Singapore Math and Math Journal Writing

Out in Left Field posts a Math Problem of the Week comparing different curricula that schools use. Last week’s Riddles in 2nd Grade Investigations vs. Singapore Math and the ensuing comments brought up discussion on the value of writing in the mathematics classroom.  I picked up a book entitled: Journal Writing in the Mathematics Classroom (Primary) when I was in Singapore. It is written and published by professors at Singapore’s National Institute of Education.

Among the chapters listed:

Why use Journal Writing?

Journal writing reinforces the learning and provides pupils with opportunities to engage in reflection, question their own understanding, connect the abstract and the concrete, and apply the knowledge they have acquired to solve problems.

How to Carry Out Journal Writing?

This section starts with an this powerful statement about journal writing in the classroom:

Journal writing is a complex process that requires effort and patience.

The authors further suggest that these open-ended prompts encourage pupils to write about their opinions and feelings on mathematics. They have adapted and describe three types of general writing prompts:

1. Affective or Attitudinal (How do you feel?)

  • My best kept secret about math is …
  • If math could be a colour (shape, sound) it would be … because

2. Mathematical content (What is it about?)

  • How would you describe a …
  • What patterns do you notice in …

3. Process (Explain how!)

  • Find something that you learned today that is similar to something you already knew.
  • You know several ways to … Which method is you favourite? Why?

There is a list of 15 of each type of general writing prompt. The bulk of the book, however, focuses on specific writing prompts that are based on mathematical topics.

Possible Negative Aspects of Journal Writing

(Lessons learned the hard way when I was teaching!)

    a. The potential for the teacher to hurt pupil’s feelings.
    b. The loss of instructional time to teach syllabuses
    c. Tremendous increase in the marking load of the teacher.
    d. Emphasis on language proficiency

Scoring Rubrics and Student Examples

This section includes examples of two types of scoring rubrics: Analytic, which allows for separate evaluation of selected factors and Holistic, which can be used when teachers want to rate student responses more generally.

A Collection of Specific Writing Prompts

Finally, there are 55 specific writing prompts differentiated by grade level and topic. Topics include: Whole Numbers, Fractions, Decimals, Percentage, Ratio, Rate, Measurement, Geometry, Statistics and Algebra. Some examples:

Topic: Whole Numbers
Level: Primary 2 – 6

Write a word problem and make a picture that goes with 4 x 3.

Topic: Decimals
Level: Primary 4 – 6

Find two decimal numbers between 0.2 and 0.3. How many decimal numbers are there between 0.2 and 0.3? Explain.


Singapore Math Must-Know Word Problems

From publisher Frank Schaffer and Singapore Asian Publications comes a series of books: Singapore Math: 70 Must-Know Word Problems. From the back cover:

This book is designed to help students master word problems, which are often tricky and challenging…This book is perfect for students familiar with Singapore Math and for those who just need extra practice with word problems.

The 70 Must-Know Word Problems books are marked by levels that are considered a grade above for the U.S. market. For example, the Level 6 book claims to be appropriate for students in grade 7 and the Level 4 book is listed as appropriate for students in grade 5. If your child has been learning with Primary Mathematics and you’d like to pick up one of these workbooks, you should probably pick up the level that correlates to their current grade. Meaning, if your child is currently working their way through the Level 4 Primary Mathematics textbook, then the level 4 70 Must-Know Word Problems book will work as a supplement. The problems in the books are extra practice type problems, designed to give students similar to the ones in the Primary Mathematics textbooks. If you student is look for something harder, you might want to consider the Challenging Word Problems for Primary Mathematics series.

The 70 Must-Know series does not follow the Primary Mathematics lesson progression, the questions jump between concepts. Questions #3 and #47 in the Level 6 book, for example, are both on Volume. Question #2 & 5 cover the four operations with money  and Question #4 is on percentages, so you may need to verify that a topic has been covered in class if your planning on using the book at home. The books have little instruction, however they do include a four page Introduction to Singapore Math (be forewarned, it’s written in six-point font!). Each problem has its own full page for work and there are fully worked solutions included in the answer key.

Here’s Question #70 from the Level 4 book. It’s listed in the table of contents under “Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division of Whole Numbers”.

At a movie, 1/4 of the people in the theater were men, 5/8 were women and the rest were children. If there were 100 more women than children, what was the total number of people in the theater?

And Question # 48 from Level 6:

A box contained some red, blue, and green markers. For every 5 red markers, there were 2 blue markers. For every 3 blue markers, there were 5 green markers.

(a) Find the ratio of red markers to blue markers to green markers.

(b) When 6 red markers were removed from the box, 3/7 of the remaining markers were red markers. How many markers were left in the box?

