“Summer Math” Suggestions to Boost Student Understanding

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.


New Resources, New Workshops

Printable Math ResourcesOver the last ten years, I’ve collected a lot of materials that I love to use in the classroom. Teachers are always asking for new ideas and games so I’ve created a new page: Favorite Printable Math Resources. Feel free to email your favorites to be included on this page!



2016 dates for my BER seminar, “How to Use the Best Strategies from Singapore Mathematics to Strengthen your Math Instruction” have just been released. Updated with March dates on 10/14/2015!

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 comprehensive resource handbook to take back to your classroom!)

Want to see Cassy, but a city near you is not on this list? If so, complete the form on the Bring Cassy to my School/Area page or send her an email.


On the Topic of Math Sprints and Anxiety

Reflecting on my time at the two national math educator’s meetings, one interesting dichotomy appeared over timed fact tests. On the one side was Jo Boaler stating that timed tests are the root of math anxiety. Pushback came from others, most notably Greg Tang and Scott Baldridge pointing out that kids are timed in real life. They are put under pressure in real life. Students should learn from these experiences, not freak out over them.

It’s a powerful discussion: How do we get kids from fluency (I can use strategies to solve 7 x 8) to automaticity (I just know 7 x 8)? Do we need to get them to automaticity? Do timed tests create math anxiety? Is there spelling test anxiety? Should the key anxiety word be “test”, not “math”?

This conversation appeared recently on twitter after someone posted the “How to Give a Math Sprint” pdf from this site:

Yep, I’d be worried if kids who couldn’t make connections were timed, too.

I’m a proponent of Math Sprints; thoughtfully structured timed tests designed to practice one skill. Sprints are not your typical timed test. Students compete against themselves to improve the number of problems completed in one minute. Then the sprints are thrown away, not recorded in a grade book. They are practice. Period. And just one way to practice math facts.

Do Sprints harm students or cause math anxiety?

Not when administered correctly. I work with a school for students with ADHD and learning disabilities. Initially, teachers there said things like, “I can’t time my kids, they are slow processors”. It turns out that students at this school LOVE sprints. They can always improve by at least one problem on the second sprint. With all the content flying at them, practicing facts is one thing they can do and feel successful with.

Allison Coates runs the non-profit Math Walk Institute that works with schools and students to build a bridge to Algebra.

In every school we’ve ever worked, nearly all students enjoy sprints. They don’t see them as tests if the teacher doesn’t present them as tests. They see them as another fun game they can play against themselves (or against the teacher). Practice makes permanent their knowledge, and students love knowing they have knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Are Sprints from Singapore?

Nope. Sprints were created by Dr. Yoram Sagher as a fluency program to work with any curriculum. I’ve considered them a way to compensate for differences between Singapore and the U.S. In Singapore, parents drill fact fluency while schools teach the conceptual understanding. It’s not unusual for a first grader in Singapore to know all their math facts. It’s the school’s job to then get the understanding of multiplication into such a student. Contrast that with the U.S., where it is less likely that parents practice math facts at home with their child. Few American programs include a fluency component, often farming it out to the web or an iPad app.

Scott Baldridge has a great blog post on sprints: Fluency without Equivocation. I suggest you read it now.

My favorite Sprint books are Differentiated Math Sprints as they offer two difficulty levels with the same answers.

Eureka Math Sprints are aligned to Eureka Math (referenced in Scott Baldridge’s post above).

Wondering about the emphasis on math facts? Read: Why Mental Arithmetic Counts: Brain Activation during Single Digit Arithmetic Predicts High School Math Scores


Dispatches from 2015 National Math Educator Conferences

This week, I’m attending the 2015 Annual Meetings of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in Boston. I presented Strip Models, Tape Diagrams, and Bar Models, Oh My! at NCSM on Tuesday and will do a similar session at NCTM on Thursday. I’m excited to share some resources that are now available!

conceptua-logo New bar modeling tool! Conceptua Math has a beta version of their bar model tool available to review. Check it out at http://www.bit.ly/barmodeltool.
They welcome your feedback.

kakoomaGreg Tang has a fun fact automaticity practice app – and it’s a game! And there are iPad apps! Visit Greg Tang Math for Kakooma. Greg claims the record for the addition puzzle is 8 seconds, set by a student.

RodelRodel Foundation in Arizona has released a fabulous new book that schools will want in their library: Math Power: Simple Solutions for Mastering Math.  This handbook is full of visuals and is written in English and Spanish. Here’s a page chock full of great definitions and pictorial models:

Math Power

Handouts from my sessions:

NCSM: #232 Strip Models Tape Diagrams Bar Models Oh My!

NCTM: #126 Strip Models Tape Diagrams Bar Models Oh My!

NCTM: #494.3 Filling in Knowledge Gaps: Critical lessons across grade levels 1-3 for students in grades 4-6




Looking for the Best Singapore Math® Materials?

InformationOr resources to help students?

These new pages should help.

Every year, I respond to hundreds of inquiries from teachers, administrators and parents seeking more information about the Singapore Math curriculum.

Some want to learn more about Math from Singapore and why it is so successful. Others are looking for specific resources to use in the classroom or for home enjoyment. Others still are seeking to a higher level of knowledge so they can be more effective math coaches or trainers.

I’ve added three new pages to Singapore Math Source to steer you to the best available books for a variety of needs:

Singapore Math® Editions – at a GlanceWhich series should I buy? See all your options.

Best Books to Support Singapore Math in the ClassroomSupplemental books for use with students.

Best Books for Grown-Ups Wanting to Learn Singapore Math: Title says it all, doesn’t it?

-Image via Indexed