I’m sure you have heard of Common Core, but have you heard of Singapore Math? As a discipline, education has evolved much over the years. Different methods and strategies have developed, new replacing the old. Today, learning math is not as simple as just “learning math”. The way that math is being learned is also a focus.
The United States likes to think it is the best at everything, but this is not always true. In fact, in 2018, the US ranked a disappointing 27th in worldwide education programs. Meanwhile, the nation of Singapore’s teenagers topped the list in math, science, and English. This wasn’t the first year that Singapore has outranked us in education. In fact, it has happened for over a decade. As a teacher, I’ve often wondered what it is that set them apart. I have also asked myself what we can do better?
To bridge this gap, many schools in the United States have adopted Common Core Standards. Successful or not, this has been an attempt to remodel the way our children think about math. Even if you’re not a fan of Common Core, the guidelines have a close link to Singapore Math.
Common Core Math
Common Core is not actually a type of math but a set of standards. It tells teachers what students need to be learning at each grade level. For example, as a former primary math teacher, I know a lot about Common Core State Standards. For example, third graders learn their multiplication facts when they enter this grade. Fourth graders do not focus on facts but instead, multiplying fractions.
Many of these standards are concerned with the process as much as they are with the end result. That is to say, the work shown must follow precise steps for the problem to be correct. This is in addition to the right answer. This was developed on the premise that the processes would more easily apply to real-world situations. This has resulted in a workforce more proficient in “practical” math.
Math: Then vs. Now
As a thirty-something, this is totally opposite of the way I was taught math in school during the 1990s. For example, if I was given a multiplication problem to solve, my teacher wanted one thing—the right answer. If I recited it from memory, counted on my fingers, or drew dots on a page, it didn’t matter.
Another element of Common Core is its focus on depth rather than breadth. Older methods of teaching covered numerous concepts relatively briefly. Common Core repeatedly emphasizes the importance of key ideas. This serves to constantly maintain the foundations on which mathematical knowledge is built.
Common Core Standards are based on years of research in pedagogy, cognitive psychology, and many other disciplines. One concept being applied, for example, is semantic learning. This refers to the abstract meaning of the things we learn. It has been proven to result in higher levels of memory retention. Before Common Core, it was acceptable for students to memorize a strategy and produce a correct answer by any means necessary. Common Core wants students to genuinely understand what they are doing, rather than just do it.
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“Singapore Math” is not the official name of any education style. It is the name that the United States has given Singapore’s math curriculum, of which it has taken notice. Since the 1990s, Singapore’s government has been publishing textbooks. These are available to the private sector. The United States took advantage of this opportunity for many years.
One of the defining characteristics of Singapore Math is its focus on the quality of information learned rather than the quantity. Rather than expecting students to learn a variety of mathematical methods, this curriculum expects students to procure a deep understanding of a few topics. This is similar to what we have tried to replicate with Common Core.
In addition, Singapore Math makes use of modeling to solve problems. One of the most popular methods is called bar modeling. Here, students will be presented a word problem and asked to solve it. The method they use has them draw a “bar” that represents the question.
For example, one question might ask, “If Suzie gets seven questions correct on a 10-question test, how many did she miss?” Students will then draw two horizontal bars of different lengths, the shorter being labeled 7 and the longest being labeled 10. Students will then attempt to fill in the difference between them with the correct value. In this case, the answer is 3.
Singapore Math is very hands-on and uses multi-sensory techniques. When I was teaching primary math I used Singapore techniques. I also used tons of manipulatives. They help students understand the concepts on a deeper level. We used balances, set-squares, spinners, fraction circles, and more.
Common Core and Singapore Math: How Do They Relate?
Common Core seems to be imitating Singapore Math because it has adopted many of the same strategies, although in different forms. Bar models may not be used specifically, but much of Common Core’s method monitoring focuses on grading the accurate construction and use of models in general. A focus on depth of information is another principle that both adhere to.
One of the major differences between these two systems is the countries in which they are used. In the United States, many students suffer from summer learning loss, because several idle months cost students the information they have learned the year prior.
Singapore, however, has a relatively shorter latency period between school years. This lessens the effect of this loss on its students. In other words, a “year-round schedule” keeps math fresh on the brain. No learning loss means no stagnating progress in the curriculum. This combined with research-based teaching methods makes Singapore Math such an effective blueprint.
Common Core, having been established after Singapore Math, seems to be building upon the principles in an attempt to further improve education. The effectiveness of Singapore’s program, however, may be a combination of the teaching method itself and the structure of the school year. This shows that the environment in which they are applied may make all the difference.
If you are looking for a way to help your student reach a higher level, I highly recommend enrolling in ArgonPrep’s K-8 math program. Many of the Common Core Based questions and activities offered mimic Singapore Math.