Throwback Thursday – “Summer Math” Suggestions to Boost Student Understanding

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. All of these options are still on offer. Let us know if you have used one of these or something else to counteract the typical “summer brain drain”.

When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

“Summer Math” Suggestions to Boost Student Understanding

Originally published 6/23/2016

School is out and summer is calling, but for many teachers and administrators, summer is a time to take stock and plan and budget for next year.

As a teacher, this is a glorious time of year, but also one of worry. I worry about my students.  I worry about those who needed extra support throughout the year understanding and retaining math concepts.  How will they fare next school year? Will they regress over the summer months if they don’t do any math work?

There are three categories of students who benefit most from summer math work:

  • Those who have struggled all year and maybe never quite achieved mastery on those critical grade level concepts,
  • those who easily forget concepts, and
  • those whose math confidence could use a boost.

With a Singapore Math program, there aren’t many ready-made options to pick up at the local bookstore.  Books that are available focus heavily on procedural understanding rather than underlying math concepts. So what’s a teacher to do?

Aside from recommending tutoring, I have found a couple of options that seem to meet my needs as a teacher and the needs of my students.

Workbook Work

Primary Mathematics Common Core Extra Prac 3

For those looking for a paper and pencil option, I recommend the Extra Practice books from Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics series. Students should work at the grade level just completed (a rising 3rd-grade student should do summer work in the 2nd grade Extra Practice book).

The Extra Practice books offer parents and/or tutors “Friendly Notes” at the beginning of each unit that explain how to re-teach concepts in a way that is familiar to the student.  The notes are followed by practice pages that give parents sample problems appropriate for practicing the concepts and the student an option of working through problems independently.  Best of all, they include an answer key in the back so parents can check work and students can re-work problems, if necessary.

These books are written to cover a year’s worth of concepts; I am by no means suggesting that a child complete the entire book over the summer.  Teachers recommending this book will need to tailor the tasks to meet each student’s needs.  This can be as simple as highlighting the contents page to include units or pages that you would like the student to complete over the summer keeping those critical concepts in mind.

Another option for summer work can be found in online programs.  I have come across three online options for concept practice; Primary Math Digital, it’s twin Math Buddies and a program new to the US market, Matholia.

Online Options

Primary_Digital_Coming_Soon_Home_SchoolPrimary Math Digital (Free 15-day trial) and Math Buddies (Also a free trial) are backed by Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics and Math in Focus series. Both offer students video tutorials that can be viewed by the student (and parent) an unlimited number of times.  These videos are scaffolded to follow the pictorial and abstract progression of learning.

Teachers can assign videos, practice and assessment tasks fMath Buddiesor students to complete over the summer at their own pace.  The practice pages can be a little challenging to navigate, but with some initial guidance, students should be able to complete the tasks independently.

Both programs require the school to purchase annual student and/or teacher accounts to gain access to the library of lessons. There are Homeschool accounts available. Expect a price tag of around $30 per student depending on the number of accounts purchased.

matholia logoAnother, more affordable option new to the US market is Matholia. Matholia was developed by two teachers from Singapore and has been used by teachers and students in Singapore as well as several other countries. This program also includes a library of video tutorials, practice and assessment tasks as well as fact fluency tasks and games.

The videos are easy to understand and are also strategically scaffolded for student understanding. The practice and assessment tasks are intuitive and easy for students to navigate. As with the other programs, teachers can assign tasks for students to complete over the summer.

Matholia also requires the school to purchase annual student accounts (teacher accounts are free) but is much more affordable at just $8 per student.

Don’t forget the concrete…

I can’t go without saying that any of these options will give students practice, but struggling students need more than just extra practice working through math problems.  They need more time in the concrete phase of learning using manipulatives; base-ten blocks, place value chips, model building with connecting cubes or paper strips, fraction strips or circles, etc.  So, please, consider not only sending these students home with books and login IDs but also with a bag of manipulatives for hands-on learning and practice.

Beach_of_Dreams_BeautifulNow…back to dreams of lazy mornings and time to relax and recharge.  Have a great summer and rest assured that your students will be prepared for the next grade with a little summer math work.


Throwback Thursday – Personal Whiteboards

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

Personal Whiteboards

Originally published 3/25/2009


In the post about Number Strings, I referred to a student’s “personal whiteboard”.  I use whiteboards throughout the day as a way of informally assessing students.

