How do I use Singapore Math? I get this question a lot. The first thing I will say is the K program (earlybird and essentials) that is marketed as SM is really not part of SM. It is one of many K programs. In Singapore, primary school instruction does not begin until 7. Kindergarten is a two year private program. Earlybird and Essentials are fine programs to use, but keep in mind it will not look like SM when you get to 1A/1B.
So, there are three versions of SM out there. US edition, CA standards, and Common Core. I use CA standards mostly because of the Home Instructor Guides (HIG). Also, I like the design of the CA standards and the additional topics covered. You can read more about the specific differences at singaporemath.com.
Many people choose the US edition because it is cheaper. The HIG for CA is really much better than the guide for the US edition and since the CC edition is still in process for the public school market, a lot of the supporting resources are not available. Also, CA edition incorporates more frequent cumulative skills review throughout the books in response of this specific critique of US edition. The CC edition is new and does not have a teaching guide that is meant for homeschoolers. From the reviews that I have seen of the CC edition, it appears that the sections that teach algebraic concepts that have been really useful in making a smooth and easy transition to pre-algebra and algebra have been removed. Also, the CC edition has redesigned the periodic cumulative reviews in the CA edition and limits the reviews to just the current unit. The practice pages have also been eliminated. These functioned as mini-reviews within a unit.
IMO, the HIG is indispensable for teaching SM. You can bulldoze your way through the books without it, but you would be missing a lot of the methodology and teaching tips which are invaluable in helping to your child gain a concrete understanding of the Singapore method. You will miss half of the program if you don’t use the HIG. The goal of Singapore Math is concrete to pictorial to abstract. It is very purposeful this way. Singapore teaches your child to think mathematically when many US programs teach how to do the math but students do not understand the why it is that way. The HIG walks you through how to teach a concept and how to assess whether or not your student grasps the concepts. Those check-ins are really helpful as feedback on what is happening.
The HIG also has the mental math exercises which are also important. A lot of parents get overwhelmed in 1A because they misunderstand that students must have these math facts memorized before moving on. Although the HIG says something to that effect, you really can move forward while practicing the math facts as you go along. The textbook and workbook (TB & WB) do not tell you to practice them or include extra practice, the HIG does because it is assumed in Singapore that you have been working on this all along.
What I did since M was 4 when doing 1A/1B was to have him practice by doing flashcards and jumping on giant numbers I wrote on pieces of paper on the floor. With the mental math exercises, I have been working through starting with the 1A exercises a year later instead when he was more ready to do so. Right now, we are just finishing 2B, so he is in the middle of the 1B mental math exercises which has been fine. We just work on the math facts as needed. You can do math fact practice completely separate from the mental math exercises. Some kids need very little practice because they pick it up over time. Other need some practice, and others need a lot. I just allowed my son to go ahead and use a numberline, abacus and base 10 set. Another resource that I use since I like the mental math strategies taught via Singapore is the Math Express Speed Maths Strategies series. This is a supplemental product that was developed. It explicitly teaches and offers practice for mental math. I will also say that I don’t emphasize the timed aspect since I value accuracy over speed. I found that speed naturally increases with practice.
Okay, so there are several books available. IMO, just doing the TB and WB is not enough. You will want to choose a supplemental book depending on your child. Here are some possible strategies:
For a struggling student, you will want to use TB, WB and Extra Practice US edition (EP). EP has more problems set at the same challenge level as the TB and WB.
For an average student, you will want to use TB, WB and may consider using some of the Intensive Practice US edition (IP). You will probably want to skip the challenge sections or pick and choose. IP starts at the same level of difficulty and increases in challenge. The challenge sections are pretty challenging and can be frustrating for most students. I would suggest using IP a semester behind the TB and WB. So use IP 1A while you are doing TB and WB 1B.
For a math adept student, you may want to just use TB, WB (some skip some of the WB problems if they feel their child understands and doesn’t need the practice. Others will use the IP book in place of WB), IP either concurrently if subbing for WB or a semester behind doing some or all but definitely including the challenge sections.
