“We tried all sorts of things,”said McKenzie Bezos in a parenting tell-all Vogue, “including off-season travel, kitchen-science experiments, chicken incubation, Mandarin lessons, the Singapore math program, and lots of clubs and sports with other neighborhood kids.”
While learning Mandarin and conducting science experiments seems like a no-brainer for those who want to enrich the minds of their children, the Singapore math program may not be a familiar concept to U.S. parents; however, it’s been slowly gaining traction in the States ever since it arrived in the 1990s. And for the 40 states that have implemented the program, they’re seeing instant improvement in test scores — backed by scientific research.
“Across the board in every case, all of these students were able to make substantial gains,” said math curriculum coordinator Kevin Mahoney. He emphasized that the program wasn’t something esoteric that only Asian children could comprehend, either. “It’s not something that is radically different,” Mahoney said. “It sounds exotic, but it’s just elementary mathematics taught in a powerful and potent way.”
Sometimes referred to as the “mastery approach”, Singapore math is a widely used method of teaching mathematics in Singapore and Shanghai, China. With this method, children learn a specific concept together, as a class, before moving onto more complex ideas in a linear fashion. Compare this to the American method, also known as the “mindset approach”, wherein students are taught math on a broader, more abstract level before breaking it down to the details.
But it’s more than just a different structure to the classroom — it’s the method in which they learn how to solve mathematical equations as well. Oak Hall School in Gainesville, Florida believed in the program so much that they created an entire video demonstrating its benefits.
“We wanted to find a program that we thought made a lot of sense to [the students],” said Michelle Mills, math coordinator at Oak Hall School. “After looking at a lot of different programs, we chose Singapore math.”
So what’s the key difference?
Singapore math students are taught mastery of a concept; that is, they don’t learn something just to pass a test, like many American programs force children to do. Instead of working through an equation to reach an answer, students learn how an equation works from all angles. It promotes mastery over route memorization, meaning the concept is completely understood before moving onto the next one.