Comparing Traditional Math to a Reform Curriculum

JUMP and Singapore math are examples of reform mathematics

math teacher in front of class
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Educators continue to debate whether a traditional mathematics curriculum or a reform mathematics curriculum will better help students in the United States achieve the goals and standards outlined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Common Core State Standards. 

Traditional and reform curriculums vastly differ in content and in their philosophies and approaches to teaching math.

Some educators support a back-to-basics approach to math, while others support reform programs, such as JUMP Math and Singapore Math. This faction arose after the 1993 release of the NCTM’s publication "Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics."

Math Standards and Reform

The NCTM document outlines the five goals and four process standards students should meet. The goals call for students to value math, have confidence in their mathematical ability, gain mathematical problem-solving skills, communicate in mathematical language and ideas and learn mathematical reasoning.

The process standards, or methods by which students should learn to meet the above standards, are the process of problem-solving, mathematical communication, mathematical reasoning and making mathematical connections.

These goals and standards have fueled the creation of math programs that not only teach children basic math content but also promote a constructivist view of learning.

According to this view, it’s important to teach children basic math skills and to give them tools to build their own knowledge. Programs based on constructivist learning theory place a lot of emphasis on real-world application and problem-solving, often teaching math through discovery.

The Problem With Basics vs. Reform

The problem with teaching children a basic approach to mathematics or a reform approach is that either way students’ math knowledge has gaps in it.

Teaching purely the basic computational skills of mathematics by drill and rote memorization instead of incorporating investigative math and the use of technology (such as calculators), can leave children lacking the problem-solving skills necessary in today’s world.

On the flip side, teaching children to create their own ways to come up with solutions and conceptual math before giving them a strong foundation in computational skills can leave children unable to connect concepts to algorithms.

Singapore and Jump Math

JUMP Math and Singapore Math acknowledge the validity of basic and reform mathematics and incorporate components of both in their methods. It’s sort of like a back-to-basics via reform approach.

Both programs work at a slower pace to ensure that students truly understand and master subject matter before moving on, thus avoiding a more traditional spiral approach to teaching. (Spiral teaching is when skills are not completely covered but returned to in more depth, year after year.)

Despite this, there are glaring differences between the programs. Singapore Math focuses first on concepts and then on skills and processes, aligning it closely to NCTM Standards and making it a less traditional program.

JUMP Math, on the other hand, breaks down skills into their smallest steps, making sure all the components are mastered. In this way, JUMP Math is more closely aligned to the science of cognitive learning than either basic or reform math.

They may have different approaches, but neither Singapore nor JUMP Math can be used as weapons in the debate over traditional or reform math. They're first and foremost concerned with meeting student needs.  

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