I looove Singapore Math.
We made the decision to homeschool when the boys were babies so I’ve had plenty of time to assess my various Math options and Singapore Math was always top of the list. Even after looking through the programs friends have raved about I haven’t wavered on my decision. Yep, I’m very happy with our choice.
What did I want in a Math program? Most importantly I wanted a program that was rigorous and challenging enough that it would see my boys all the way through to university Math if that was their choice. I know there are glitzier and more fun programs out there but I am wary about choosing an easier option in case I’m limiting the boys’ options at the other end. Does that make sense? Singapore Math is renown for its strengths in teaching conceptually, teaching students mental strategies for solving problems and its strong focus on problem solving. What’s not to love! Hehehe. Okay so I’m a bit of a Math nut.
If you choose Singapore Math, I’ll be truthful and tell you it’s not the easiest choice. But never fear, the good stuff is worth the effort. It really is.
First you’ll need to figure out which books you need. Generally the books are a year or two ahead of your standard grade level. That is, if your child is in grade 5 in Australia, you may find that you are using level 3 or 4 in Singapore math.
For each year level you’ll need 6 books. Yes, six! Assuming you’re using the Primary Math 3rd Edition…there seem to be a stack of other versions nowadays and I know little about them. My theory is that new isn’t always good though. Personally I’ll be avoiding the new versions. The 3rd edition books are what the Aussies tend to use as they only contain metric measurements whereas the US versions have both forms.
Back to the 6 books…There are two coursebooks (A and B) which are like the teaching texts. You don’t write in them. For each coursebook there are two workbooks that the children work and write in. So that’s 4 workbooks for the year. Are you still with me? These are the only books you ‘need’ to run the program.
Now if Math isn’t your thing, or the problems are getting trickier and you’d like the answers, or you’re not confident with the way they approaches Math or you just want a few extra teaching ideas, you might like to get the Home Instructor Guides. There is one for each coursebook, so that’s two per year level. Do I use them? Ummm…hanging head…no. But then again I’ve taught these grades levels in the classroom so it’s not new to me. My suggestion is to buy at least one. Buy the A book for your level and see if you use it. Some people swear by them and some people find they hardly ever use them. Try one and see which type of person you are.
Now there are also lots of supplemental books available. These books are additional resources. Don’t buy them all and expect your poor students to complete them. Poor little mites! Each resource has a different audience and purpose. If you have a student who’s not quite ready to move on or a student who needs to cement some concepts, then Extra Practise for Primary Mathematics is for you. You might not necessarily work from the front through to the back of this book. My youngest however is doing just that. He’s speeding through his work but his brain is outracing his fine motor and reading skills and he’s gonna fall off his Math perch if I let him proceed at this break neck pace. So this term he’s working through an Extra Practice book while everything catches up to his brain.
For students who are flying through their work and who need a bit more of a challenge then Intensive Practice will suit them nicely. I used these with my eldest. I don’t like to move onto a new concept unless the old one is firmly cemented in their noggins so I would flip open to the chapter that linked to what we were doing in our course and work books and Ethan would apply what he had learned to trickier tasks. If he had a firm grasp on the concept then all would go well. If not, I’d know that his foundations were a little shaky and we had work to do.
My absolute favourite supplemental books are their Challenging Word Problem books. Word problems are the most important part of Math. To solve problems is the reason we learn Math. No point in having Math skills if you can’t apply them to the problems you encounter in your world. The word problems in these books will make you think. They are great practise! At one point these went out of print and I was beside myself. I was kicking myself that I didn’t dig up the money tree in the backyard and buy all of the books for both boys for the rest of their schooling career. Luckily they seem to be back in print and they look pretty much the same from what I’ve seen in the samples. So I’m desperately trying to get that money tree growing.
I did stumble on another Singapore word problem book but it’s not as good as the other, in my opinion. There are literally only 70 problems. One problem per page and the rest of the page is for working out. If I could only buy one book this wouldn’t be it. But since we’re big on word problems and we devour problems them so quickly we bought it and…
…stacks of others. None of these have anything to do with Singapore but I like to get a good mix of problems so that the boys are used to different approaches. Experience is the key to word problems.
Yes that’s a Naplan test book you can see below. Hey their word problems are really good.
Now back to Singapore Math.
Oh yes there are computer CD Roms you can purchase to supplement the program too! We have two of them but we’ve found we didn’t use them enough to warrant buying more of them.
People often complain that Singapore Math doesn’t have enough review. But you see with so many additional books for purchase you can create a program that works for your students. If you need extra practise then you buy extra books at the appropriate level.
The other complaint I’ve heard is that there aren’t enough facts and algorithm practise. (Algorithm is just a fancy work for various sums – addition, subtractions, multiplication and division). I agree that there isn’t enough of this in the books which is why I make my own “Dailies” books for each boy. They practise their algorithms most days of the week so eventually they’ll become second nature to them.
Now don’t hold this against Singapore Math. You have to consider the market that the books were created for – classrooms. Most classroom teachers plan this kind of work in addition to their textbooks. It’s like buying a writing curriculum…of course you’re still going to need to teach them handwriting and grammar and all that other stuff. Well that’s how I see it.
We memorise and practise our facts every day. At present we’re doing speed tests. The boys have a mix of 48 multiplication facts that they complete correctly as quickly as they can, competing only against their own times. Ethan’s got his time down to 2 minutes after only two weeks of these task. You see I believe you HAVE to memorise your facts. From experience I’ve seen that children generally don’t “get” them just by using them over time.
So there you go – with the Singapore core program, perhaps some Home Instruction guides and a supplemental book or two and definitely some regular word problems, facts and algorithm practise, you’ll have a pretty spiffy Math program – and that’s before you add in all the icing on the cake – computer programs, games, living books, hands on fun etc.
A point to remember though is to make sure you have a nice firm foundation. If it’s all icing and no cake then you’re not going to have enough substance to see you all of the way through.
One final point to share. Math is a skill based subject which means that it should be taught and practised every day for the best results. Inconsistency is more often the problem than the program or students. Just another observation.
So get stuck into it. Math requires some work. That’s just how it is. But Singapore makes my work a little easier and I appreciate that.