Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Singapore Math Curriculum Disappoints: A Math Journal of Sorts

I started off using Math-U-See with my older son. It worked. No complaints. So used it with younger son too.

Late Winter 2008: Grade two for younger son, he was doing Gamma level (grade three, seven years old at the time). He struggled with double digit multiplication. No matter how I explained it, he got the order of operations mixed up. Up to this point all learning for math was simple and never stumbling. He was mad about his inability to 'get it'. He also naturally memorized math facts, which was cool to see, and a relief as I didn't have to coerce him to learn them and memorize them. I gave him a break from double digit multiplication, shelved the MUS.

Early Spring 2008: Restarted MUS Gamma and still stuck on double digit multiplication. Son being very hard on himself and angry, saying he is stupid and other such ridiculous statements. I put no pressure on him. Shelved the math curriculum.

June 2008: Summer arrived, no formal homeschooling lessons being done.

July 2008: I had been hearing praise for Singapore Math for years. Years. Some local homeschoolers who are Singapore lovers actually have been angry with me for not using it with my kids and for me saying I didn't like what I saw of it. I find it weird. However with all those opinions flying I decided this month, that we'd use Singapore Math for a while with younger son. The thought was if I give him a break from Math-U-See and he 'gets it' from the Singapore approach then after that we could switch back to MUS if we wanted to.

Early August 2008: Gave younger son the Singapore Math placement test. He came out at level 2A. This was due to the fact that MUS did not teach metric system or fractions yet. Whatever.

Late August 2008: I bought 2A and 2B, textbooks and workbooks and a home instructor guide. Confession: I was too busy with summer activities including hosting a Japanese foreign exchange student to study the Singapore materials or their scope and sequence much (didn't know that would haunt me later).

September 2008: Started using Singapore 2A textbook and workbook. This is ridiculously easy. Am not using the activities or lessons in the home instructor guide as they are trying to teach concepts my son has mastered. Son flies through the work. The way the problems are, he is doing almost all of this in his head rather than practicing operations on paper step by step to find an answer.

October 2008: Son finished Singapore 2A textbook and workbook. That is supposed to take a half year. How can people say this is a challenging curriculum when my son flies through it that quickly? Is my son a math whiz or is this curriculum just really easy? Son started in on Sinagpore 2B textbook and 2B workbook. The workbook seems like a waste of time as it is repetitive review that is unnecessary for him to learn (read: it is busywork for him). I consider not having him do the workbook. For now I decide to have him do it. On paper it will look good to finish the book up especially since all his scores are between 98% and 100%.

November 2008: Son finished Singapore 2B textbook and workbook withe ease. Another six months of curriculum was done in one month. What the heck? If we did math five days a week he would have finished it even faster. I don't understand this. I had not figured my son was a math genius but maybe he is?

December 2008: Did supplemental math activities during busy Christmas prep season.

January 2009: I can't find the Singapore 3A and 3B materials I swear I bought. Kept looking everywhere. This really was driving me crazy. I began looking in weird places for them. Finally decided to check my order with the homeschool supply company. Realized I never bought the books I was looking for. I now feel like a total idiot. Suddenly recall I was afraid to over spend on a curriculum that I didn't know if my son or I would like or not. I guess I was being sensible back then.

Early February 2009: Getting ready to order Singapore 3A and 3B. Looked at Singapore Math site and realized that they don't do double digit multiplication until level 5A! So now what? Do I buy 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B and have him do all those then start in on 5A which hits the topic that was the entire reason I stopped using MUS in spring of the second grade year? Not in the mood to ponder this so just ordered the textbooks for 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B. Also ordered both textbook and workbook for 5A and 5B and the home instructor guide for 5A.

Mid-February 2009: Talked to homeschool mom friend about this. She suggests "dipping in and out" of Singapore Math curriculum. Curriculum was delivered by UPS. Will start using 3A textbook because I am not in the mood to figure out how I'd want to approach "dipping in and out" of Singapore Math. This is a pain in the neck and I'm just not in the mood to deal with it right now.

I am reminded of why I loved Math-U-See, just turn the page, do the next lesson, teach short lesson, kid gets it and does the work, move on. Starting to wonder if I show him MUS double digit multiplication again if he would now 'get it'?

I'm reminded again of how switching back and forth between math curriculums is not a good idea. MUS doesn't teach metric system but Sinagpore does. MUS teaches fractions in grade 5 and Singapore teaches it in grade 2. MUS teaches double digit multiplication in grade 3 and Singapore starts in grade 5.

Someone remind me again of why Singapore Math is so highly praised. I find it simple and fast work with not very much revisiting of concepts. I am not asking for tons of busywork and a lot of review An easy example is teaching a concept like volume measurement in metric system can be covered in two day's work and completely mastered by the student, and then never revisited in the entire grade level again. I wonder if that information only made it to my son's short term memory. Does it make sense to cover something so quickly and not revisit it at all for the whole 'school year'?

Overarching feelings:

1. No curriculum is perfect.

2. Perhaps this is another example of my high expectations for products? So the fault would lie with me not the curriculum writers?

3. I would blame my son as the problem, perhaps to say he is struggling with a concept and he might have a deficit or not be bright to be able to learn double digit multiplication at age seven and eight using MUS. However based on him flying through the supposedly challenging Singapore Math I am not going to say the problem is with my son and will blame the curriculum again.

4. Maybe I'm not teaching the concept right and the problem is with the teacher's approach not just with the curriculum. Or is that notion just me being hard on myself?

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audrey said...

