Tag Archives: bar method

The Fake Bar Model Method

Recently, I was peeping at some postings on the Facebook PSLE Parents group, and I came across the following question:

Philip had 6 times as many stickers as Rick. After Philip had given 75 stickers to Rick, he had thrice as many stickers as Rick. How many stickers did they have altogether?

Here are two solutions that caught my attention to the above primary or grade 6 word problem.

Solution contributed by Izam Marwasi
Solution by Izam Marwasi
Solution by Jenny Tan
Solution by Jenny Tan

Pseudo-Bar Model Method?

Arguably, the solution by the first problem solver offered to parents looks algebraic, to say the least. Some of you may point out that the first part uses the “unitary method,” but it’s the second part that uses algebra. Fair, I can accept this argument.

Since formal algebra, in particular the solving of algebraic equations, isn’t taught in primary or grade six, did the contributor “mistake” his solution for some form of bar model solution, although no diagram was provided? It’s not uncommon to see a number of pseudo-bar model solutions on social media or on the Websites of tuition centers, when in fact, they are algebraic, with or without any model drawings.

Many parents, secondary school teachers, or tutors, who aren’t versed with the bar model method, subconsciously use the algebraic method, with a bar model, which on closer look, reveals that the mental processes are indeed algebraic. No doubt this would create confusion in the young minds, who haven’t been exposed to formal algebra.

Does the Second Solution Pay Lip Service to Design Thinking?

What do you make of the second solution? Did you get it on first reading? Do you think an average grade five or six student would understand the logic behind the model drawing? From a pedagogical standpoint, the second solution is anything but algebraic. Although it makes use of the bar model method, I wonder what proportion of parents and their children could grasp the workings, without some frustration or struggle.

One common valid complaint by both parents and teachers is that in most assessment (or supplementary) math books that promote bar modeling, even with worked-out solutions to these oft-brain-unfriendly word problems, they’re often clueless how the problem solver knew in the first place that the bar model ought to be presented in a certain way—it’s almost as if the author knew the answer, then worked backwards to construct the model.

Indeed, as math educators, in particular, math writers, we haven’t done a good job in this area in trying to make explicit the mental processes involved in constructing the model drawings. Failure to make sense of the bar models has created more anxiety and fear in the minds of many otherwise above-average math students and their oft-kiasu parents.

Poor Presentation Isn’t an Option

Like in advanced mathematics, the poor excuse is that we shouldn’t be doing math like we’re writing essays! No one is asking the problem solver or math writer to write essays or long-winded explanations. We’re only asking them to make their logic clear: a good presentation forces them to make their thinking clearer to others, and that would help them to avoid ambiguity. Pedantry and ambiguity, no; clarity and simplicity, yes!

Clear Writing Is Clear Thinking

It’s hard work to write well, or to present one’s solution unambiguously. But that’s no excuse that we can afford to be a poor writer, and not a good thinker. As math educators or contributors, we’ve an obligation to our readers to make our presentation as clear as possible. It’s not enough to present a half-baked solution, on the basis that the emphasis in solving a math problem is to get the correct answer, and not waste the time to write grammatically correct sentences or explanations.

I Am Not a Textbook Math Author, Why Bother to Be Precise?

As teachers, we dread about grading students’ ill-written solutions, because most of us don’t want to give them a zero for an incorrect answer. However, if we’re convinced based on their argument that they do know what they’re doing, or show mathematical understanding or maturity of the concepts being tested, then we’d only minus a few marks for careless computation.

Poorly constructed or ill-presented arguments, mathematical or otherwise, don’t make us look professional. Articulating the thinking processes of our logical arguments helps us to develop our intellectual maturity; and last but not least, it makes us become a better thinker—and a better writer, too.

© Yan Kow Cheong, November 1, 2017.

Singapore Math Books on the Bar Model Method

In recent years, because of the popularity of Singapore math books being promoted and used in many countries, suddenly local publishers seemed to have been hit by an aha! moment. They realized that it’s timely (or simply long overdue?) that they should come up with a general or pop book on the Singapore’s model (or bar) method for the lay public, especially among those green to the problem-solving visualization strategy.

Monograph à la Singapour

The first official title on the Singapore model method to hit the local shelves was one co-published by the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and Panpac Education, which the MOE christened a “monograph” to the surprise of those in academia. Thank God, they didn’t call it Principia Singapura!

