Singapore Math Pros and Cons

The Benefits and Disadvantages of the Singapore Math Method

Woman standing proudly in front of chalk board
Singapore math. Asia Images Group / Getty Images

The Singapore Math method marked a change in the way math was taught in many American classrooms.  The program uses a three-step learning model, moving from the concrete (such as showing something using manipulatives) to the pictorial (creating a visual representation on paper), to the abstract (solving problems).

So what is Singapore Math? Let's start with a little background: 

What is referred to as Singapore Math in other countries is, for Singapore, simply math.

The program was developed under the supervision of the Singaporean Minister of Education and introduced as the Primary Mathematics Series in 1982. For close to 20 years, this program remained the only series used in Singaporean classrooms.

In 1998, Jeff and Dawn Thomas wondered if that the math program they brought back from Singapore and used to supplement their own child’s schoolwork might be useful to schools and home-schooling families in the U.S. The couple incorporated under the name Singaporemath.com and their books began being marketed under the name Singapore Math textbooks.

 Despite is popularity among some educators, as with any program, Singapore Math has pros and cons.

It's been widely criticized as being confusing for children to learn as part of a Common Core standards framework, with some educators complaining that it unnecessarily complicates the teaching of mathematical principles to young children.

The framework of Singapore Math is developed around the idea that learning to problem-solve and develop mathematical thinking are the key factors in being successful in math. It states that "the development of mathematical problem-solving ability is dependent on five inter-related components, namely, Concepts, Skills, Processes, Attitudes and Metacognition.”

Pros of Singapore Math

  • Textbooks and workbooks are simple to read with concise graphics.
  • Closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
  • Textbooks are sequential, building on previously learned concepts and skills, which offers the opportunity for learning acceleration without the need for supplemental work.
  • Asks for students to build meaning to learn concepts and skills, as opposed to rote memorization of rules and formulas.
  • Covers fewer topics in a year, but in an in-depth way that ensures students have a foundation to move forward without needing to re-learn concepts.

Cons of Singapore Math

  • Requires extensive and ongoing teacher training, which is neither financially or practically feasible in a number of school districts.
  • Closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards (yes, this can be a pro and a con, depending on whom you ask).
  • Materials are consumable and must be re-ordered for every classroom every year. This can put a huge financial burden on already strained school budgets.
    • Less of a focus on applied mathematics than traditional U.S. math textbooks. For instance, the Everyday Mathematics program emphasizes data analysis using real-life, multiple step math problems, while Singapore Math’s approach is more ideological.
    • Doesn’t work well for a nomadic student population. Many students move in and out of school districts, which isn’t a big problem when the math programs are similar. However, since Singapore Math is so sequential and doesn’t re-teach concepts or skills, using the program may set these students up for failure, whether they’re moving into or out of a district using it.

    Despite the number of pros to Singapore Math and some research suggesting that it is superior to U.S. textbooks, some schools are finding that the method is not easy to implement.  

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