Instead of a store bought whiteboard, I prefer to provide students with a customized version.

  1. Start with a glossy page protector, a box of which can be purchased inexpensively on eBay or at Sam’s Club or Costco.
  2. Insert a brightly colored sheet of card stock. Cardstock makes the whiteboard a little sturdier and by using color on one side, I can instantly tell when the entire group of students is ready.
  3. Add appropriate pages. In the first grade, I might have a pre-made number bond page ready to go. When I’m teaching a lesson on adding or subtracting, I’ll insert a place value chart.

By keeping a classroom set of these on the shelf with the student textbooks, they would last an entire school year. Here are some printables to get you started:

You can find information on Alexandria Jones’ Pharaoh’s Treasure in the picture at Let’s Play Math.

These are also great for games and learning centers…

Sudoku, Kenken, Contig or

The Hex game:


Or any of the international logic games on the handouts page of this site.


Throwback Thursday: If I had a million dollars, ok $1000…

Over the summer, We thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

I updated the cost of the materials to current 2017 prices (in bold) for the US Edition of Primary Mathematics, which are higher but include shipping on orders over $50. That puts us over the original $1000 threshold, but not bad…

For students that struggle, I would now recommend a recently published series: Visible Thinking in Mathematics with A & B titles at most grade levels that run from $12.80 to $14 each.

If I had a million dollars, ok $1000…

Originally published 6/20/2013

Recently, I received a question from an excited teacher who had just received a grant to spend on her classroom: “If you had a $1000 dollar grant and taught second grade, what would be the most important pieces of Singapore Math you’d buy?”

If I had a million dollars, ok $1000… here are two scenarios.

#1 Using the curriculum in 2nd grade as your main curriculum

  1. A classroom set of the 1B & 2A textbooks @ $9.00 each, so if you had 24 students + 1 for teacher: 25 x $18 = $450     ($735)
  2. Possibly a set of the 2B textbooks: 25 x $9 = $225     ($367.50)
  3. A Teacher Manual for 1B, 2A & 2B: 3 x $21 = $63     ($88.50)
  4. A workbook for reference and problem ideas for 1B, 2A & 2B = 3 x $9 = $27     ($44.10)
  5. Challenging Word problems level 1 & 2: 2 x $8.50 = $17.00     ($29.40)
  6. Intensive Practice: 1B, 2A & 2B: 3 x $8.80 = $26.40     ($38.40)
  7. Process Skills in Problem Solving L2: $10.70     ($12.80) 
  8. Math Sprints Masters, Levels 1 & 2: 2 x $31 =$62     ($68)
  9. Elementary Mathematics for Teachers by Parker & Baldridge: $29     ($33)
  10. Place Value Strips: $12.50     ( $13.95)

That’s $625.80 (Currently: $1430.65 including shipping)

I’d spend the rest on linking cubes, base-10 blocks, place value disks or other manipulatives and containers to keep them organized.

Keep in mind that for Number Disks/Place Value Disks you’ll need about 20 each of ones, tens and hundreds disks per student or pair of students sharing. Many companies sell these:

Place Value Disks, 100 Ones DisksPlace Value Disks, 100 Ones Disks

Place Value Disks - 100 Tens DisksPlace Value Disks – 100 Tens Disks

Place Value Disks (1-3): HundredsPlace Value Disks – 100 Hundreds Disks

#2 Using Singapore Math to Supplement another core curriculum:

  1. Start a library at your school with one set of the textbooks and workbooks for every grade level at the school as reference (4 per grade level)  x $9.00 each book – k-6 would be $36 x 7, k-5 would be $36 x 6    ($14.70 x 4 per grade level for grades 1 – 4  and $15 x 4 for grades 5 and 6)
  2. A Teacher Manual for each level:  $21 each book, 2 books per grade level = $42 per grade level     ($24.50 – $31.50 each)
  3. Challenging Word problems are $11 each and there are 6 levels (1-6)    ($14.80 and $15.20)
  4. Process Skills in Problem Solving vary in cost from $10.20 to $12.80 – levels 1-6   ($12.80 – $14.80)
  5. SpeedMaths Level 1 – 4: $8.20 each (no higher than level 4!) ($12.80)
  6. Math Sprints Masters, Levels 1 -5: 5 x $31    ($34)
  7. Elementary Mathematics for Teachers by Parker & Baldridge: $29 several copies for staff ($33)
  8. The Singapore Model Method for Learning Mathematics: $29 for grades 5 & up ($32)
  9. Teaching of Whole Numbers by Dr Yeap Ban Har, Singapore’s renowned math educator, $30.50     ($32)
  10. Bar Modeling A Problem-solving Tool also by by Dr Yeap Ban Har, for lower elementary. $30.50     ($32)
  11. Place Value Disks: get plenty of ones, tens and hundreds. $15.95 per 100 disks     ($7.95 per 100 disks)
  12. Place Value Strips: $12.50 and other manipulatives (if you don’t already have them on campus).    ($13.95)

What did I miss? Are there any books or tools that you consider “must-haves” in your Singapore Math classroom?


Throwback Thursday: Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

Originally published 9/3/2014

I get LOTS of questions from teachers and administrators with questions about the Singapore Math® program. Recently, several fellow trainers have reached out to seek my advice (Wow!). One asked:

What would you are say the biggest 10 things to consider when using/implementing a Singapore Math curriculum?

Here’s my response. Did I miss anything?

Top 10 Tips for Using the Singapore Math® Curriculum

1. This isn’t the math most of us were raised on. It looks different and teachers cannot rely on their knowledge of themselves as elementary students. As such, the Teacher’s Guide is your math bible. You don’t have to read the lessons out loud as you teach, but you need to follow the sequence and pedagogy.

2. And that pedagogy includes Concrete, Pictorial, AND Abstract. Teachers are usually darned good at the abstract but above grade 2, not so hot with the concrete and pictorial. Yes, I know your students can solve the 3rd-grade word problems without the pictorial bar model, but if you don’t teach the bar model with content they know, you certainly can’t do it with content they don’t know.

3. Placement tests assess content knowledge. Keep in mind that a score below 80% on the Placement tests does not mean a student is not bright or capable – it does mean that they haven’t been taught the content yet. The Primary Mathematics materials are generally one year ahead of current U.S. materials and even bright students can’t just skip a year of content and expect to be successful.

4. When teaching Concretely, the SmartBoard is not enough. Students must actually use the manipulatives. Yes, they can work with partners, but students must use them, not just the teacher. Buy or make place value disks for whole numbers and decimals if you want your students to understand the content.

5. The equations are written horizontally to de-emphasize the process (that algorithm you’re so good at!) and focus on Number Sense. These mental math strategies are challenging for teachers as they were usually taught procedures only. Expect to practice the strategies yourself. Embrace the mental math!

6. Textbooks are not a curriculum. The teacher is the most important component of the curriculum. If you don’t understand the math in a lesson, how will the students? Read the Teacher’s Guide and prepare lessons. (See #1 – and below)

7. Get your own copy of the workbooks and work every problem as you expect the students to work them. It’s true that the Teacher’s Guides have the answers. You need the solutions to know if a student’s thought process is on target. In Singapore, 50% of elementary teachers have a 2-year degree – they aren’t math specialists either! The textbooks are designed to help teach teachers the math they need to know. (Same with any placement test you give: you work the problems first.)

8. Follow the maxim: Go slow to go fast. All teachers do not have to be on the exact same lesson at the exact same time. Sometimes you need to slow down and ensure that your students are understanding the content. In grades 2-4 it seems as though it takes f o r e v e r to get through the “A” books. Then applying the skills mastered in the “B” books is a breeze. (In Kindergarten and Grade 1, the “B” book will slow students down. In Grade 5, the books seem more evenly paced) Knowing what your students know and can do means you must be constantly informally assessing your students.

9. Rethink your Home Enjoyment. One big difference between the Singaporean and U.S. cultures is on the emphasis of mastering basic facts. Parents in Singapore believe it’s their job to do this. In the U.S.? Well, it’s the schools’ job. Just as we expect students to read very night to improve their reading fluency, so too should they practice math facts every night to improve fact fluency.

