Why Singapore Math

Math is one of those topics that everyone seems to have an opinion about. People also seem to think there are students that either understand math or “just don’t get it.” There are many different methods used for teaching math here in Utah County, but Singapore Math provides every student with the best understanding possible. This post will provide a broad overview of why Arches uses Singapore Math, why we believe it works, and how we arrived at this decision.

Which countries are the best at math? How does the US rank? How does Utah rank? These are things that the founders of Arches looked at to determine which system of math we should teach.

How does the United States rank in math compared to other countries?

The TIMSS 2015 study lists the United States as 14th in Math among participating countries, behind countries including England, Japan, Norway, and Kazakhstan. (Singapore was listed at number 1). And in 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics stated that only 34 percent of fourth-graders in the U.S. were proficient in math. For eighth-graders, it was only 27 percent.

The statistics are even more grim in the 2015 PISA study, which listed the United States as 30th in mathematics. Below average.

It’s pretty clear that there are a lot of countries teaching math more effectively than the United States.

How does Utah rank compared to other states?

So what about the states within the U.S.?

In the early 1990s, Utah tested within the Top 15 states. However, in 2015 our rank had dropped by about ten slots and Utah now ranks somewhere in the mid-twenties. This means that not only does the U.S. rank 14th (at best) in the world, but Utah is still underperforming half the country.

And other statistics show how much work Utah has in store:

In 2007, when Utah was compared with a handful of other states with similar demographics and adult education levels, Utah came in last.

In 2014/2015 at Utah Valley University, 51% of incoming students had to take remedial math just to catch up to take freshmen courses.

It’s tempting for parents to think that the education they received 30 years ago is as competitive as the education their children are receiving today in the public school system. But over time, many things have changed in the educational field and in the international landscape. It seems clear that the methods traditionally used in math programs throughout Utah school districts are not working.

Why Singapore Math? It's about Mathematical Thinking and Problem Solving!

Something needs to change.

“Statistics from the US Department of Education show that success in secondary school algebra is the single greatest predictor of success in college -- not just for engineering and science majors, but for majors in all fields.” (Los Angeles Times, Friday, September 17, 1999)

The Founders of Arches knew that in order to create a world-class school, we needed the best math program in the world. As they examined over a decade's worth of research with the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), one of the largest worldwide studies evaluating math programs, they found that Singapore consistently ranked highest across the grades. They looked deeper at the Singapore math curriculum, and discovered the secret to being ranked #1: Singapore Math focuses on mastery, not memorization.

Let’s go back to the ingrained belief that there are students who “get” math, and those who “don’t.” Singapore Math is different. As always, Arches' goal is gifted and talented learning for all students, not just for those students that already “get” it. Singapore Math teaches visualization strategies that facilitate comprehension for every student, leveling the playing field and giving all students the tools to think like a mathematician. The sequence of topics in Singapore math is carefully constructed and based upon child development theory. It includes a pictorial approach which is often missing in other programs, which means that students are able to solidify their understanding as they visualize and then draw math concepts as a representative picture.

Myth Debunking

Myth: “I guess you’re just not a math person.”

Fact: Singapore math teaches students to master fewer concepts in greater detail. Students learn in many different ways, and Singapore Math taps into that by using a three part learning process: Concrete, Pictorial, and Abstract. This is why our students at Arches Academy have math scores higher than state and national averages.

Myth: If a child didn’t start with Singapore Math you can’t really switch to it.

Fact: In 2005 two studies found that students that switch to Singapore math see quick improvements. “Across the board in every case, all of these students were able to make substantial gains.” (Mahoney) Students at Arches Academy succeed whether they begin Singapore Math in a later grade, or start becoming familiar with it starting in Pre-K.

"One of my favorite things about Arches is their Singapore math curriculum. It focuses on learning math concepts in a three-step process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. Concepts are learned on a much deeper level. My daughter's "math sense" has improved dramatically. She can solve problems she hasn't seen before because she can dissect them and figure out what they are really asking. I am grateful for the dedicated teachers and administrators at Arches for helping with this transformation. We look forward to another year of growth, friends, and fun at Arches." - Arches 6th Grade Parent

Other Resources

Math doesn't have to be a dreaded subject. At Arches Academy, we use Singapore Math to achieve many of the goals Dan Meyer talks about in this TED talk.

Here's a two part video introducing the basics of Singapore Math.

Part 1:

Part 2: