One thing that surprised me about this blog was the wide interest in the Lesson Plans that Simplify Singapore Math. Almost every day, people are downloading the lesson plans. So I decided to share some thoughts and tips on teaching Singapore Math, specifically Primary Mathematics, Standards Ed.
During the early elementary years, don’t sweat the problem solving. For those of you who follow the Classical Method, remember the main tools for learning during the grammar stage are memorization and observation. These are the years to focus on memorizing the math facts and gaining speed and accuracy in computation. Many children during the grammar stage have not yet developed the analytical skills needed for problem solving.
So while SM’s approach to teaching problem solving is excellent, don’t expect your children to be able to solve them all on their own. Some kids are very intuitive about math and will be able to do them easily. Others will need more guidance. If they get it, great. If not, continue to talk them through each problem, demonstrating with bar diagrams or manipulatives and making the steps very clear. Remember that the concepts are meant to be taught first with objects, then with pictures, and finally just with numbers. If they still don’t seem to understand, don’t worry. The same type of problems appear in each grade level, so eventually your kids will understand them. Besides, the word problems my kids do on the standardized tests (Terra Nova and CAT) are much easier than they ones they encounter in the Singapore Math books.
One of the strong points of Singapore Math is the mental math tricks. I know some of you may be tempted to skip the mental math exercises because they can seem challenging at first. But it is the mental math exercises that really teaches kids how to manipulate numbers and grouping. (By the way, these are at the back of the teacher’s manual.) If you use my lesson plans, you will notice that I have my kids repeat and review the same mental math exercises several times throughout the year. Practice leads to proficiency.
Some kids become so adept at mental math that they want to do everything mentally. Make sure your children also acquire mastery in using the algorithms (writing out the math vertically).
To help my children master the multiplication tables, I have them practice the facts using the free on-line Multiplication Trainer. You can tell your child to practice for a certain amount of time or a for certain number of facts. The best part is that every time your child gets a fact wrong, the program remembers it and reinforces that fact again and again.
Insist on neat handwriting to develop the habit of careful work. So many mistakes are made when a zero looks like a six or when a student does not line up the numbers correctly in long division. Neat handwriting and attention to detail will increase your student’s accuracy.
Is your child using the Test Book? I’ve noticed that the last question of each Test B, and sometimes Test A can be extra challenging. If you’re using the Test Book for testing, I recommend using those last questions as extra credit.
Please don’t think your that children need to do all the math listed on the lesson plans. If you think it’s too much, you can always take out the work Extra Practice book and save those exercises to use as needed. Or, you can break a day’s lesson into two. Also, if your student aces Test A in a chapter, he/she could skip Test B. That’s a good incentive to work out the math problems carefully. The lesson plans are only meant to be a guide of how the various books fit together. They are certainly not meant to dictate how much math your children should be doing each day.
SM is so advanced that by end of Gr. 6 your kids might be ready for Algebra (typically a gr. 9 math course). Singapore Math introduces algebra at the end of gr. 5 and throughout gr. 6. So, unless you really want your kids to be two grades ahead in math by the end of 6th grade, don’t feel pressured to get your kids to finish each grade by the end of the school year. We usually do math through part of the summer, anyways.
However, it is worth considering that on the 2012 PISA Assessments American students averaged below the international average. 26% of American students were considered low achievers, and only 9% were among the top achievers. So, maybe it’s not so much that Singapore Math is really advanced. On an international scale, it seems that most American students lag behind.
Do you have any really mathy kids? Have them try the Primary Mathematics Challenging Word Problems instead of the Extra Practice book, but start a grade or two below. Many of the Gr. 6 Challenging Math Problems are way above grade level. These problems are meant to challenge, not frustrate. Let your child look at the first two lines of the solution if he needs to, or even half of the solution, and then try to figure out the rest.