Switching math curricula was my second biggest regret in homeschooling. We were switching from Saxon to MUS and are now happily back with Saxon. Different kids -- different curricula "click." Still, it is such a disruption to the math learning process since all of the curricula out there seem to have different years to cover certain material. *sigh*

We live and learn, eh?

christinethecurious said...

Hi Christine,

It seems to me, that the math gets solidified when needed for a project. A little review in the context of a science experiment won't hurt anybody. My chemistry teachers in college even needed to review topics that they didn't use every day in the lab.

Math is more like a musical instrument or sport; you learn it in your fingers by daily practice. If the violin sits in it's case for a few weeks, it takes a few days to sound sweet again. I don't think it's the sort of skill you can learn once and never need to study again.

When we finished Miquon, we played with Singapore a bit too. I did like the clear explanations, and the problems were not overwhelming. But I found the prep time a bit much being pregnant and adding a pre-kindergartener who wanted to "do school too."

We've been doing the Key-to books mostly as an independent study with daily narrations. My older boy would like more direction, but this year is also hectic, and he is getting the ideas fine.

You and your kids are not like anyone else's homeschool, why should your math preferences be?

Christine in Massachusetts

Netherfieldmom said...

Loved MUS for several years. Got hung up with Fractions and did the Key to Fractions series one summer. They were great and cheap. Then thought MUS didn't have enough drill. Switched to Saxon. Daughter went on strike after awhile. I let it go on too long. Now paying tutor and daughter is in school. She will catch up eventually. #2 is doing Horizon, which looks more fun than MUS and is inexpensive. Part of me wants to switch back to MUS. (I love the fraction overlays). Not really sure what to do. Just won't be letting #2 fall so far behind. #1 thinks she is stupid, when in reality it is totally a diligence issue. All this to say, check out Horizon. I don't know that the switching is so much the problem, if you're able to keep a positive attitude about it.
I certainly don't remember anything about the math curricula I used in school and I moved around a lot. I think the teacher and the attitude are much more powerful.

Karen said...

About Singapore Math being challenging - It is, but you aren't using the challenging parts of it. The full program includes using the Intensive Practice books and possbily the Challenging Word Problems. The idea is not to speed through and then never visit a topic; it is to study a topic deeply then come back to it later in a more challenging way. It covers two-digit by one digit and three digit by one-digit multiplication and then division with the lower facts in 3A and it covers it deeply. I don't have the other books in the series yet, but it probably covers the same thing with higher facts in later books, then two and three digits by two-digits later on. Get the IP book for 3a and 3b and work through those sections. They add the richness that you are looking for. If your son find the workbook easy, it is fine to just cover the lesson in the text book then do the IP. My daughter loves the word problems.

christinemm said...

Hi Karen,
Thanks for your comments.

We are using also the Challenging Word Problems which I love and do find very challenging.

However people who rave to me about Singapore are not always using those and they are also sometimes just using the textbook (not using the teacher's teaching stuff such as outlined in the Home INstructor Guide).

I am told that school teachers who use Sinapore Math go to expensive workshops to learn how to teach it, we HSers do not have that so we must rely on the Home Instructor Guide and teaching that stuff not just going page to page in the workbook. Some HSers I know aren't doing that either so they are not "doing the full Singapore program".

I don't know what we'll do but if we do wind up quitting Singapore I plan to keep using Challenging Word Problems with my son. I am also using the Challenging Word Problems book with older son who is using Teaching Textbooks this year.

About the Intensive Practice books, I have never even seen those such as at a HS conference booth. From reading a catalog I thought those were just for kids struggling and 'not getting it' through the textbook and workbook. I am going to look into this more. Thank you SO MUCH for that info!!

(No one I know who has talked to me about Singapore and raved about it has ever mentioned Intensive Practice books either so I am assuming THEY don't use them either. Interesting.)

Krishnamurthey said...

Hi Karen,

I see that you and I have one thing in common. We both want the best for our kids and will do anything to give them the best possible education in the world.

I read your comments about Singapore Math with some interest. I was educated in Singapore. I don't live there anymore but I am teaching my kids Singapore Math because Singapore is ranked number 1 in the world by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. You can check with Wikipedia to confirm this.

Like the others have said before me, I guess you have not come across the really challenging questions yet. I guess it is difficult to get the right Singapore textbooks and workbooks in your country. I am actually spoilt for choice in my country.

In fact, I have such a high regard for Singapore Math that I have dedicated a huge chunk of my homeschool website to it. There are tons of free challenging math worksheets you can print for free. Many of the questions are seriously mind-boggling. Don't worry - my website is free. You can let your credit card take a breather.

So before you decide to do away with Singapore Math, why don't you ask your children to try solving the questions I have provided. They are strictly based on the Singapore Math syllabus.

Here is my link - Free Math Word Problems - Challenging Singapore First Grade Math

Hope your children finally meet their match. And have fun in the bargain too!

All the best to you,

Mr. C said...

Hello, this is a nice blog. I wanted share my singapore math experince with you. you can read the whole story here:

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

We used Singapore math about 3 years ago but my daughter didn't like it. The drills were boring and she didn’t like the names in its word problems. We quit in a short time and I still believe we made the right decision today.
Then we switched to US math learning. After comparing different sites, I finally selected Beestar for our math practicing. At first it was because its good reputation and its free math program, but I've seen my daughter's significant progress on math since then. Beestar sends weekly math exercise including very representative questions. My daughter says many of them are well designed. The exercise doesn't take her too much time but she would grasp all math skills taught at school. She's been on its honor roll many times, which made her more confident. I'll let her try Beestar's GT math program very soon.