Tag Archives: problem-solving heuristic

Stack Modeling as Mathematical Art

Gain that competitive edge, by being a  creative Singapore math educator and problem solver!
Gain that competitive edge, by being a creative Singapore math educator and problem solver! Title available on App Store and Google play.

One Singapore’s problem-solving strategy that is gaining currency among more and more local teachers in Singapore is the Stack Model Method, which has proved to be conceptually more advantageous—a more intuitive and creative strategy—than the bar model method. On a lighter note, let’s look at a dozen benefits one could derive should one fearlessly embrace this visualization problem-solving strategy to solve word problems.

1. As a Form of Therapy

Like bar modeling, getting involved in stack modeling may act as a form of visual therapy, especially among visual learners, and for those who need a diagram or model to make sense of a problem-situation. Indeed, a model drawing is often worth more than a dozen lines of algebraic symbols.

2. A Possible Cure to Dementia

Like Sudoku and crossword puzzles, practicing the science and art of stack modeling may help arrest one’s schizophrenia or dementia, particularly those who fear that their grey matter might play tricks on them in their golden years.

3. Prevention of Visual or Spatial Atrophy

For folks wishing to enhance their visualization skills, stack modeling could potentially turn their worry of short-term visual apathy and long-term visual atrophy into aha! moments of advanced visual literacy.

4. A Disruptive Methodology and Pedagogy

When most Singapore coaches and teachers are no longer excited or thrilled about the Singapore’s model method, what they need is a more powerful and intuitive problem-solving strategy like the stack model method to give them that competitive edge over their peers, all of whom are involved in the business of Singapore math—from training and coaching to consulting and ghostwriting.


Age Problems 3-4
An age-related problem from “The Stack Model Method (Grades 3-4)


5. A Platform for Creative Thinking in Mathematics

Getting acquainted to the stack model method would not only help one to hone one’s visualization skills, but it’ll also refine one’s problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Being mindful that competing stack models could be designed to figure out the answer, the challenge is to come up with the most elegant stack model that could vow even the mathophobics!

6. Look-See Proofs for Kids

Stalk modeling could help remove any “mathematical cataract” from one’s mind’s eye to better “see” how the parts relate to the whole. The way stack models are drawn (up-and-down and sideways) often allows one to see numerical relationships that would otherwise be difficult to visualize if bar models were used instead.

7. The Beauty and Power of Model Diagrams

Even those who are agnostic to the Singapore math curriculum, a “Stack Modeling” lesson could help enliven the beauty and power of model diagrams in creative problem solving. The stack model method could act as a catalyst to “seeing” the connection between parts and whole—normally, the same result would be tediously or boringly derived by analytic or algebraic means, understood only by students in higher grades.

8. A Simple but Not Simplistic Strategy

Like Trial and Error, or Guess and Check, the stack model method shows that Draw a Diagram is a simple, but not simplistic, problem-solving strategy. The stack model reinforces the idea that often “less is more.” The simplicity of a stack model can reveal much hidden information that is often lost in an algebraic argument.

9. A Branded Problem-Solving Strategy

For math educators who might think that Singapore math, or the bar model method, in particular, is a mere fad in mathematics education, the stack model method further disproves that myth. Like bar modeling, stack modeling shows that a simple problem-solving strategy like the “draw a diagram” has what it takes to attaining brand status, especially when we consider the types of challenging word problems that lend themselves to both bar and stack models, and which could also be assigned to a younger audience.

10. Stack Modeling as a Creative Art

To the novice problem solver, stack modeling is a science; to the seasoned problem solver, stack modeling is an art— the challenge is to come up with more than one stack model to arrive at the answer. Remember: Not all stack models are created equal!


Before-After 3-4
A solution page from “The Stack Model Method (Grades 3-4)


11. Earn as You Learn

If you are a mathepreneur, you can easily steal the ideas in The Stack Model Method: An Intuitive and Creative Approach to Solving Word Problems to write a more expensive Singapore math book on the subject. There are dozens of ethically challenged ghost writers and cash-strapped undergrads from China, India, and the Philippines, who can help you professionally plagiarize any types of editable contents! You earn as you learn! Of course, you need to mail them your copy, or buy a new copy for them to do the “creative work” at a fractional cost! Make sure you don’t get caught, though!

12. Green Math à la Singapour

Ecologically speaking, stack modeling, which generally uses less space than bar modeling, could help math educators save millions of ink and square miles of paper [aka trees]. In economic terms, millions of dollars could be saved by the right choice of model drawing. In other words, stack modeling could act as a catalyst to help one play one’s part in reducing one’s carbon footprints!

From Bar to Stack Modeling

With a bit of imagination, I bet you could come up with another dozen benefits of stack modeling. The stack model method is no longer an option, nor should it be treated as a mere visualization strategy to be discussed only during an enrichment math lesson.

The stack method is going to be a problem-solving strategy of choice, as more math educators worldwide invest the time to learn and apply it to solve non-routine questions in elementary math. Be among the first creative problem solvers to embrace the stack model method, as you gain that methodological or pedagogical edge over your fellow math educators!


Yan, K. C. (2015). The stack model method: A creative and intuitive approach to solving word problems (Grades 5–6). Singapore: MathPlus Publishing.

Yan, K. C. (2015). The stack model method: A creative and intuitive approach to solving word problems (Grades 3–4). Singapore: MathPlus Publishing.

© Yan Kow Cheong, January 10, 2015.


Differences-Gap 5-6
A screenshot from “The Stack Model Method (Grades 5-6)” without the Thought Process


A Grade 5 Bicycles-and-Tricycles Problem


In an earlier post, I shared about the following chickens-and-rabbits problem.

There are 100 chickens and rabbits altogether. The chickens have 80 more legs than the rabbits. How many chickens and how many rabbits are there?

Other than using a guess-and-guess strategy and an algebraic method, both of which offering little pedagogical or creative insight, let me repeat below one of the two intuitive methods I discussed then.

Since the chickens have 80 more legs than the rabbits, this represents 80 ÷ 2 = 40 chickens.

Among the remaining (100 – 40) = 60 chickens and rabbits, the number of chicken legs must be equal to the number of rabbit legs.

Since a rabbit has twice as many legs as a chicken, the number of chickens must be twice the number of rabbits in order for the total number of legs to be equal.


From the model drawing,

3 units = 100 − 40 = 60
1 unit = 60 ÷ 3 = 20

Number of rabbits = 1 unit = 20
Number of chickens = 2 units + 40 = 2 × 20 + 40 = 80

The Bicycles-and-Tricycles Problem

Again, if we decided to ban any trial-and-error or algebraic method, how would you apply the intuitive method discussed above to solve a similar word problem on bicycles and tricycles?

There are 60 bicycles and tricycles altogether. The bicycles have 35 more wheels than the tricycles. How many bicycles and tricycles are there?

Go ahead and give it a try. What do you discover? Do you make any headway? In solving the bicycles-and-tricycles question, I find that there are no fewer of half a dozen methods or strategies, which could be introduced to elementary school students, three of which lend themselves easily to the model, or bar, method, excluding the Sakamoto method.

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 4, 2014.

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.