I completely opt of using their tests. That’s purely there for public school use. There are plenty of reviews and practices through the books that can easily be used as test of skills retention.
Now the jewel of SM is their word problems and the bar modeling technique which is immensely useful for laying the groundwork for being able to visualize a problem and for a solid basis that make algebra a step up rather than the huge conceptual jump that a lot of US curricula turns it into. For SM, bar modeling is not introduced in the TB/WB until level 3. CWP introduces it right away in level 1. The Challenging Word Problems books are really awesome. CWP is used a supplement by many families using other math curricula because the quality of the word problems is really beyond what you find elsewhere. US math curricula (and by extension US students) is notoriously weak in word problems. Keep in mind that if you are only using the TB/WB, bar modeling does not show up until 3A. Even then, there is a huge difference between the level of word problems in there versus CWP. IP has similar level of challenge, but there are only a few rather than a whole book stuffed with problems that make you need to think.
These problems are challenging. So, if you have an average math student, you may want to just focus on the first set of problems and selectively choose from the more challenging set. (or see the alternative below) I would schedule these at least 1 semester behind or even a year behind. So you would use level 1 when you do 1B or 2A. These problems are frequently require two or more steps to solve. They usually draw upon multiple skills building throughout the year. You may need to work these problems with your child and talk through them by asking leading questions. That is not unusual. It is a process to teach your child to think through these problems. Sometimes, I will do only 2 problems if they are particularly difficult.
For a more math adept student, you would want to use this maybe one or two sections behind in the the current semester or even concurrently. The difference between the word problem difficulty in the TB/WB and CWP is quite startling. They really require the student to think and apply what they have learned.
The key thing that CWP will do is show you whether or not your child has just learned to plug and chug which can appear to you that they have mastery. When you get to the challenge in IP and with CWP, you will know if your child understands his math and can apply it. It will be very obvious if there is a gap between rote calculation and conceptual understanding. That is when you go back to the HIG for that skill and re-teach a concept starting with the concrete.
An alternative to CWP for average or struggling math students (or students coming from a different math curricula) is a supplemental Singapore Math program called Process Math Skills in Problem Solving. You can just use this instead. In the normal SM sequence, word problems and bar modeling are not introduced until 3A. You can use the Process Math books which help incrementally teach a student how to think through a word problem and works on strategies and problem solving skills.
Another feature of SM is the emphasis on mental math. In Singapore, this is not explicitly taught in the TB/WB. They assume you are doing what every family does in Singapore and doing after schooling with drilling of math facts and mental math. They don’t do this in school because that’s the job for parents to do at home. So, the HIG does talk about what students should be learning and include mental math drills in the back. However, for many families, they could use more explicit and incremental instruction in mental math strategies. Math Express Speed Math Strategies fits this bill. It is a pretty good supplement for anyone that wants to sharpen these skills with any type of student. I personally don’t like to emphasize the timing and speed because of the age of my son and the level he is working at. I am far more concerned about his understanding and grasp of the strategies. It seems to naturally help increase speed and improve his skills over time.
At its core, Singapore Math is a conceptual math program that develops a students ability to do math while at the same develops a deep understanding of why math works. The method boils down to concrete => pictorial => abstract. It is tempting to jump right into doing the problems without taking the time to follow the activities in the HIG that assist you in introducing concepts (concrete) or to skip bar modeling for simpler problems (pictorial). I encourage you not to do that but to take the time especially in the early levels to build that solid foundation. As we begin level 4, I can look back now and see the purpose behind what we were doing to build a solid fundamental sense of math. I can also see how that will reap tremendous benefit for my son as we take on more challenging concepts.
Note: To learn about SM, you may to watch this seminar on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-QMZ_f9PUg There are many videos available For those that who are interested in Singapore style math curricula but would like to investigate other math programs, I would suggest Math Mammoth or Math in Focus.
Note 2: There are many families who are uncomfortable with math instruction, I have not used this personally, but there are instructional videos available here to support the US edition: http://www.singaporemathlive.com/