The Singapore Model Method
A wallet-unfriendly title that focuses on the ABC of the Singapore’s problem-solving visualization strategy

This wallet-unfriendly—over-promise, under-deliver— title did fairly well, considering that it was the first official publication by the MOE to feature the merits of the Singapore’s model method to a lay audience. Half of the book over-praises the achievements of the MOE in reversing the declining math performance of local students in the seventies and eighties, almost indirectly attributing Singapore’s success in TIMMS and PISA to the model method, although there has never been any research whatsoever to suggest that there is a correlation between the use of the model method and students’ performances in international comparison studies.

Busy and stressed local parents and teachers are simply not interested in reading the first part of this “monograph”; they’re looking for some practical teaching strategies that could help them coach their kids, particularly in applying the model method to solving word problems. However, to their utter disappointment, they found out that assessment (or supplementary) math books featuring challenging word problems are a better choice in helping them master the problem-solving strategy, from the numerous graded worked examples and detailed (and often alternative) solutions provided—and most of them cost a fraction of the price of the “monograph.”

A Missed Opportunity for a Better Strategy

Not long after the MOE’s publication, the Singapore public was spoilt with another local title on the bar method. Unfortunately, the editorial team working on Bar Modeling then didn’t take advantage of the lack of breadth and depth of the MOE’s “monograph” to offer a better book in meeting the needs and desires of local parents and overseas math educators, especially those not versed with the bar model method.

Bar Modeling
Another wallet-unfriendly title that ill-prepares local parents and teachers to mastering the model, or bar, method in solving non-routine word problems

Based on some investigation and feedback why Dr. Yeap Ban Har didn’t seize the opportunity to publish a better book than the one co-published by the MOE, it sounds like Dr. Yap had submitted his manuscript one or two years prior to the MOE’s publication, but by the time his publisher realized that the MOE had released a [better?] book similar to theirs, they had little time to react (or maybe they just over-reacted to the untimely news?); as a result, they seemed to have only made some cosmetic changes to the original manuscript. Sounds like what we call in local educational publishing as an example of “editors sitting on the manuscript” for ages or years only to decide publishing it when a competitor has already beaten them to the finishing line.

This is really a missed opportunity, not to say,  a pity that the editorial team failed to leverage on the weaknesses or inadequacies of the MOE title to deliver a better book to a mathematically hungry audience, at an affordable price.

Is Another Bar Model Method Book Needed?

Early this year, we’re blessed with another title on the bar method, and this time round, it’s reasonably affordable, considering that the contents are familiar to most local teachers, tutors, and educated parents. This 96-page publication—no re-hashed Dr. Kho articles and authors’ detailed mathematical achievements—comprises four topics to showcase the use of the model method: Whole Numbers, Fractions, Ratio, and Percentage.

As in Dr. Yeap book, the questions unfortunately offer only one model drawing, which may give novices the impression that no alternative bar or model drawings are possible for a given question. The relatively easy questions would help local students gain confidence in solving routine word problems that lend themselves to the model method; however, self-motivated problem solvers would find themselves ill-equipped to solve non-routine questions that favor the visualization strategy.

In the preface, the authors emphasized some pedagogical or conceptual points about the model method, which are arguably debatable. For example, on page three, they wrote:

“In the teaching of algebra, teachers are encouraged to build on the Bar Model Method to help students and formulate equations when solving algebraic equations.”

Are we not supposed to wean students off the model method, as they start taking algebraic food for their mathematical diet? Of course, we want a smooth transition, or seamless process, that bridges the intuitive visual model method to the abstract algebraic method.

Who Invented the Model method?

Because one of the authors had previously worked with Dr. Kho Tek Hong, they mentioned that he was a “pioneer of the model method.” True, he was heading the team that made up of household names like Hector Chee and Sin Kwai Meng, among others, who helped promote the model method to teachers in the mid-eighties, but to claim that Dr. Kho was the originator or inventor of the bar method sounds like stretching the truth. Understandably, it’s not well-known that the so-called model method was already used by Russian or American math educators, decades before it was first unveiled among local math teachers.