Singapore Math: 70 Must-Know Word Problems was $12.99 at my local Barnes and Noble and Borders stores. The easy accessibility of these books make them great for parents looking for additional problems for their students. Teachers looking to use these materials in class need to keep on mind that these books may already be in their students’ homes!


i-Excel: Heuristic and Model Approach

From a discussion on the Well-Trained Mind Forums is a question about some the supplemental material available for the Primary Mathematics curriculum:

On the ( site there are some supplemental books I don’t recognize, but I can’t tell what they’re for–if they’re new-new or replacing-CWP-new

Math Works?
Math Express?
Brain Maths?

I wrote here about the MathExpress: Speed Maths Strategies.

i-Excel Heuristic and Model Approach (Update 2/2013 – Series going out of print and will be replaced with: Process Skills in Problem Solving)
Author: Li Fanglan
Published by Fan-Learning
Levels 1-6 available in the U.S. from

The i-Excel: Heuristic and Model Approach is a completely different type of workbook than the MathExpress series.  i-Excel books focus on problem solving. Can you deduce the meaning of “heuristics” based on the following description from the introduction?

At primary levels, Model Approach has been proven to be the most versatile and effective method to help pupils solve many difficult problems.Heuristic Approach, on the other hand, helps them handle the higher level problem solving by unconventional means.

Heuristic Approach

The first part of each book includes eight different Heuristic Approaches and then focuses on different Model Approaches based on topics taught at each level. Heuristic Approaches in Level 2 include the following:

  1. Guess and Check
  2. Act it Out
  3. Draw a Diagram I
  4. Make a List
  5. Look for a Pattern I
  6. Draw a Diagram II
  7. Draw a Diagram III
  8. Look for a Pattern II

Upper level Heuristic Approaches include: Simplify the Problem, Work Backwards, Make a Supposition, Solve Part of the Problem, Use Before-After Concept and Restate the Problem in Another Way. Each Heuristic Approach has a worked example, four or five practice problems and one more challenging problem to solve. (Some levels put these challenging problems into a separate unit.)
Here’s the challenge problem from Level 2 – Draw a Diagram II:

A pizza was cut into halves.
Jolene took one half and ate 2/3 of it.
a) What fraction of the pizza did she eat?
b) What fraction of the pizza was left?

Completed guided examples are included in the Answer Key at the end of this section. Make a note, however,  not all questions have worked solutions.

Model Approach

The second portion of the books works with the Model Approach as it applies to mathematical topics.

    • Levels 1-3 focus on applying the Model Approach with the four operations. They also have yellow, pink and blue rectangular stickers in the back of the book for students to use with the model drawing problems. These are important for students who are learning or struggling with drawing proportional bar models.
    • Level 4 has two parts consisting of 28 units on the Model Approach: Whole Numbers and Fractions. There is also a Part IV: Non-Routine Problems – Challenge Yourself 4.
    • Level 5 has sections on Whole Numbers, Fractions, Ratio, Decimals, and Percentage. Part VII includes 3 assessments.
    • Level 6 parts include ratio and Proportion, Percentage and Speed. The final section is entitled “Examination Practice”. Some of these problems are double starred for extra challenge.

Here’s an example of a ** problem from that unit:

Grace had a total of 120 red and blue pens in the ratio of 3:5. After she gave away an equal number of each type of pens, the number of red and blue pens left was in the ratio 3:8. How many pens did she give away altogether?

Good news if you’re scratching your head right now. All problems in Level 6 have detailed solutions worked in the answer key.

In the classroom

Most who have used Primary Mathematics would agree; the focus is on the bar model as the main problem solving strategy. The i-Excel series brings explicit instruction in additional problem solving strategies into the classroom. This is one of my favorite supplemental books to use with students. The challenge and variation makes it a favorite of students as well. I have incorporated the heuristics into a self-directed activity and have used the challenge problems for a “Problem of the Week”.

The Level 3 book includes a unit entitled “Act it Out” that became a great independent activity/group center. The example given is to use 10 coins to form the figure below. Moving only one coin at a time, what is the least number of moves to turn the shape upside down?

After working this example as a whole group activity, I could now have chips (coins) and new problems available in the classroom: as part of centers, as a substitute lesson plan, or for students to use as a quiet desk activity.

Have you used the i-Excel or Brain Maths series? Share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to know how the books have worked in a classroom or in your home.


MathExpress: Speed Maths Strategies

From a discussion on the Well-Trained Mind Forums comes a question about some the supplemental material available for the Primary Mathematics curriculum:

On the ( site there are some supplemental books I don’t recognize, but I can’t tell what they’re for–if they’re new-new or replacing-CWP-new

Math Works?
Math Express?
Brain Maths?

