There is a millennium myth that Singapore math is hard or tough—that only geeks from some remote parts of Asia (or from some red little dot on the world map) should do it. The mass media (and math educators, too) have implicitly mythologized that those who are presently struggling with school math, should avoid Singapore math, in whatever form it’s being presented, totally. A grave mistake, indeed!
Is Singapore math a mere fad?
After reading dozens of tweets and blog posts on the pluses and minuses of Singapore math, it sounds as if Singapore math has a certain mystique around it—some kind of foreign math bestowed by some creatures from outer space to terrorize those who wished math were an optional subject in elementary school.
Not to say, folks who totally reject Singapore math on the basis that it’s just another fad in math education, or another marketing gimmick to promote an allegedly “better foreign curriculum” to math educators. They believe that “back-to-basics math,” whatever that phrase means to them, with all its memorizing and drill-and-kill exercises, is a necessary mathematical evil to get kids to learn arithmetic.
Singapore math OR/AND Everyday Math
Singapore math? Sure, no problem! It’s no big deal!
Well, it’s a big deal for traditional publishers, which may lose tons of money if more states and schools continue to embrace this “foreign brand” of math education.
Poor writing and teaching from a number of us could have indirectly contributed to the white lie that if you can’t cope with Everyday Math or Saxon Math, or whatever math textbook your school or state is currently using, Singapore math is worse! You might as well forget about it!
One of the first few Singapore supplementary titles to promote the model method in the mid-nineties.
The bar method as a powerful problem-solving strategy
Objectively speaking, Singapore math doesn’t come close to most pedagogical insights or creative ideas featured in journals and periodicals published by the MAA and the NTCM. Personally, I must admit that I become a better teacher, writer, and editor, thanks to these first-class publications. The Singapore model method, although a key component of the Singapore math curriculum, is just one of the problem-solving strategies we use every day, as part of our problem-solving toolkit.
On the other hand, for vested interests on the part of some publishers, little has been done to promote other problem-solving strategies, such as the Stack Method and the Sakamoto method, which are as powerful, if not more elegant, than the bar method—in fact, more and more local students and teachers are using them as they see their advantages over the model method in a number of problem situations.
Fabien Ng in his heyday was a household name in mathematics education in Singapore—it looks like he’s since almost disappeared from the local publishing scene.
Don’t throw out the mathematical baby yet!
You may not wish to adopt the Singapore math curriculum, or even part of it; but at least consider the model and stack methods, not to say, the Sakamoto method, as part of your arsenal of problem-solving strategies (or heuristics, as we call them here). Don’t let traditional publishers (or “math editors” with a limited repertoire of problem-solving strategies) prevent you from acquiring new mathematical tools to improve your mathematical problem-solving skills.
In Singapore, the model, or bar, method is formally taught until grade six to solve a number of word problems, because from grade seven onwards, we want the students to switch over to algebra. However, this doesn’t mean that we’d totally ban the use of the model method in higher grades, because in a number of cases, the model or stack method often offers a more elegant or intuitive method of solution than its algebraic counterpart.
© Yan Kow Cheong, May 27, 2013.
A booklet comprising of PSLE (grade 6) past exam papers, which cost me only 88 cents in the eighties.