I’ll elaborate more on this “acknowledgement” or “credit” matter in a future post—why the bar model method is “math baked in Singapore,” mixing recipes from China, US, Japan, Russia, and probably from a few others like Israel and UK.

Mathematical Problem Solving—The Bar Model Method
A wallet-friendlier book on the Singapore model method, but it fails to take advantage of the weaknesses of similar local and foreign titles on the bar method

Mr. Aden Gan‘s No-Frills Two-Book Series

Let me end with two local titles which I believe offer a more comprehensive treatment of the Singapore model method to laypersons, who just want to grasp the main concepts, and to start applying the visual strategy to solving word problems. I personally don’t know the author, nor do I have any vested interest in promoting these two books, but I think they’re so far the best value-for-money titles in the local market, which could empower both parents and teachers new to the model method to appreciate how powerful the problem-solving visualization strategy is in solving non-routine word problems.

A number of locals may feel uneasy in purchasing these two math books published by EPH, the publishing arm of Popular outlets, because EPH’s assessment math books are notoriously known to be editorially half-baked, and EPH every now and then churns out reprinted or rehashed titles whose contents are out of syllabus. However, my choice is still on these two wallet-friendly local books if you seriously want to learn some basics or mechanics on the Singapore model (or bar) method—and if editorial and artistic concerns are secondary to your elementary math education.

Singapore Model Method
A no-frills two-assessment-book series that gives you enough basic tools to solve a number of grades 5–6 non-routine questions


Curriculum Planning & Development Division Ministry of Education, Singapore (2009). The Singapore model method. Singapore: EPB Pan Pacific.

Gan, A. (2014). More model methods and advanced strategies for P5 and P6. Singapore: Educational Publishing House Pte. Ltd.

Gan, A. (2011). Upper primary maths model, methods, techniques and strategies. Singapore: Educational Publishing House Pte Ltd.

Lieu, Y. M. & Soo, V. L. (2014). Mathematical problem solving — The bar model method. Singapore: Scholastic Education International (Singapore) Private Limited.

© Yan Kow Cheong, August 5, 2014.

The Lighter Side of Singapore Math (Part 5)

Elementary Math from an Advanced Standpoint

A Grade 4 Question

Ken has 69 planks that are of standard size. He would need 5 such planks to make a bookshelf. What is the most number of bookshelves Ken can make?

Method 1

Let x be the number of bookshelves Ken can make.

5x ≤ 69
5x/5 ≤ 69/5
x ≤ 13 4/5

So the maximum whole number that satisfies the inequality x ≤ 13 4/5 is 13.

Hence the most number of bookshelves is 13.


Method 2

Using the floor function, the most number of bookshelves is ⎣69/5⎦ = 13.


A Grade Two Question

Verify that 2 × 2 = 4.

Basic hint: Use the FOIL method.
Intermediate hint: Use area.
Advanced hint: Use axioms (à la Whitehead and Russell)


Using the FOIL method

2 × 2
= (1 + 1) × (1 + 1)
= 1 × 1 + 1 × 1 + 1 × 1 + 1 × 1
= 1 + 1 + 1 + 1
= 4   QED


A Grade Four Question

A rectangular enclosure is 30 meters wide and 50 meters long. Calculate its area in square meters.




The My Pals Are Here Math Series

The My Pals Are Here series has been rumored to have been edited and ghostwritten by a hundred odd editors and freelancers in the last decade.

Lack of mathematical rigor was initially targeted against Dr. Fong Ho Kheong and his two co-authors by American profs in the first or/and second editions —probably by those who were “ghost advisors or consultants” for Everyday Math.


Deconstructing the Singapore Model Method

1. It’s a problem-solving strategy—a subset of the “Draw a diagram” strategy.

2. It’s a hybrid of China’s line method and Russia’s box (or US’s bar) method.

3. It’s the “Draw a diagram” strategy, which has attained a brand status in mathematics education circles.

4. It’s a problem-solving method that isn’t recommended for visually challenged or impaired learners.

5. It allows questions traditionally set at higher grades (using algebra) to be posed at lower grades (using bars).


Painless Singapore Math

Perhaps that’s how we’d promote Singapore math to an often-mathophobic audience!



A Singapore Ex-Minister’s Math Book


Dr. Yeo had the handwriting below depicted in his recreational math book, regarding his two granddaughters, Rebecca and Kathryn.




