Our Journey to Singapore: A Singapore Math Adoption Success Story

Beth Curran Preschool – 6th Grade Math Department Chair, St. Anne’s-Belfield School Singapore Math Teacher and Trainer

Beth Curran

For some time, I’ve wanted to share stories of schools that have successfully implemented a Singapore Math curriculum.

To present the first such case study, I asked my colleague Beth Curran to summarize the adoption process at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, an independent Pre-K to 12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Please contact me if your school has a story to contribute.


 Our Journey to Singapore

by Beth Curran
Preschool – 6th Grade Math Department Chair, St. Anne’s-Belfield School
Singapore Math Teacher and Trainer

stab_logoIt all began with a strategic plan.  In 2011, St. Anne’s-Belfield School released its 2011-2016 Strategic Plan.  The first of six goals focused on teaching and learning in the 21st century.  Key elements to this goal included teaching with depth rather than breadth, teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills, improving the quality of our computation, and ensuring that our pedagogy reflects researched based best practices.  The Action Plan that followed gave direct mention to Singapore Math as a curriculum to explore.

While teachers felt strongly that the students were leaving our Lower School (grades Kindergarten through four) very well prepared for Middle School (grades five through eight), we had to ask a tough question; could we be doing better?

Why Singapore Math?

As the Lower School Math Coordinator at the time, I was charged with taking a critical look at the Lower School’s current math curriculum and learning all I could about Singapore Math.  The more I learned, the more I was convinced that Singapore Math would be a great match for us.  It was almost as if the Strategic Plan was written with Singapore Math in mind.  The curriculum teaches concepts to mastery, focusing on depth rather than breadth.  Critical thinking and problem-solving are embedded within the curriculum, not taught as a stand-alone unit.  Concepts are introduced, practiced, and applied immediately to solve problems.  Computation and numeracy are also a major focus.  Check, check, and check!

Learning Village at St. Anne's-Belfield School

Learning Village at St. Anne’s-Belfield School

Not all of the homeroom teachers were as enthusiastic as I was.  It was a daunting task convincing them that learning a new math curriculum, on the tails of learning a new writing curriculum, was a good thing.  St. Anne’s-Belfield’s Head of School, being the visionary that he is, saw an opportunity to not only implement a new math curriculum, but to change the way math instruction is delivered at the Lower School level.  If we were going to ask our teachers to become Singapore Math specialists, why not hire and train dedicated math teachers?  And that’s just what he did.  Four math teachers were hired to deliver math instruction and these dedicated math specialists would co-teach math with the homeroom teacher taking on a supporting role.  This had an added benefit of cutting our student to teacher ratio in half during math class.

With the faculty in place and the Primary Mathematics materials ordered, we set out to train our dedicated math teachers in Kindergarten through sixth grade.  We contracted with Cassy Turner, Singapore Math Specialist and Trainer to work with our math teachers for an intensive one-week boot camp.  We learned the ins and outs of mental math and the bar model.  We asked questions, practiced, collaborated, practiced, designed an implementation schedule, and practiced.  Cassy’s enthusiasm and extensive knowledge left us feeling confident to tackle the upcoming year.  We knew professional development was crucial to a successful implementation and with that in mind we continued our relationship with Cassy throughout the year.  She made three more trips to the school, observing and teaching lessons and providing her guidance to keep us on track.

Successes and Challenges

Fast forward to today.  We are now a year and a half into our implementation. Our students are stronger problem-solvers than ever before.  Their computational skills have shown marked improvement.  Their overall sense of number and place value has increased.  Our students are confident and persevere through challenging problems.

We have done a lot of things really well.  We understood and placed value on professional development.  This is not a curriculum that can be picked up and taught from the Teacher’s Guides.  Most teachers did not learn math the way that a Singapore Math curriculum is taught.  Training is key.  If not trained, teachers will revert to teaching math the way they learned it.  Having a successful plan for ongoing professional development is critical to a successful implementation.

We put value on mathematics instruction at the Lower School level.  We saw the need for math specialists and took a huge financial risk to improve our instruction.

We implemented the curriculum in Kindergarten through sixth grade.  We felt so strongly about the benefits of the curriculum that we knew that even one or two years of exposure would be better than none.  This has been one of the most challenging hurdles of our implementation.  We worked with Cassy to anticipate and develop a plan for “back-teaching” missing skills.   In grades three through six, this plan guided us through our first year and fortunately, Kindergarteners through second grade students benefited from needing very minimal “back-teaching.”  Developing a relationship with a knowledgeable Singapore Math consultant is crucial.

If there was an area for improvement, it was parent communication and education.  We hosted a parent night early into the school year to give parents an overview of the curriculum and a brief introduction to some of the components that are unique to Singapore Math.  That wasn’t enough.  Parents didn’t learn math the way their children were now learning it. The focus of Singapore Math is to develop conceptual understanding before learning the mathematical steps or procedures.  Parents need to understand and support the school in teaching math this way.  Parent education is not an option; it is a requirement of a successful implementation.  In our second year, we designed a plan for parent chats spread throughout the year with topics including fact practice, mental math strategies, and bar modeling as a tool for problem-solving.  Your professional development provider or consultant can assist you in designing a parent education program that meets the needs of your school.

