What is Singapore Math? This is a question I get a lot, from friends, people on the plane, pretty much anyone with whom I discuss what I teach. It’s a broad topic, but I’ll try to cover it in a nutshell here.

Singapore Math is the curriculum for teaching math that was developed in Singapore. That’s the short answer.

Then comes the longer answer to the question, “Why do we care about a curriculum that was developed in Asia?”

Singapore, being a small island state with education among its top priorities, has developed a focused and effective curriculum for teaching math. This is borne out by test scores showing its efficacy in student performance. Not only does it work in Singapore, but as schools or teachers adopt its methods, either to supplement existing curricula or completely, they find that children’s understanding increases and their test scores rise as well.

Singapore Math is structured with some core fundamentals that work well. Its system of building from conceptual understanding to applying algorithms develops number sense far more effectively than starting with the algorithm. The model drawing approach to solving problems is innovative and unique, and it leads many adults to say, “If only I had been taught this way, math would have been so much easier!” The learning process naturally develops algebraic thinking; the curriculum is designed to build mastery from one year to the next, and lead the child to future success in more advanced math.

The US is in difficulty right now because so many adults have trouble with math, as do incoming college students (see article by Richard Bisk). I believe that making math education fun and effective, using methods like those in Singapore Math, is at least part of the answer.