Yan, K. C. (2013). The lighter side of Singapore math (Part 4). December 2013. http://www.singaporemathplus.com/2013/12/the-lighter-side-of-singapore-math-part.html

Yeo, A. (2006). The pleasures of pi, e and other interesting numbers. Singapore: World Scientific.

© Yan Kow Cheong, December 30, 2013.

Hungry ghosts don’t do Singapore math

In Singapore, every year around this time, folks who believe in hungry ghosts celebrate the one-month-long “Hungry Ghost Festival” (also known as the “Seventh Month”). The Seventh Month is like an Asian equivalent of Halloween, extended to one month—just spookier.

If you think that these spiritual vagabonds encircling the island are mere fictions or imaginations of some superstitious or irrational local folks who have put their blind faith in them, you’re in for a shock. These evil spirits can drive the hell out of ghosts agnostics, including those who deny the existence of such spiritual beings.


Hell money superstitious [or innumerate] folks can buy for a few bucks to pacify the “hungry ghosts.”

During the fearful Seventh Month, devotees would put on hold major life decisions, be it about getting married, purchasing a house, or signing a business deal. If you belong to the rational type, there’s no better time in Singapore to tie the knot (albeit there’s no guarantee that all your guests would show up on your D-Day); in fact, you can get the best deal of the year if your wedding day also happens to fall on a Friday 13—an “unlucky date” in an “unlucky month.”

Problem solving in the Seventh Month

I have no statistical data of the number of math teachers, who are hardcore Seventh Month disciples, who would play it safe, by going on some “mathematical fast” or diet during this fearful “inaupicious month.” As for the rest of us, let’s not allow fear, irrationality, or superstition to paralyze us from indulging into some creative mathematical problem solving.

Let’s see how the following “ghost” word problem may be solved using the Stack Method, a commonly used problem-solving strategy, slowing gaining popularity among math educators outside Singapore (which has often proved to be as good as, if not better than, the bar method in a number of problem-situations).

During the annual one-month-long Hungry Ghost Festival, a devotee used 1/4 and $45 of the amount in his PayHell account to buy an e-book entitled That Place Called Hades. He then donated 1/3 and $3 of the remaining amount to an on-line mortuary, whose members help to intercede for long-lost wicked souls. In the end, his PayHell account showed that he only had $55 left. How much money did he have at first?

Try solving this, using the Singapore model, or bar, method, before peeking at the quick-and-dirty stack-method solutions below.


From the stack drawing,
2 units = 55 + 13 + 15 + 15 = 98
4 units = 2 × 98 = 196

He had $196 in his PayHell account at first.

Alternatively, we may represent the stack drawing as follows:


From the model drawing,
2 units = 15 + 15 + 13 + 55 = 98
4 units = 2 × 98 = 196

The devotee had $196 in his account at first.

Another way of solving the “ghost question” is depicted below.


From the stack drawing,
6u = 55 + 13 + 15 + 15 = 98
12u = 2 × 98 = 196

He had $196 in his PayHell account at first.

A prayerful exercise for the lost souls

Let me end with a “wicked problem” I initially included in Aha! Math, a recreational math title I wrote for elementary math students. My challenge to you is to solve this rate question, using the Singapore bar method; better still, what about using the stack method? Happy problem solving!


How would you use the model, or bar, method to solve this “wicked problem”?
Yan, K. C. (2006). Aha! math! Singapore: SNP Panpac Education. 
© Yan Kow Cheong, August 28, 2013.


A businessman won this “lucky” urn with a $488,888 bid at a recent Hungry Ghost Festival auction.

Problem Solving Made Difficult


The US edition of a grade 5 Singapore math supplementary title.

Recently, while revising a grade 5 supplementary book I wrote for Marshall Cavendish, I saw that other than the answer, there was no solution or hint provided to the following question.

If Ann gave $2 to Beth, Beth would have twice as much as Ann.
If Beth gave $2 to Ann, they would have the same amount of money.
How much did each person have?

Most grade 7 Singapore math textbooks and assessment books would normally carry a few of these typical word problems, whereby students are expected to use an algebraic method to solve them. For instance, using algebra, students would form two linear equations in x and y, before solving them by the elimination, or substitution, method. A pretty standard application of solving a pair of simultaneous linear equations, by an analytic method.

