Pros and Cons of the Singapore Math Method

Young girl working on math homework at a table

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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).

What Is Singapore Math?

What is referred to as Singapore Math in most other countries is, for Singapore, simply math. In 1982, the first Singapore math program, Primary Mathematics, was published by Singapore's Ministry of Education. For close to 20 years, this program remained exclusively in Singaporean classrooms.

When Jeffrey and Dawn Thomas moved to the U.S. from Singapore in 1998, they found their daughter's math program at her American public school insufficient. They began to supplement her schoolwork with the Singapore math method and wondered whether the program could be as effective for other schools in the U.S. as well as for home-schooling families. The couple incorporated under the name Singapore Math Inc. and began selling the original Primary Mathematics program in their textbooks.

Despite its popularity among educators, as with any program, Singapore Math has its 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 clear and concise graphics.
  • Closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
  • 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 relearn concepts.

Cons of Singapore Math

  • Requires extensive and ongoing teacher training, which is neither financially or practically feasible in a number of school districts and not always practical for children who are homeschooled.
  • Closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards (yes, this can be a pro and a con, depending on whom you ask).
  • Supplies are consumable and must be re-ordered for every classroom every year. This can put a 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 conceptual and 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 sequential and doesn’t re-teach concepts or skills, using the program could potentially 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 traditional U.S. textbooks, some schools are finding that the method is not easy to implement. 

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Article Sources
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