Archive for May, 2011

Which Singapore Math series should I use?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


Singapore Math is a rising trend in math education in schools and with homeschoolers, for the simple reason that it works. As an experienced Singapore Math teacher and trainer, I often get the question, “Which Singapore Math series should I use?” This question is posed by both teachers and homeschooling parents, and as more series enter the market, the choice becomes more challenging. In this article, I will present the pros and cons of each current series as I see them. Please feel free to contribute your views in the comments below.

Singapore Math, US Edition, published by Marshall-Cavendish:

This edition has been around the longest in the US. The main difference from the curriculum Singapore was using until recently is that this edition includes some additional problems using US measurements (feet, miles, pounds, etc.). This is the series that Singaporean students used when they scored highest on the TIMSS (international) test.

  • Short, focused textbooks and workbooks.
  • Clear graphics.
  • Emphasis on mental math.
  • Clear sequence from one book to the next.
  • Follows the best of the Singaporean teaching model.
  • Fits the Common Core State Standards well (see this article).
  • Decent Homeschooling Guide, from what I hear.


  • The measurement units don’t follow the Singaporean teaching model; that is, they don’t thoroughly teach one type of measurement before moving on to the next, rather mixing US and metric together. This can cause confusion in students.
  • For American teachers, teacher’s manual may be inadequate without further training.
  • Doesn’t come with assessments; I used the Practices and Reviews in the textbook for this.
  • Needs supplementation with math facts practice.
  • Children going from this edition to public school may be missing some subjects, but stronger in others.
  • Must be ordered online; shipping is high.

: This is my preferred series despite its shortcomings, which can be easily overcome with a little knowhow and creativity.
Buy here:, Inc.

Singapore Math, Standards Edition, published by Marshall-Cavendish:

This edition was created to meet the California learning standards. It is more colorful than the US Edition and covers slightly different topics each year. A comparison chart showing the scope and sequence of the two is available here. This series has been approved by the California State Board of Education.

  • Designed like the US Edition, with most of the same pros.
  • Thorough Teacher’s Guide.
  • Comes with Assessments.
  • Decent Homeschooling Guide, from what I hear.


  • One of the strengths of the Singapore Math curriculum is its focus on mastery of fewer subjects per year. This edition repeats the mistake of many US-designed curricula by putting in too many subjects per year so there is less time for each.
  • Must be ordered online; shipping is high.

Overall: Recommended if the child is in California or the state has similar standards to meet.
Buy here:, Inc.

Math in Focus
, distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

This series is new to the US market, and Houghton Mifflin has Americanized it, with the typical large-sized teacher guides, a variety of student books, and manipulatives, packaged in typical school bundles. I have seen the company at trade shows and looked at the materials there, and have requested samples, but none have been forthcoming, so I have not been able to test them out until now. I just discovered the online sampling website they provide, but it’s slow, and I can’t try it out with my students. So while I have been able to see the series to some extent, this review is less in depth than others.


  • Easiest for US public school teachers to adapt to, with explicit guides and scripts.
  • Flows better to the middle school/high school Singapore curricula.
  • Wide variety of differentiation options.


  • Expensive.
  • Scores in Singapore went down after they implemented this program.
  • Less emphasis on mental math.
  • Books are larger with more complicated/busier graphics, potentially distracting from the learning process. I like the drawings, but combining them with photos can be confusing.

Overall: Recommended for teachers who don’t have prior experience using Singapore Math. For those who do, I need more experience with this program to recommend it or not, but I would stick with the US Edition for now. Homeschooling parents are better off with one of the series from
Buy here: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Singapore Math Practice
, published by Frank Schaffer Publications:

This series appeared in bookstores a year or two ago, and I made a beeline to it with interest. I put it down almost immediately, though. It appears to capitalize on the popularity of Singapore Math without a thorough understanding of its best principles and practices.

  • Readily available in bookstores
  • May provide extra practice in addition to using one of the other series, but use with caution.


  • Promotes the use of calculators too early, a big no-no in my book.
  • Problems have mistakes and are not well designed.

Buy here: or in bookstores like Barnes & Noble

Video: MSNBC Report on Singapore Math Model Drawing

Monday, May 9th, 2011


MSNBC ran a piece on May 3 about third-grade students learning math using Singapore Math. This report outlines the importance of model drawing for problem solving, and of parent understanding to be on board with it.

The report is well done, except it gives the mistaken impression that the only thing that makes Singapore Math unique is the model drawing approach. I used to think that too, but now I know better; developing number bond-based numeracy is at least as essential, as are other elements of the curriculum.

View the video below:

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Lessons from the Garden: Different Seeds Sprout at Different Times

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011


Like so many others, I am compelled to plant seeds for a garden when spring scents warm the air. This year I will grow a variety of vegetables in a raised bed I plan to construct out of mostly found materials from a nearby beach.

To start the process, I planted some seeds in an eggshell planter. I saved eggshells from breakfast eggs, poked holes in the bottoms, filled them with soil, added seeds, and put them in the egg carton to sprout.

bin with sprouts

In just a few days, a whole group of seeds turned into fast-growing seedlings that had to be transplanted as soon as possible. These are now growing in their temporary planter made from a bin found on the beach.

Other seeds are just now springing up, and yet other eggshells look quite devoid of life for now. The different plants have different timings. Am I worried? Do I fret? Of course not, and if I did, my seed packages would comfort me with messages like, “Days to germinate: 12-28 days.” It’s fine, it’s normal, it’s nothing to worry about. Some seeds are little race cars to the sun, while others are more relaxed, laid back, and “zen” about the whole thing.

egg with sprouteggnogrowth

But what about when it comes to our children? In his recent Differentiation Strategies workshop, Jim Grant said something that stuck in my mind. He said that each child learns to crawl at her own pace, to speak, to walk, to draw, to dance, and everything else. There are developmental milestones, but no fixed criteria. Yet when it comes to school tie, our “standard” for admission is simply five birthday candles on the birthday cake, with very little or no flexibility in timing.

No wonder standardized testing has so many problems. It’s like taking a bunch of seeds from different vegetables and trying to sow and harvest them at exactly the same time. Some will be perfectly ripe, but most will be just flowering or else rotting on the vine.

A good school system would be like a good gardener: able to treat the different children like the different seeds they are, planting them in the correct educational environment (soil) at the right age (season) for that person, and giving them the knowledge and experiences (fertilizer) they need to grow. What we would lose in institutional efficiency in admitting students, we would gain in collective intelligence, confidence and empowerment. Can it happen?


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