However, it’s not uncommon to see these types of word problems appearing in lower-grade supplementary titles, whereby students could solve them, using the Singapore model, or bar, method; and the Sakamoto method. In other words, these grade 7 and 8 questions could be solved by grade 5 and 6 students, using a non-algebraic method.

Algebra versus Model Drawing

Conceptually speaking, I think a grade 6 or 7 student who can solve the above word problem, using a model drawing, appears to exhibit a higher level of mathematical maturity than one who simply uses two variables to represent the unknowns, before forming two simultaneous linear equations to solve them. Of course, because the numbers in this question are relatively small, it’s not surprising to catch a number of average students relying on the trial-and-error method to find the answer.

Try to solve the question, using both algebra and a model; then compare the two methods of solution. Which one do you think demands a deeper or higher level of reasoning or thinking skills?

Depicted below is a model drawing of the above grade 5 word problem.


From the model drawing,

1 unit = 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 8
1 unit + 2 = 10
1 unit + 6 = 14

Ann had $10.
Beth had $14.

Generalizing the Problem

A minor change in the question, by altering the “number of times” Beth would have as much money as Ann, reveals an interesting pattern: the model drawing remains unchanged, except for the varying number of units that represent the same quantity.Here are two modified versions of the original grade 5 question.

If Ann gave $2 to Beth, Beth would have three times as much as Ann.

If Beth gave $2 to Ann, they would have the same amount of money.
How much did each person have?

Answer: Ann–$6; Beth–$10.

If Ann gave $2 to Beth, Beth would have five times as much as Ann.
If Beth gave $2 to Ann, they would have the same amount of money.
How much did each person have?

Answer: Ann–$4; Beth–$8.

From Problem Solving to Problem Posing

The two modified questions could serve as good practice for students to become skilled in model drawing, and to help them deduce numerical relationships confidently from them. Besides, they provide a good opportunity to challenge students to pose similar questions, by altering the “number of times” Beth would have as much money as Ann. Which numerical values would work, and what ones wouldn’t, in order for the model drawing to make sense, or for the question to remain solvable?


Let me end, by tickling you with another grade 5 question, similar to the previous three word problems.

If Ann gave $2 to Beth, Beth would have three times as much as Ann.
If Beth gave $2 to Ann, they would have twice as much money as Beth.
How much did each person have?

Answer: Ann–$4.40; Beth–$5.20.

How do you still use the model method to solve this slightly modified ratio question? Test it on your better students or colleagues! It’s slightly harder, because any obvious result isn’t easily deduced from the model drawing, as compared to the ones posed earlier on. Besides, unlike the three previous word problems whose answers are integers, this last problem has a decimal answer—it just doesn’t lend itself well to the guess-and-check strategy.

Share with us how your students or colleagues fare on this last question. Remember: No algebra allowed!

© Yan Kow Cheong, July 12, 2013.

The legitimacy of the bar method


“In Step Maths” grades 1-6 used to be a popular series among local schools—a far more user-friendly series than the “My Pals Are Here” and ‘Math in Focus” series.

During this haziest and most polluted week in Singapore, while looking out for some teaching tips in some dated teaching guides, I came across the following grade 3 Singapore math question, which looks more like a grade 5 question to me:

A number represented by the letter B, divided by 6 and then added to 6, gives the same answer as when the same number B is divided by 9 and then added to 9. What is the number B?

How would you solve it, using the Singapore model, or bar, method? Give it a try before peeping at the solution below, which is the one given in the guide. Would you accept the teacher’s guide’s solution as one that effectively uses the power of the bar model in arriving at the answer?


A bar-modeled solution to the above grade 3 word problem.

Is there an abuse or misuse of the bar method?

Personally, I’m not too comfortable with the given solution, as I feel it lacks some legitimacy in the effective use of the bar method in arriving at the answer. What do you think? Do you sense a misuse or abuse of the visualization strategy? How would you use the bar method, or any non-algebraic method, in solving this question? Share your thoughts with us on whether the bar method has legitimately been applied to solve this grade 3 word problem.

Gunasingham, V. (2004). In Step Maths Teacher’s Guide 3A. Singapore: SNP Panpac Pte Ltd.

© Yan Kow Cheong, June 21, 2013.

A Singapore Grade Two Tricky Question

A classic elementary math problem that folks from a number of professions, from psychologists to professors to priests like to ask is the following:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. 
The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. 
How much does the ball cost?

For novice problem solvers, the immediate, intuitive answer is 10 cents. Yet the correct response is 5 cents. Why is that so?

If the ball is 10 cents, then the bar has to cost $1.10, which totals $1.20. Why do most of us jump to the wrong conclusion—that the ball costs 10 cents?

We should expect few students to bother checking whether the intuitive answer of 10 cents could possibly be wrong. Research by Professor Shane Frederick (2005) finds that this is the most popular answer even among bright college students, be they from MIT or Harvard.

A few years ago, I included a similar question for a grade 2 supplementary title, as it was in vogue in some local text papers. See the question below.

Recently, while revising the book, I saw that the model drawing had been somewhat modified by the editor. Although a model drawing would likely help a grade 2 child to better visualize what is happening, however, a better shading, or the use of a dotted line, would have made the model easier to understand. Can you improve the model drawing?


Try to solve the above question in a different way, using the same model drawing.

Interestingly, I find out that even after warning students of the danger of simply accepting the obvious answer, or reminding them of the importance of checking their answer, variations of the above question do not seem to help them improve their scores. I recently tickled my Fan page readers with the following mathematical trickie.

Two cousins together are 11. 
One is 10 years older than the other. 
Find out how old both of them are.

Let me end with this Cognitive Reflection Test (CTR), which is made up of tricky questions whose answers tend to trap the unwary, and which may be suitably given to problem solvers in lower grades.

1. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 bearings, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 bearings?

2. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

3. A frog is climbing up a wall which is 12 m high. Every day, it climbs up 3 m but slips down 2 m. How many days will it take the frog to first reach the top of the wall?

4. A cyclist traveled from P to Q at 20 km/h, and went back at 10 km/h. What is his average speed for the entire journey?

5. It costs $5 to cut a log into 6 pieces. How much will it cost to cut the log into 12 pieces?

Expected incorrect answers

1. 100 minutes. 2. 24 days. 3. 12 days. 4. 15 km/h 5. $10

Correct answers


Donnelly, R. (2013). The art of thinking clearly. UK: Sceptre.

Yan, K. C. (2012). Mathematical quickies & trickies. Singapore: MathPlus Publishing.

Postscript: What’s your CTR score? Here is something to ponder about: Those with a high CTR score are often atheists; those with low CTR results tend to believe in God or some deity.

© Yan Kow Cheong, May 7, 2013.


For practice on the Singapore model method, this title may help—visit Singaporemath.com


The Dolls Problem à la Singapour

Following a request from a Linkedln friend to provide a solution that makes use of the Singapore model method to the question below—I couldn’t trace the origin of this word problem—here’s a quick-and-dirty sketch of a five-model-drawing solution.

Jazmine buys and sells antique dolls on the Internet. Yesterday, she focused on dolls from the Civil War period. She began the day by selling one-fourth of her dolls from that period. Then she sold six more. Just before lunch she sold one-fourth of the remaining Civil War dolls. After lunch, she bought some Civil War dolls, increasing her collection by one-sixth. Then she bought some more, doubling her collection. Just before she quit for the day, she sold two thirds of her Civil War dolls. After all that, she had fourteen of these dolls left. How many dolls did Jazmine have before she began trading yesterday?

It wouldn’t be surprising that this kind of brain-unfriendly word problem, set in a test or exam, might give some un-mathophobic grade five or six students sweaty palms, or goose pimples, if they started feeling clueless after attempting to solve it for some five odd minutes!


A quick-and-dirty solution that makes use of the model method.

Using the “work backwards” strategy repeatedly, the model drawings show that Jazmine had 40 dolls before she began trading yesterday.

If you’re an “algebraic freak,” by all means, use algebra to check your answer—I decided to give the algebraic approach a miss this time round.

Disproportionate parts or units

Notice that I’ve loosely used “units” and “parts” alternately to represent each model drawing. And I’ve also used each unit, or part, in a rather disproportionate manner, as compared to textbooks’ modeled solutions, which generally depict the bars (or rectangles) proportionately, based on their respective numerical values—which is secondary to the reasoning or thinking processes.

