Monday, September 15, 2008

Switched Younger Son to Singapore Math

I have switched my younger son from Math-U-See to Singapore Math.

My younger son began doing Math-U-See during his preschool-4 homeschool year. He was ready to do math and he begged to ‘do math’ like his older brother. This was very low-key as I don’t believe in pushing academics down to young children. I do believe in teaching children what they beg to learn in the method that works well for them, and this child has been begging for workbooks since age two.

I began having him do the Kindergarten level program of Math-U-See (then it was called Introduction, the revised program is called Primer). My younger son, like my older son, learned math easily using Math-U-See. He used Math-U-See for four full years, from prek-4 through the end of grade two. I was very happy with Math-U-See. He was happy with Math-U-See. Life was peachy keen and there was no math anxiety happening here for a long time.

Last spring though, my son struggled with double digit multiplication (in Gamma level, grade three level math which he was doing in his grade two year). At first I tried explaining it in different ways. He got all fouled up with the order of operations. I then gave him a couple of months off, thinking he may be on one of those stumbling block time periods that I notice my kids going through. I then re-introduced the concept and we tried it again. Still nothing. Hmm. I was stumped.

At that point my younger son got angry about math. He also decided he hated it and he declared that he was stupid. He had no clue that he was doing math above his grade level and that he had no reason to feel so negative about himself. I then had a self-esteem issue on my hands. Instead we either did no math or did more fun math things like math games (with no pressure). We then stopped in June and took the summer off from homeschooling lessons.

In August I began to worry a bit about math as my younger son was talking negatively about math and about himself again, saying he was ‘bad at math’. This child cannot be talked out of his emotions with words. He needs concrete, real-life experiences to debunk the thought in order to turn his thinking around. I then had an idea to try to switch over to different math program that might approach math differently. You see by that point poor Math-U-See was being linked in his mind as something negative. So I decided to switch him to Singapore Math.

I administered the Singapore placement test to him and was surprised that he didn’t do as well as I thought. My son was also angered because he was stumped by some questions, not knowing the answers at all. You see he was a full year behind in the Singapore system—and the reason was the metric system and fractions. The Singapore program and placement test, checks for metric system knowledge. In Math-U-See they don’t teach the metric system. I also never supplemented his learning with the metric system as to me it is not the primary measurement system in America and the kid was just in second grade last year, so what was the rush of teaching it on top of everything else he was learning? Also at the level he was with for Math-U-See they had not taught fractions yet. Out of curiosity I took out the questions for the metric system and he tested right at his grade level, even with the fractions questions left in place. However due in part to the low cost of the program and due to the idea that doing easier work faster might help his self-esteem by boosting it up, I bought the full year behind level for him to start on.

An acquaintance told me that to do just the textbook or just the workbook is not fully ‘doing Singapore’. Singapore Math is designed for use in the classroom. She said that if the homeschool parent does not do the work in the teacher’s manual that the child is really missing out on some of the best parts of the Singapore Math program. (I do not know if that is true, I am sharing what I was told to explain how I came to decide what parts of the program to buy.) There is special teacher training to teach how to teach this math. Homeschooling parents don’t have access to that training. Jennifer Hoest has written home educator teacher manuals go along with the programs and they are published by Sonlight. I bought those. (They are sold by Sonlight, and I bought my copies from Rainbow Resource Center.)

The main book for Singapore for the student is called a textbook. For this grade (2) those are in color and have graphics and are fancy looking compared to the black ink on white page that Math-U-See uses. The textbook is a soft cover book. It can be written in or you can have the child write on separate paper. That is your choice.

Then there is a consumable workbook that gives more work for the child to go along with work in the textbook. This 2A level is in black and white. The parent can choose to either skip that work if the child mastered it easily, or to do parts of the workbook, or the child can be made to do all of it. It is up to the homeschooling parent to figure out how they want to use it.

Oh and Singapore also sells one supplemental book per grade level that has all word problems in it. I bought that too! This was in response to my husband’s input that he wants our kids doing lots of word problems since they are more like real life math.

I was still thinking about what my acquaintance, a homeschooling mother, said. She said that children who do not do the stuff with the parent/teacher are doing only about 1/3 of the program and are not ‘doing Singapore’ such as to compare to the school children who ‘do the program’ and who have been praised in the media as learning more, doing better on testing and so forth. Again I do not know if that is true but I do know that I want my son to do well in math. If I want to use the program that has been praised by resulting in kids with high test scores then I want to use the program correctly.

So far we are just beginning to use the Singapore 2A level. This is super, super easy for my son. This son has already made the transition from concrete to pictoral to abstract thinking about math and math operations. I now worry that doing this work will be nothing more than busy-work. I also don’t see the point in me doing lots of hands on games with him to teach math concepts that he already completely understands. I refuse to do that, actually.

I also am noting that my younger son who was used to the clean look of the Math-U-See pages with black ink on white paper is having a hard time adjusting to the visual clutter on Singapore’s pages. For example he is ignoring the cartoons that sometimes explain the problem out and he is only looking at the numbers on the page to ‘get down to business’.

