Singapore Math vs Everyday Math

2 good blog posts from Math Wizards.

The Gideon Math Program is heavily influenced by Singapore Math.

The secret of Schmitz Park Elementary School is Singapore Math

February 17, 2010

The secret of Schmitz Park Elementary School is Singapore Math
One elementary school in Seattle — Schmitz Park Elementary — bucks the trend toward reform or constructivist math by offering Singapore Math, writes Seattle
By Bruce Ramsey
Seattle Times editorial columnist

Sally made 500 gingerbread men. She sold 3/4 of them and gave away 2/5 of the remainder. How many did she give away?

This was one of the homework questions in Craig Parsley’s fifth-grade class. The kids are showing their answers on the overhead projector. They are in a fun mood, using class nicknames. First up is “Crackle,” a boy. The class hears from “Caveman,” “Annapurna,” “Shortcut” and “Fred,” a girl.

Each has drawn a ruler with segments labeled by number — on the problem above, “3/4,” “2/5″ and “500.” Below the ruler is some arithmetic and an answer.

“Who has this as a single mathematical expression? Who has the guts?” Parsley asks. No one, yet — but they will.

This is not the way math is taught in other Seattle public schools. It is Singapore Math, adopted from the Asian city-state whose kids test at the top of the world. Since the 2007-08 year, Singapore Math has been taught at Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle — and only there in the district.

In the war over school math — in which a judge recently ordered Seattle Public Schools to redo its choice of high-school math — Schmitz Park is a redoubt or, it hopes, a beachhead. North Beach is a redoubt for Saxon Math, a traditional program. Both schools have permission to be different. The rest of the district’s elementary schools use Everyday Math, a curriculum influenced by the constructivist or reform methods.

Reform math is known for several things. Instead of showing kids how to solve a problem, which Singapore Math does, reform math has them work in groups to discover ways to solve it. It wants them to explain how they did it, sometimes using a special vocabulary.

Sabrina Kovacs-Storlie, a supplemental math teacher at Schmitz Park, taught reform math for several years. “It is full of words,” she says. “So many words.”

Reform math also aims at exposing kids to advanced concepts at an early age. As a result, it jumps around. Kovacs-Storlie opens an Everyday Math book. Here is a lesson on calculating the perimeter of a shape. Next is a lesson about probability.

“It is teaching to exposure,” she says. “We are teaching to mastery.”

Schmitz Park’s curriculum is more like the math parents remember. They came out big for Math Night a few weeks ago. Their PTA pays for the Singapore books — and also for Kovacs-Storlie’s salary.

Test results are encouraging. At Schmitz Park, 86 percent of the fifth-graders passed the WASL test in math, compared with 68 percent districtwide. At Schmitz Park, 67 percent passed with a Level 4 (high) result. Seattle schools have different mixes of kids and show a wide variation in math scores. Some schools did better than Schmitz Park. Most did worse.

Curriculum is not the only factor. Another is the enthusiasm of the teachers, which Garrit Kischner, Schmitz Park’s principal, says this curriculum has. Being among rebels, and having to prove something, can be invigorating.

The kids sense it, too. One of the girls in Parsley’s class says proudly that hers is the only school in Seattle with this math.

Next year, these kids will be at Madison Middle School. They will have the reform math. Kathleen Myers, who teaches sixth-grade math there, says the Schmitz Park kids will do all right. They are very good at solving problems.

Of the Schmitz Park curriculum, she says, “I’m happy with it.” Two of her kids are there.

Bruce Ramsey’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

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The Basic Weaknesses of Everyday Math

June 15, 2008

The basic weaknesses of EM are the following issues:

1. Reliance on calculators starting as early as kindergarten.

2. Students are not required to learn standard long division due to the availability of calculators. They are required to, either calculate a best estimate or use the partial quotients method for division. The latter algorithm is specifically favored by the authors of EM because it accomodates those students whose mastery of multiplication facts are limited. Note: Long division is required for algebra (polynomial long division), pre-calculus (finding roots and asymptotes), and calculus integration of rational functions and Laplace transforms.) It is also especially necessary if students are to understand how to express a fraction as a decimal, and also to understand the nature of repeating decimals. Calculators cannot provide the deeper understanding about repeating decimals–and since “deep understanding” of mathematics as opposed to “rote learning” appears to be a goal of the authors of EM, one would hope that presenting students the tools with which to achieve such understanding would also be a goal of this program. It is, alas, not.