The above dolls problem is similar to a question I discussed in an earlier post, except that the present one is slightly harder; otherwise, it adopts the same problem-solving strategies for  its solution.

Sakamoto and Stack Methods

My next task is to check whether the Stack method or the Sakamoto method to the above word problem is conceptually “friendlier” than the model method. Are there intuitive or elegant solutions other than the one that embraces the bar method? Meanwhile, please send us your solution(s) to the dolls problem.

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 27, 2013.

Postscript: Although math was my favorite subject in school, I don’t recall solving questions similar to the above word problem. I doubt if I would be able to solve it when I was in grade five or six. It looks like this present younger generation has been given the shorter end of the mathematical stick—worse, if math happens not to be their cup of tea! It’s no surprise that strangers, young and old, angrily tell me of their negative mathematical experiences in school—how they disliked math (and their math teachers).

Algebra or Model Method

On December 19, 2012, in her Confession from a Homeschool Mom: Singapore Math Stumped Me Today, Monise L. Seward, blogged that her 6th grader woke her up to ask her for help on a word problem in her Singapore Math book. The nonroutine question she shared was the following:

Mrs. Pappas had some apples. She sold 1/3 of the apples plus 5 more on the first day. She sold 1/3 of the remaining apples plus 5 more on the second day. She had 125 apples left in the end. How many apples did Mrs. Pappas have in the beginning?

If you use algebra to solve this problem, it’s unlikely that the working will arouse any excitement; in fact, you may find this method of solution to be somewhat uninteresting or boring. Yes, algebra does religiously solve the problem, but the solution is anything but elegant. Moreover, most average grade five or six students wouldn’t have acquired the maturity to solve it algebraically.

An algebraic check

Besides working backwards to check the answer, after solving the question, using the Singapore model method, I also checked it out by algebra.Looking at the symbolic clutter, I guessed then that even our Singapore grades 7 and 8 average students would likely be challenged to solve this problem by algebraic means.If we stick to working with only one variable, then we may end up with an unappetizing equation such as the following to solve.


A mum’s solution

Without a good working knowledge with the Singapore model method, we can expect most teachers and parents (who still remember their school math) to solve the question in a way similar to the one sketched and tweeted by my Pinterest and Twitter friend at PragmaticMom.com, as shown below:

2/3x – 5 = 125

2/3x = 125 + 5

2/3x = 130

x = (130 x 3)/2

x = 195

You add the 5 because you have to subtract the 5 apples from the 2/3 calculation because they were added in additionally. Then you do it again …

2/3x – 5 = 195

2/3 x = 195 + 5

2/3 x = 200

x = (200 x 3)/2

x = 300

No algebra, please!

Pretend for a while that algebra is an alien language to you! And you can only use a non-algebraic explanation to communicate your solution to a ten-year-old child! How would you go about doing it? Can you think of some intuitive methods?

After coming across this grade six question via @pragmaticmom, I tweeted a quick-and-dirty solution to the above problem, using the model, or bar, method. Give it a try first, before comparing yours with mine.

Sakamoto math

I also remarked that we could also solve this question by the Sakamoto method, which I assumed most of you in the United States might not be familiar with; so I’ll skip presenting the Japanese method of solution here.

Working backwards

Had the above grade five or six question involved the fraction 1/2 instead of 1/3, then using the “work backwards” strategy, via a flow chart, would have yielded an equally decent method of solution as the model approach.

Mrs. Pappas had some apples. She sold 1/2 of the apples plus 5 more on the first day. She sold 1/2 of the remaining apples plus 5 more on the second day. She had 125 apples left in the end. How many apples did Mrs. Pappas have in the beginning?

See a sketch of a common method of solution below.


Two bonus questions

Let me leave you with two grade 3/4 problems that lend themselves easily to the model method.1. A shop owner sold 2 more iPads than half the number of iPads in his stock. He then sold 2 fewer iPads than half of the remaining iPads. If he was left with 28 iPads, how many iPads did he have in his stock in the beginning?

2. Sarah used $8 to buy a book. She then used half of the remaining money to buy a bag. Lastly, she spent $1 more than half of what she had left on a meal. In the end, she had only $5 left. How much money had Sarah at first?
Answers: 1. 108 iPads; 2. $32

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 13, 2013.