When I talk to clients, the subject their children seem to have the most issues with is math.
I often hear “My child just doesn’t understand it.” or “My child just cannot learn their math facts.” Due to the increased testing requirements in public schools, there is an increased push to learn more math concepts in a year. Because of this, teachers do not have the time they need to truly delve into the “why” of mathematics. Therefore, children are memorizing how to solve problems using rules, or algorithms, and not understanding why they are solving the problems in a certain way. Ask a child why, and you are likely to hear them say, “Because that’s what my teacher told me to do.” They have no concept of what they are doing when they are computing equations and are therefore very likely to forget it or become stuck if the problem doesn’t look exactly like what they did in class.
So what does all of this have to do with Singapore Math?
The answer is very simple: EVERYTHING. In Singapore, children are taught the why before they learn the how. Our number system is a base 10 system, and everything they learn in math is based on this fact. 17 becomes 10 and 7 ones. 21 becomes 2 tens and 1 one. The number 10 becomes a magic number, and the goal is to figure out ways to make 10s so that they can do more math in their heads. Think about this: 10+7 is much easier than 9+8. They both have the same answer, but we think in terms of 10s rather than 9s because we are a base 10 number system. Children who are taught in the Singapore style understand that they can manipulate equations so that they can do what seems like difficult math in their heads.
When I moved to Jacksonville, I started teaching at a school that used Singapore math.
When I was first introduced to this program, I remember thinking “Wow, that’s how I do math in my head now, but I didn’t know why it worked”. I marveled at the way my second graders learned to manipulate numbers and found multiple ways of solving equations, and they even knew why they were doing it. My 8 year old students were able to do problems like 181 + 113 in their heads without a second thought. It took a while to get used to the new way of teaching, but I knew that the students were actually understanding math, and I knew that I was hooked. By using the Singapore math approach, children develop a strong number sense which allows them to memorize their math facts faster and understand why they are solving the problems in a certain way. They are actually even able to find new ways of solving the problems, so that when faced with an equation they have never seen they will be able to use their number sense to solve it rather than memorizing a rule that may or may not work every time.
In Singapore, teachers never tell the students how to solve a problem or the “rule”.
They provide carefully thought out problems and manipulatives and have the students figure out how to solve it. After significant exploration, the students begin to find patterns, and from that they have what I like to call an “aahaa” moment and discover the rule. They don’t forget how to solve an equation, because they know why numbers work they way they do and they have figured out for themselves what the “rules” are. We can all learn a lot from studying the Singapore style of teaching math. Not only will it help your children, but you’ll be surprised at how much better your math becomes.