Throwback Thursday – Direct from the classroom: Challenges & Successes with Singapore Math implementations

For our final post this summer, we thought it would be interesting to look at other challenges schools face in their adoptions. 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!

Direct from the classroom: Challenges & Successes with Singapore Math implementations

Originally published 12/1/2012

Some teacher challenges & successes with Singapore math one year or three months after adopting the program are below. Click to see larger images.

During follow-up in-services, I like to have teachers meet in grade level groups and spend time discussing the challenges and successes they have had thus far with their teaching of Singapore Math. Each grade level is then asked to list these challenges and successes on a poster and share with the group as a whole. This allows us time to compare and share lessons from the content fresh on their minds.

There is so much challenge the first year when implementing a new curriculum, it’s helpful to take a few moments to reflect on how many successes the teachers and students have had. These posters then guide subsequent teacher learning as we focus on the concepts that they are finding challenging.





Throwback Thursday – Journaling in the Singapore Math Classroom

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. Journaling in math class has become quite popular. We’d love to hear your successes or challenges with math journals!

Journaling in the Singapore Math Classroom

Originally published 10/13/2016

Communicating mathematically is a critical skill and goal for all of our students to reach by the end of middle school. In fact, Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practices, MP3, states that students will, “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of other.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Education would tell you that there’s nothing Singaporean about Singapore math.  When developing their highly successful math curriculum, they took theory and ideas from mathematicians and educational theorists around the world and put them into action.

What should a math journal look like?

I have attended many workshops and make-and-take sessions on planning and preparing for student math journals.  Many have focused on setting up the student journal with a contents page and tabs to divide the journal into “notes,” “vocabulary” and “practice problem” sections.  While this will create a journal that looks really nice, what I have found to be most effective (and one that I actually use in the classroom) is taking a simple composition or spiral bound notebook and beginning on the first page.  Students make their first journal entry of the school year on page one and continue with entries on subsequent pages. Less is more!

Here’s what a journal entry page might look like:


The journal entry number just grows as the year progresses.  We might come up with the title as a class, or students can create their own.  The problem in the problem box can be copied by students or printed out for students to paste in their journals.

What should students put into journals?

There are four basic types of journal entries; investigative, descriptive, evaluative and creative.

Investigative: Students explore a new concept, solve a problem and make connections to prior learning.

  • Example: Three friends share a sleeve of cookies.  Each sleeve holds 32 cookies.  If each friend eats ¼ of the sleeve, how many cookies do they eat altogether?

Descriptive: Students describe or explain a concept or mathematical vocabulary.

  • Example: Use pictures, numbers and/or words to explain a polygon.

Evaluative: Students argue for or against a strategy or solution to explain why they think an answer is right or wrong, explain their choice of strategies or justify the most efficient strategy.

  • Example: Which of the strategies discussed in class today would you use to solve 245 – 97?  Why?

Creative: Students write their own word problem or create their own number puzzle.

  • Example:  The answer is 465 lbs.  What’s the question?

Here’s a sample student  journal page (click on image to enlarge):


When should I ask students to make journal entries?

Journaling can be a very effective tool to develop communication skills in your students.  Depending on the type of entry, you could incorporate journaling into many parts of your math day.  Open a class with an investigative entry to engage students.  Consolidate learning and reflect on thinking with a mid-lesson descriptive or evaluative entry.  Enrich students with a creative entry for early finishers of independent practice.

The benefit of journaling for the teacher is it provides a concrete formative assessment.  By evaluating student responses, you can determine their readiness to handle a new task and check for understanding of concepts.  Student journals also provide a great launching point for discussion at parent-teacher conferences.


Check out a resource from a previous post: Singapore Math and Math Journal Writing

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: 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.

Throwback Thursday! Successful implementation: Buying books is just the first step

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!

Successful implementation: Buying books is just the first step

Originally published 12/17/2010

Schools considering Singapore Math programs in their schools frequently ask me what the biggest challenges are when adopting the curriculum. Let me give you an example from a third-grade classroom I visited recently.

The math period started with a mad math minute type of activity of either addition or subtraction, depending on where the students were working.  For the lessons on multiplication and division by 8’s and 9’s, the teacher chose to list the tables from 8 x 2 through 9 x 9 on the whiteboard and have the students copy them down, like this:

Next, the teacher had the students make flash cards and quiz each other.  Finally, in a class of 27, they played around the world. The game where two students compete against each other to see who can get the answer to the problem on the flash card faster.

The lesson in the textbook does include some multiplication charts. The textbook was open on the teacher’s desk and she did refer to it at least once during the lesson:

Primary Mathematics 3A Textbook, U.S. Edition:

Notice how the textbook draws out a student’s prior knowledge to show the patterns behind the computation?

The 3A Teacher’s Guide includes a more comprehensive lesson based on a deeper understanding of the number 8 and it’s multiples. I couldn’t find the Teacher’s Guide in the room.

(Click to enlarge)

Can you see the difference in the depth of a student’s understanding after the Primary Mathematics lesson?

Note that the subsequent three lessons are:

  • Multiplying a 2 or 3 digit number by 8.
  • Dividing a 2 or 3 digit number by 8.
  • Word problems that require multiplying and dividing by 8.

The sequence of lessons follows the same pattern for the number 9.

When I asked the teacher about the lesson, she essentially said, “Well, I didn’t think to look at the teacher’s guide. I’ve always taught this way.” She’s new to the school and only had about 2 hours of training.

Back to the original question. One of the biggest challenges for schools adopting the Singapore Math curriculum is the need for adequate training. If teachers don’t understand what makes Singapore different or if they lack content knowledge,  they’ll continue to teach the way they always have. Effective training will give teachers an understanding of Singapore Math’s philosophy and approach and leave them with confidence in their ability to teach it.

Buying the curriculum is the first step. Successful schools invest in content-based training.