3. Memorizing multiplication/division facts are not emphasized. Very few timed tests to assess mastery of these facts are planned and pre-written letters to parents that are sent home with the students urge parents to practice these facts with their kids. Thus, the burden of teaching the tedious but necessary work of math has shifted from the teachers to the parents. For two digit multiplication students are required to use inefficient algorithms including a lattice chart. The lattice method is very time consuming on tests and if calculated incorrectly, provides incorrect answers.

4. Teaching too many means of deriving the same answer is confusing. There are a minimum of 4 different algorithms taught for teach EACH of the following: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (minimum of 16 totally different algorithms). This slows the learning process for the students who get algorithms the first time, and decreases the amount of classroom time that can be used for other subjects, or for practice, of the traditional algorithm. There are a number of ways to set up an equation – vertically, horizontally, how numbers are borrowed and tracked, etc.

5. This teaching method is done in more conceptual terms (also called “Fuzzy Math” or TERC) at a group level rather than teaching the traditional mastery of standard algorithms by individual practice. Groups of students are told to get together to discuss how to solve a problem. There is little teacher involvement concerning the use, or requirement, of algorithms in their solutions, creativity is encouraged. Some students end up teaching others, or providing the answers for others who, in the end, do not learn anything due to lack of accountability. Teachers do not need to work as hard.

6. “Spiraling” is the process of teaching children little bits of math from all over the spectrum, even some algebra, at an early age. The theory behind this is that such exposure teaches students “habits of mind” that are felt by the EM authors to be essential to learning algebra because they will already be familiar with the concepts. This spiraling technique does not allow students to master any one skill at a time because they move on to the next topic without sufficient time to practice the theory. Subjects covered are a mile wide and an inch deep and just scratch the surface of each theory. Most early age students are not ready for algebraic thinking and this is not a constructive use of classroom time. It has been know to create confusion and students begin to think they are not intelligent, end up disliking math, and the spiral is downward from there.

7. The algebra provided by EM, is rated as only pre-algebra. Students going into high school usually require remedial math to learn algebra. This takes time away from the students for other subjects, puts them behind in math, and is frustrating to all – student, high school teacher, and the parent. Teachers lose time as well re-teaching a topic that should have already been covered and mastered.

8. EM is designed to teach to the state’s standard test and may omit other important information.

9. Students in countries that continually outperform the United States in mathematics, generally have students moving into Algebra I by 6th or 7th grade. Students in the US, and those who use EM, are generally ready for Algebra I by 9th grade, putting our students at least two years behind the rest of those countries. This is noted in the “Why U.S. Students Are Falling Behind”, Baltimore Curriculum Project.

It’s a New World Out There – Dr. R. James Milgram, Professor of Math at Stanford University Leading Minds’ K-12 Math Education Forum in Baltimore April 24, 2008.

Why US Students Are Falling Behind – Dr. William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University Leading Minds K-12 Math Education Forum, April 24, 2008 in Baltimore.

10.  Lack of Text Books: Parents receive “Unit” based hand outs prior to each math unit subject change.  The printouts do a relative explanation of the procedures, plus provide the answers to each homework handout.  Each homework handout only consists of 4-5 problems and they are minimal effort problems at best.  The parent handout more than likely does not get reviewed, gets thrown out or lost in the shuffle of other handouts, and is hard to file for return review compared to turning back a chapter or two in a text book.  A text book provides all the procedures and problems in a controlled package that allows the student to review topics as needed and has enough challenging problems to complete.  This helps to reinforce what they’ve learned.  By doing handouts, there may be the benefit of one less text book in the student’s backpack, but at the elementary school level, there are not many text books as in high school to begin with.  Another “con” is that this process is more likely to waste paper resources.