Singapore Math

What is Singapore Math?

Singapore Math is a general term to describe the math instruction designed by Singapore’s Ministry of Education. In order to prepare for a high quality workforce, the government invested heavily in schools, curriculum research and teacher preparatory. Countries around the world first took notice of the Singapore Math approach when its students topped in international examinations such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in the 90s. Though a first place ranking does not necessarily imply the best program, educators started researching on this new curriculum, feeling that something about the Singapore approach must be working.

In the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2015 and 2019, students from Singapore have done well again. TIMSS is a study on 4th and 8th graders, while PISA is a study on 15 year-olds.

Here are some of the key strengths of Singapore Math:

Elementary School Grades

Logic Reasoning and Early Algebraic Thinking

Math is seen as a “vehicle for the development and improvement of intellectual competence in logical reasoning, spatial visualisation, analysis and abstract thought.” Instead of rushing through formulas and formulas, students are given time to master the material through detailed instruction and to explore connections between concepts. Algebraic thinking is introduced at 1st Grade. Students are introduced to ideas of representing unknowns in familiar situations, seeing how it can be applied contextually before moving to manipulation. This is an important cornerstone for early algebraic thinking.

His instructor, Kar Hwee Koh, presented algebraic problems in the context of colorful animal or alien monster characters that both attracted his attention and kept his focus during the 45-minute class.

Anastasia Galanopoulos, parent of first grader

Balanced math curriculum

Singapore math has been widely viewed as a balanced curriculum, answering the new needs of “reform math” while maintaining some old school approach. Singapore math is able to meet this challenge with its research-based and results-proven approach, focusing on core topics, and learning these topics to mastery.

Singapore math’s added appeal is that it has largely skirted the math wars of recent decades over whether to teach traditional math or reform math. Indeed, Singapore math has often been described by educators and parents as a more balanced approach between the two, melding old-fashioned algorithms with visual representations and critical thinking

New York Times, 2010

Strong visualization and modeling

One huge appeal of Singapore Math is the use of pictorial representations. Students are introduced to concepts in a three-step approach, Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (C-P-A) representation. In lower elementary, students learn the number bond, which is a pictorial representation of part-part-whole relationship between numbers before learning addition or subtraction. In upper elementary, students tackle challenging word problems through a heuristic called Bar Modeling. In this technique, problems are broken down into visual representations, where student conceptualize and strategize solutions to complex problems without formal instruction to algebra. It is widely acknowledged as the key to Singapore Math’s success, where students gain strong algebraic thinking from an early start.


Problem Solving and challenging math tasks

At the heart of the mathematics framework from Singapore is problem solving. Students are expected to apply higher-order math skills to logic reasoning and challenging problem solving. By 4th and 5th Grade, students are able to grasp complex concepts quickly, building on their strong foundational years in conceptual and computational fluency.

Middle School Grades

In middle schools, the Singapore Math curriculum focuses on sound understanding of the concepts behind the procedures, the usefulness and connections between the topics, and mathematically thinking processes such as logical reasoning, thinking skills, applications and modeling.

Middle school curriculum is introduced systematically, focusing on the basics, learning to mastery before moving on the higher order problem solving. The Singapore math middle school curriculum is built upon the research-based Singapore Mathematics Framework, and provides students with a solid foundation for advanced High School math.

Latest 2019 TIMSS Survey  results
Clip from NBC’s Today Show that talks about Singapore Math