If Singapore doesn’t work out I can always continue on with Math-U-See since I have his current level and the next one waiting to be used. Also if this doesn’t pan out I will at least know that the Singapore Math that is so highly praised by so many homeschooling families that I always wondered “Should I be doing that program “just wasn’t a good fit for this one child of mine. If that happens then I’ll at least not regret never having tried it. That ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ thing will have been proven.

Wish us luck!

Side Notes:

The Singapore math program is called "Primary Mathematics" up to and including grade six. Grade 7 begins what they call "New Elementary Math".

The work by grade is divided into two parts, such as 3A for first half of the year for grade three, and 3B for the second half of grade three.

Rainbow Resource Center has a good explanation of the books and the terms. I was very confused by their lingo I will admit. I get it now but I was so confused before that I couldn't place my order out of not knowing what to order!

Before buying them realize the difference between the TEXTBOOK and the WORKBOOK.

Know that there is the original Singapore edition and there is a U.S. edition (United States). The Singapore editions have non-United States money for the money math. Especially if buying the books second-hand, realize if you are buying a U.S. version or Singapore version of the book.

Answer Keys are sold SEPARATELY. Again make sure your answer key is to the right edition (U.S. vs. Sinapore edition). If buying the answer key or any books used make sure the editions match! Old answer keys and new books won't work well togeher and vice-versa. These keys are not expensive and are for multiple grade levels, such as grades 1-4 in one booklet.

Word problem books are called "Primary Mathematics Challenging Word Probllems" and also are U.S. Edition or Singapore edition.

The textbook has review sections but no tests. Rainbow Resource Center sells separate test books if you feel you need those. Right now for some reason they are not available, I don't know why, if they are just out of stock, are being revised and reproduced or what. For example one title is "Ace It! Maths Test Papers Primary 2".

Free placement tests are available here on the Singapore Math website.

Lots of information about the Singapore Math program can be read on their official website, starting at the home page.

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Julie Carney said...

I really enjoy reading about the challenges you face with homeschooling. I'm starting a blog of my own and have gotten some great ideas from your blog.


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sue said...

I was really interested to read about the experience your son has had with these 2 different math curriculua. I am responding because I'm working on the development of a new product that is math lessons (it's based on national standards just like Singapore and Math-U-See), but it's in the form of fun adventures. It's a little hard to describe because it's so different than other products, and very different from "educational games." The cool thing about it though is that the experience for each student is completely adapted to their needs - everyhing from the lessons they get, the pacing and sequence, the hints, etc. are all tailored so the student is challenged enough but not too much. They don't get bored and they don't get frustrated.

The company I work for is DreamBox Learning ( Our online learning product is in beta testing, and I thought you might be interested in signing up to participate in the upcoming beta. It's free but it's a private beta - you have to sign up to be invited on our website at I'm not clear about your son's current grade level, but if he's at a K-2 level he would qualify. The upcoming beta will be starting in a few weeks so if you sign up you'd get an invitation then.

If he does try it I'd be really curious to hear what you think of it.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I think finding the right math program is very important for some of our kiddos!

The Boychick has had difficulties with math related to his short-term memory. When we took him out of school, we started with Saxon Math, which was good in certain respects, but we found that he had a hard time completing the work because he is slow due to short term memory issues! Also, Saxon has a large component of verbal work--they call it mental math, but it is verbal--so it did not work well for us. I switched to The Learning Company's High School Math program, which worked pretty well.

The Boychick, however, is still convinced that he is bad at math, and he still has difficulties with it. We talk with him a lot about how the breakthrough in math will occur when his brain is ready, but that practice helps his brain prepare.

anika said...

How fun! We use Singapore Math and have for years and years now. I use Math u see to suplement in fractions. It was the only area that I could see needing MORE of a foundation, at least for my kiddo's.
I simply love Singapore Math, and made the choice to use the Singapore version over the US version, and am so glad that I did. We do use the Teachers Manual, all the enrichment exercizes, I do this on a write and wipe board or on the table. The beginning of the Manual, lays out nicely how a semester can look (if you so choose to use it on their schedule), we do the problems in the Text and then the child is left to do the Workbook problems, I am available to answer questions and to help at all times, except on Revisions, which we consider a Test. We use various other supplements by Singapore and other companies too, I am rather a Math shopping geek :) great POST Christine!
<>< nika

Math-U-See said...

Just so you are aware, Math-U-See teaches fractions in the Epsilon book and the metric system in the Zeta book. But that is just a difference in approach over teaching everything all at once.

The main thing is that you find a program that fits your style of teaching. Best of luck :-)

Queen to my 3 Boys said...

I came upon your post by Googling Singapore Math. Nicely written.

How is your little guy doing now that you've been doing working on Singapore for awhile?

christinemm said...

Hi Queen...
The issue is the thing he was stuck on in grade 3 MUS (gamma level) is not addressed/taught until grade 5 in Singapore.

So he is flying through Singapore as he knows everything down pat except the new fractions and the new metric system.

I feel this entire academic year will have been spent doing math work that is all stuff he already knows (except metric system and fractions). I'm feeling I've wasted my son's time to be honest.