mathematics and the sciences. We want all students to be able to use math comfortably and fluently throughout their lives. We challenge the commonly held belief that only some students are “wired” for math. Instead, with a proven curriculum and teaching methods that build confidence in problem solving, all students can excel at math and enjoy it with the same spirit of curiosity and wonder as any other subject.

We are excited to adopt Singapore Math because we believe it addresses all of these goals. Singapore Math is a strong and proven methodology that incorporates the best practices that propelled Singapore students to the top of the international math comparison studies.

The history of Singapore Math

In the 1960s, Singapore, a newly independent nation, reformed their education system, investing significantly into education research. The Ministry of Education developed a new math curriculum for the public school system in the 1980s that stressed conceptual understanding and problem solving. The strengths of this new curriculum are well documented and evidenced by Singapore’s top tier ranking on the TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study) assessments for the last 20 years.

For most of those years, it has surpassed all other countries. This captured the attention of educators and led to a demand to replicate its methodologies in schools around the world. The United Kingdom was one of the first to adopt Singapore Math, followed by select American homeschoolers. Today, Singapore math is one of the leading math curricula among classical schools.

Distinctive features of Singapore Math

  • Emphasis on conceptual understanding (the why), rather than and prior to a procedural understanding (the how). It uses the following learning progression to do so:
    1. Concrete (Manipulatives and hands-on activities engage students and let them experience concepts in a concrete, tactile way)
    2. Pictorial (Visual models, including bar modeling, develop the ability to visualize mathematical situations)
    3. Abstract (Symbolic language of numbers, equations)
  • Emphasis on problem solving rather than simply memorizing facts
  • Fewer topics taught more deeply and to mastery
  • Strengthens mental math abilities
  • Addresses students’ attitudes towards math, building confidence as students learn to persevere through difficult problems
  • Use of group work to facilitate the exchange of ideas

Singapore Math and Classical Education

In Norms and Nobility, David Hicks writes, “The beauty of a classical curriculum is that it dwells on one problem long enough to allow even the youngest student a chance to exercise his mind in a scholarly way…” Singapore Math covers fewer topics, but more in-depth, giving students time to explore, “play with”, and discuss problems from multiple perspectives. It is not just about following a procedure or formula, but developing a deep understanding of the underlying concept. Singapore Math also dovetails easily with the classical emphasis on logic, reasoning, and sound thinking. Students must construct logical arguments that will help them get to the solution as they wrestle through difficult problems.

Singapore Math is also classical in that it is a language-focused approach. Lessons usually begin with a question posed by the teacher. In small groups, students discuss and explore ideas and then explain them to the class. Emphasis is given not only to providing the right answer, but to clearly articulating the way you’re thinking about a problem and listening to others’ reasoning.

The progression of conceptual understanding from concrete to pictorial to abstract parallels that of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric). In this way, all stages of the trivium are used and modeled in all lessons and at all grade levels.

Interested in seeing Singapore Math in the Classroom?

The video below demonstrates the Singapore approach and pedagogy in a 4th grade classroom. The class is taught by Dr. Yeap Ban Har, an expert in professional development for teachers of Singapore math.

Dr. Yeap Ban Har – Year 4 Singapore Math

Want to talk more about math at RCA?

If you’re intrigued by Singapore math, we’d love to talk to you more about it. Come to our next Introduction to Rochester Classical Academy event! Click here to find out when our next event is.

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