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The Scoop on the Legendary Singapore Maths Method

There has been a lot of media about the legendary maths from Singapore so we figured it was time to take a closer look at this program called Singapore Maths (or Singapore Math, as it is known in the U.S.). What is it and why the fuss over it?

What is Singapore Maths?

Before it became known as Singapore Maths, it was simply the national primary mathematics curriculum of Singapore. The original textbooks used were the Primary Mathematics Textbooks published by Marshall Cavendish. Since then, there have been many other publications released all based on the national primary mathematics curriculum of Singapore. In the U.S., the method became popularly known as Singapore Math.

The Singapore Maths method was designed to help students develop critical thinking and mathematical mastery. It has a five-pronged approach using a Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract learning method. Lessons are taught through scaffolding and students are encouraged to persevere through the problem-solving process.

Why is Singapore Maths so Popular?

The Singapore Maths curriculum came into the spotlight when Singapore started ranking highly for maths in international assessments:

  • First place for maths in TIMSS, an international assessment for math and science among fourth and eighth graders, in 1995, 1999, and 2003.
  • Top three for maths in TIMSS in 2007 and 2011.
  • First place for maths in PISA in 2015 and 2016.
  • Second place for maths in PISA in 2012.

The Real Story Behind the Success of Singapore Maths

Before we get swept away by the success of Singapore’s Maths curriculum, Amanda Wise (Associate Professor of Sociology at Macquarie University) warns that we may be missing the bigger picture. The TIMSS and PISA scores are the end result. They do not reveal how Singapore really got there. To credit the mathematical success of Singaporean students solely to the country’s national curriculum would be to ignore the role of private tuition on overall student success. Based on Wise’s figures:

  • 60 percent of high school and 80 percent of primary school-age students receive private tuition.
  • 40 percent of pre-schoolers receive private tuition.
  • Pre-schoolers, on average, attend two hours private tuition per week, while primary school aged children are attending, on average, at least three hours per week.

Eight out of ten primary school aged students in Singapore receive private tuition, either by way of private tuition or coaching colleges. These numbers have increased from 30 percent for high school and 40 percent for primary school in 1992.

Robert Berkman goes further and adds that there are many elements that skew math scores in favor of Singapore:

  • Year-round education.
  • Very low child poverty rate.
  • Singapore exempts students with physical or intellectual impairments from testing (including international comparisons).
  • Cram schools (a.k.a. private tuition).

Singapore Maths Results in the Rest of the World

So what about Singapore Maths in the rest of the world? There appear to be some promising results. Math in Focus, a U.S. edition of the Singapore Maths program, improved math performance in the following schools:

In the U.K., a study by UCL Institute of Education and Cambridge University found that students who were taught Singapore Maths learned faster than their classmates. On average, they made an extra month of progress in a calendar year.

In an independent study by Oxford University, students that were taught Inspire Maths (a.k.a. Singapore Maths) do “significantly better”.

“Overall, we found positive evidence that Inspire Maths benefited children’s maths achievement and supported teachers’ professional development.” – James Hall, lead author of the study.

Singapore Maths Resources

Primary Mathematics – Marshall Cavendish

Singapore Maths

“The main feature of this series is the use of the Concrete> Pictorial>Abstract approach. The students are provided with the necessary learning experiences beginning with the concrete and pictorial stages, followed by the abstract stage to enable them to learn mathematics meaningfully. This approach encourages active thinking process, communication of mathematical ideas and problem solving. This helps develop the foundation students will need for more advanced mathematics. Practice exercises are designed to provide the students with further practice after they have done the relevant workbook exercises. Review exercises are provided for cumulative reviews of concepts and skills. All the practice exercises and review exercises are optional exercises. The workbooks are consumable and should be used in conjunction with the textbooks. They contain the exercises the student does independently.” – Singapore Math

The Primary Mathematics U.S. Edition series of elementary math textbooks and workbooks is meant to be part of a system of learning in which adult supervision and independent practice go hand in hand. Ideal for both classroom and home use for 1st – 7th grades, it is recommended for those who want a solid, basic math program with a proven track record and an emphasis on concept development, mental techniques, and problem-solving. Primarily a direct instruction program, students are given several approaches for solving problems and are encouraged to discuss ideas and explore additional methods.