First, these aren’t replacing CWP (Challenging Word Problems series), but they are fun books that are great supplements for homeschooling families or classrooms.

MathExpress: Speed Maths Strategies
Author: Li Fanglan
Published by Fan-Learning
Levels 1-6 available in the U.S. from

I recommend MathExpress if you are interested in becoming faster and more fluent with mental mathematics. Book levels 1 – 3 focus on basic mental math strategies with the four operations. Beyond that level, if you’re using them with students, some of these approaches can start making math look like a series of algorithms to memorize or tricks. It’s important that students understand the reason why these “short-cuts” (as they are referred to in the books), make mathematical sense.

An example from Level 1- Express Strategy 13:

Can you get the answer in 10 seconds?
26 + 49 = ?
58 + 37  = ?

There is a visual & written solution for each problem on the next two pages. Here’s the first written solution:

1 and 49 make 50.
Rewrite 26 as 25 + 1.
Add 1 to 49 to get 50 before adding 25.

An example from Level 2 – Express Strategy 9:

Can you get the answer in 10 seconds?
342 – 190 = ?
237 – 172 = ?

Again,  there is a visual and written solution page for each problem. Here’s the first:

190 is 10 less than 200. Subtract 200 from 342 before adding 10.

After an explanation of the strategy, there is a page of practice, a page with two word problems and a Speed & Accuracy Test.

There are six volumes in the series:

Levels 1 and 2 include addition and subtraction.
Level 3 adds in multiplication and division.
Level 4 includes all four operations and decimals.
Level 5 has fractions and decimals.
Level 6 has strategies to check answers, percentages & advanced problem solving. Here are two 10-second problems from Level 6 and the first solution:

125 x 25 x 32
1/2 x 50 x 28 x 11

4 and 8 are factors of 32.
24 x 4 = 100 and 125 x 8 = 1000.
Multiply 25 by 4 and 125 x 8 before multiplying the two products.

Before working the solution to the second problem, the book provides this word problem:

A rectangular tank measuring 50 cm by 28 cm by 11 cm is half filled with water. Find the volume of water in the tank.

I highly recommend the upper level books for adults looking to improve their mental math abilities. I should also mention that the books have two diagnostic assessments at the back of the book, along with an Answer Key and Detailed Solutions. (You’ll find the solution to the 6th grade level problem above on 69.)

In the classroom

My students have so much fun working on these strategies. In a classroom, I’ve used these books with students AFTER concepts have been mastered to help students become faster with their mental computation. As an example, in a 3rd grade classroom, I would focus on the strategies in the Level 2 book for the first half of the year, then, depending on the students’ understanding of multiplication and division, I’d introduce some of the strategies from Level 3. These can conclude in wonderful mathematical conversations. Here’s an Express Strategy from Level 3 that should lead to an interesting discussion:

Can you get the answer in 10 seconds?
26 x 5 = ?
148 x 5 = ?

And the strategy:

2 fives = 10
Multiply 26 by 10 instead, then half the product.
26 x 5 = 26 x 10 ÷ 2

= 260 ÷ 2
= 130

I’ve used the i-Excel and Brain Maths series. I’ll post reviews on those also. If you’ve used these materials, please share how in the comments below. I’d love to know how they worked in a classroom or in your home.


Singapore Math – Old School

Old School claims to be Singapore’s #1 Primary School site. From the site:

Old School aims to be the premier resource for FREE educational material from Singapore, especially Singapore Math and Singapore Science. We have a large database of test questions and assessments and are always adding new content.

Currently, they offer test papers as well as the ability to take tests online in English, Mathematics and Science. Registering on the site allows you to track your progress on the online tests (usually the “A” part of each). Best of all, you can search the questions by topic and select questions with either a multiple choice or free-response format.

As an example, the Primary Four 2009 Mathematics page offers:

  • 3  Continual Assessment 1 tests
  • 4  Mid-Year Examination tests
  • 3  Continual Assessment 2 tests
  • 4 End Year Examination tests

That include the following topics (with the percentage of questions):

  • Angles (7%)
  • Area and Perimeter (8%)
  • Decimals (4%)
  • Factors and Multiples (6%)
  • Four Operations (22%)
  • Fractions (18%)
  • Geometry (2%)
  • Graphs (2%)
  • Measurement (7%)
  • Non-Standard Questions (6%)
  • Perpendicular and Parallel Lines (4%)

The majority of mathematics papers are a 2 out of 4 on the site’s scale of difficulty. There were some assessments with a difficulty rating of 1.

Here’s a problem from the 2009 Primary Four End Year Assessment for your enjoyment:

Fill in the missing number.

108 x 99 = 110 x 99 + 10 x 99 – ( ? ) x 99
  1. 8
  2. 2
  3. 12
  4. 228