10. This isn’t your parents’ math either! (See #1) Many schools hold a Singapore Math night to introduce the new curriculum to the parents. Share with parents how the curriculum differs from what they’ve seen before, samples of the materials, some strategies, a couple of word problems and you’ll fend off weeks of questions and email.


Make Summer Practice Fun With Games!

Congratulations! You are in the final stretch of the school year. Teachers, students, and parents are feeling excited about the carefree summer months ahead and potentially anxious about keeping students’ math skills fresh.

You will inevitably receive inquiries from parents asking how they can help their children over break.

When given the choice, rarely will a child choose to do paper-pencil workbook work over playing a game. These student-approved games require minimal materials and are easy to play at home.  They promote number sense and fluency and, as an added bonus, kids love to play them!

What should students practice?

Following is a list of skills to practice for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Because the skills build, a student should practice the skills from the grade level just completed and the grade level below. Students in 4th grade and above would also benefit from practicing all the skills listed.

  • Kindergarten: Number combinations to make 10
  • First Grade: Recall from memory addition and subtraction within 20, addition and subtraction within and up to 100 using mental math strategies.
  • Second Grade: Recall from memory multiplication and division facts for 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10.
  • Third Grade: Recall from memory multiplication and division facts for 6, 7, 8 and 9, 2-digit by 1-digit multiplication, division of a 2-digit number by a 1-digit number

What should parents have on hand to make math fun over the summer?

All you need to play the games below is a deck of cards! (Dice are good, too.)

What could students play?

Here are three of our favorite games.  All can be adapted to practice across grade levels.


Number of players: 2 (more for a challenge)
Materials: None
This game resembles Rock-Paper-Scissors.  When players say “Math!” each shoots out 1-5 fingers on one hand. The first player to find the sum of both
their fingers and their partner’s fingers wins the round. For example, I shoot out 3 fingers and my partner shoots out 5 fingers. The first to say 8 wins.


  • Use both hands to add up to 20
  • Use one hand and multiply the fingers for facts up to 5 x 5. For example, I shoot out 3 fingers and my partner shoots out 5 fingers. The first to say 15 wins.
  • Use 2 hands and multiply for facts up to 10 x 10.
  • Play with more players to add or multiply multiple numbers for a challenge


Number of players: 3 (more for a challenge)
Materials: Deck of cards with face cards removed, ace is 1
Split the deck in half and give each pile to 2 of the players. The third player is the Caller.  When the Caller says, “Salute!” the players each flip a card from their pile and place it on their forehead to salute each other.  Each player can see the others card, but not their own. The Caller tells them the sum of the 2 players cards. The first player to tell the number of their own card wins the round. Players can switch jobs after each round or when the pile of cards is depleted.


  • The Caller tells the product of the 2 players cards.
  • With 4 players (one Caller and 3 players) students can practice sums or products of 3 numbers.
  • Need more challenge? In the picture, the Caller has squared our numbers before adding them together and Melanie and Cassy are trying to find their own number.

Greatest Sum!

Players: 2 or more
Material: Deck of cards with face cards and 10 removed, ace is 1

This game is played like the card game of War. Shuffle the deck and place it in the center.  Each player chooses 2 cards off the top of the deck and finds the sum of their cards. The player with the greatest sum wins the cards for the round. Play continues until the deck is depleted or until time is called. This game is great for practicing mental math strategies, but can also be used to practice traditional algorithms with paper and pencil (see the variations).


  • Players choose 2 cards and find the difference. The player with the smallest difference wins.
  • Players choose 2 cards and find the product. Greatest product wins.
  • Each player chooses 3 cards and creates a 2-digit and a 1-digit number and finds the sum or difference. The player with the greatest sum or least difference is the winner.
  • Each player chooses 3 cards and creates a 2-digit and a 1-digit number and finds the product. The player with the greatest product is the winner.
  • Each player chooses 3 cards and creates a 2-digit and a 1-digit number and finds the quotient and remainder when the 2-digit number is divided by the 1-digit number. The player with the greatest remainder wins.
  • Each player chooses 4 cards and creates two 2-digit numbers and finds the sum or difference. The player with the greatest sum or least difference in the winner.

Adding the element of competition to practicing basic facts makes it more fun for all. Let us know if you have a favorite game you’d like to share.

Looking for more ideas? See: “Summer Math” Suggestions to Boost Student Understanding”