My Pals Are Here – Marshall Cavendish

Singapore MathsSingapore MathsSingapore MathsSingapore Maths

Filled with activities that build on mathematical concepts, skills and strategies for learning, these books encourage the collaborative learning of Mathematics in groups and provide a variety of hands-on activities and games to consolidate the concepts learned. They contain:

  • Let’s Explore! investigative activities for students to discuss alternative solutions to open-ended questions.
  • Play this game! and Carry out this activity to reinforce skills, concepts, and problem-solving strategies through co-operative learning.
  • Maths Journal to offers opportunities for self-reflection.
  • Put On Your Thinking Caps! to nurture critical thinking skills and challenge students to solve non-routine and higher-order thinking questions. Suggestions for meaningful parental involvement in activities outside the classroom are also available via Home Math.

Available here.

Math in Focus

Singapore Maths Singapore Maths Singapore Maths

Singapore Maths Singapore Maths Singapore Maths

Math In Focus® is an adaptation from Singapore’s My Pals Are Here Maths series. It uses the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract Approach to help students master math concepts, develop critical thinking and strengthen problem-solving skills. The aim is to ensure that students reach mastery of concepts, computational skills and problem-solving with an understanding of its applications to real life situations. Math In Focus® is a complete Singapore Math® series that is research-based and has a proven track record in school districts across the U.S.

Inspire Maths by Oxford University Press

Inspire Maths is a whole-school primary maths program, based on Singapore Maths series My Pals are Here.

Singapore MathsSingapore Maths

Inspire Maths builds firm foundations and a deep understanding of mathematical concepts through a concrete-pictorial-abstract approach, emphasising mastery to help children become confident and independent mathematicians. The Teacher’s Guides contain guidance on the systematic teaching pathway to help children become confident mathematicians, easy-to-follow long and medium-term planning, a clear step-by-step teaching sequence for each pupil textbook page, and outline opportunities for teaching and assessing key thinking skills and problem solving strategies. The Pupil Textbooks provide a clear, scaffolded introduction to each new learning objective, guided practice activities to promote discussion and exploration, activities for further practice, and suggestions for how parents can support learning at home.

Shaping Maths

Shaping Maths offer a wide range of learning experiences, taking students from the concrete to the abstract mode of mathematical representation. Through engaging activities, pupils gain a thorough grounding in basic mathematical skills and develop the higher-order thinking skills required to solve complex problems.

  •  Question Classification: Teachers can select the category of questions that best suits the individual learner, cutting down the amount of teaching time and avoiding over-teaching.
  •  Collaborative and Reflective: The exercises encourage pupils to share ideas and feedback on work done.
  •  Maths is Thought-provoking: Activities promote cooperative learning and the application of higher-order thinking skills. Pupils are encouraged to understand how they learn, and to be conscious of how that learning is applied.

Shaping Maths Resources:

Discover Maths

These Singapore Mathematics textbooks and workbooks use a lively learner-centred approach to get your child involved in the learning of mathematics.

Each chapter in these Singapore Mathematics textbooks contains:

  1. Warm Up – Your child will be given opportunities for class interaction and discussion about mathematics.
  2. Stop-Think-Go – Your child will be given questions that encourage him to reflect on and apply what he has learnt in the chapter.
  3. Let’s see in everyday life – Your child will be asked questions that help him relate mathematics to everyday life experience.
  4. Work it out – Your child will be presented with questions that help you assess his understanding of the mathematical concepts taught.
  5. Enrichment – Your child will be challenged with fun-filled activities that promote creative and critical thinking, as well as develop higher-order thinking skills and social skills.

Available here.

Singapore Math Digital Learning


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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