Our journey continues and our students are stronger math students as a result.  The first year was clearly the most challenging.  Our commitment to professional development, perseverance, and acceptance of this unfamiliar approach to teaching math has guided us and we are confident that each passing year will continue to confirm the benefits of teaching a Singapore Math curriculum.

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Seeking Singapore Math training in Hawaii?

leiAre you a school on the Big Island  that would like to take part in a two day Singapore Math training? You don’t necessarily need to be using the curriculum, just interested in supplementing or using strategies from Singapore Math.

If so, I have a school that would like to pair with with you and share the costs. They’re looking to host the two-day session sometime from the last week of July through August 5th.  If that fits your schedule and plans, email Cassy (at) singaporemathsource.com and I’ll hook you up.

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Twin Cities’ Singapore Math Seminar – March 31

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The weather in Minnesota this winter has been brutal. In January alone,  schools were closed for several days due to extreme cold.

When schools close, other events for teachers are often cancelled, too. This was the case on January 27 when my Minneapolis BER seminar, “How to Use the Best Strategies From Singapore Mathematics to Strengthen Your Math Instruction,” was postponed.

If you were unable to attend in January, good news! My introductory seminar on math strategies from Singapore is now scheduled for Monday, March 31.

If you are interested in learning more about Singapore’s renowned primary mathematics program, plan to attend this full-day, hands-on event in the Twin Cities. From the brochure:

Specifically designed for teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade, this exciting seminar presents an introduction to math strategies from Singapore that will change your approach to teaching mathematics and greatly enhance your students’ achievement.

A detailed description and registration information is available here.

If you are interested in bringing me to your school or district, please complete the form here or send me an email: Cassy (at) SingaporeMathSource (dot) com.

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Save the Date! Singapore Mathematics 2014 Seminars

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Here are the 2014 dates for my BER  seminars “How to Use the Best Strategies from Singapore Mathematics to Strengthen your Math Instruction”  and  “Boost Students’ Math Problem Solving Skills Using Singapore Model Drawing” 

Specific locations and registration information available through March. I’ll update this post when the April and May dates are available. Now available!

Current 2014 dates – “How to Use the Best Strategies From Singapore Mathematics to Strengthen Your Math Instruction” (BER)

This overview of Singapore Math® strategies will put your students on the road to success with number sense, computation and problem solving.  (Plus you a get a handy-dandy handbook!)

Current 2014 dates – “Boost Students’ Math Problem Solving Skills Using Singapore Model Drawing” (BER)
A whole day of problem solving with Singapore Bar Modeling PLUS that handbook for your own home enjoyment!

Your city not on the list? Contact me and I can bring my Singapore Math® workshop(s) to your school or district – email Cassy (at) singaporemathsource.com
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Summer Singapore Math® Professional Development opportunities

Here are some recommended intensive programs available this summer focusing on Singapore Math. These events are especially helpful if a school is looking to enhance the knowledge of a Math Coach. ( I’ll be presenting on developing a Math Coach at the National Conference for Singapore Math Strategies – See below)

If your school is considering sending more than three or four teachers to one of these programs, you may find it’s more cost-effective and powerful to provide customized professional development for your entire school!


Bolles School 2013 Summer M4thodology Workshop

Grades K-2: June 17-19, 2013
Grades 3-6: June 19-21, 2013
The Bolles School
Jacksonville, FL
$695 per session

Instructors are Dr. Yeap Ban Har and Sarah Schaefer.


Singapore Math – Number and Operations Institute

June 24-27, 2013
Worcester State University
Worcester, MA
$700 (Plus get housing on campus for $25/night)

Course Instructor: Dr. Richard Bisk

The primary goal of this institute is to deepen your understanding of the math you teach, regardless of whether you plan to use the Singapore books as your primary texts.

Singapore Math Summer Institute – Where Content Meets Pedagogy

July 10-12, 2013
Worcester State University
Worcester, MA

Details coming soon.

Singapore Math conference Las Vegas 2013

2013 National Conference on Singapore Math Strategies

July 15-19, 2013
The Venetian/The Palazzo Resort
Las Vegas, NV
$769 for four days with discounts for multiple attendees from the same school. One, two, and three day options available.

Almost three dozen presenters (!), including Dr. Yeap Ban Har, Dan Meyer, Ron Clark, and yours truly, Cassy Turner.

My sessions are aimed at K-6 Administrators and include:

  • You’ve Adopted Singapore Math, Now What?
  • Making Math Assessment Meaningful
  • What Happening Here? What an Administrator Should see in a classroom using Singapore Math
  • Developing an In-House Singapore Math “Go-To” Expert

Singapore Math and Lesson Study Summer Institute

iSingaporeMath (dot) com

August 26 – 29, 2013
Briarciff Manor School District
Briarcliff Manor, NY
$169/per day or $676 for all four

Choose one, two, three, or all four days of this intensive institute with Bill Jackson and Dr. Makoto Yoshida.


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