Life at Warp Speed

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Singapore Math March 31, 2015

Filed under: Early Elementary,Gifted,Homeschooling,Upper Elementary — lifeatwarpspeed @ 1:57 pm
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Singapore Math.

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
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.  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:


Wuzzit Trouble on the App Store on iTunes January 17, 2015

Filed under: Kids,Upper Elementary — lifeatwarpspeed @ 12:25 am
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Wuzzit Trouble on the App Store on iTunes.

Wuzzit Trouble – Android Apps on Google Play.

Just saw this interesting and highly rated math app is free for downloading right now. Normally, it is priced at $2.99. I haven’t had a chance to test this out extensively. The game play is similar to Cut the Rope/Angry Birds.

Might be a fun way to develop math fact fluency.

Recommended for grades 3 to 5. There is a junior version of the app aimed for K-2 available as well for $2.99 on on the iPad.  Wuzzit Trouble Math Junior on the App Store on iTunes.



Mystery Math Museum – free for a limited time December 26, 2014

Filed under: Homeschooling Apps,Kids — lifeatwarpspeed @ 4:51 pm
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Mystery Math Museum on the App Store on iTunes.

I had to break away from my Christmas holiday to post about this awesome app deal. Artgig makes some really cool math app for kids that are engaging without being tedious and involve interactive game play that just happens to include math practice. Mystery Math Museum is normally $2.99, but you can grab it absolutely free right now.

This is an award winning app that is a sequel to Mystery Math Town. The goal is the find the dragonflies while exploring the various museums which are maze-like. The app is quirky and visually engaging. I also like the fact that it can be used for multiple players with different skill levels which works great for families with multiple children. You can work on all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

Recommended for students working at grade 1 to 6 level of mathematics.




Hands-On Equations – currently free! December 18, 2014

Filed under: Apps,Kids,Middle School,Upper Elementary — lifeatwarpspeed @ 12:06 am
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Hands-On Equations 1 – The Fun Way to Learn Algebra on the App Store on iTunes.

Quick grab this app that’s gone free! Hands on Equations is a fun, manipulative based way to introduce kids to algebra as early as 3rd grade. This is normally $2.99. I don’t have time to write a review right now. I actually own Hands On Equations curricula as well. Since I have no idea how long this deal will last and love HOE, I wanted you to know about this deal as soon as possible.

Recommended for students 4th grade through pre-algebra. This can be used easily with younger gifted math students and older struggling algebra students.



Minecraft Geometry Lesson – free for a limited time. July 26, 2014

Filed under: Middle School,Upper Elementary — lifeatwarpspeed @ 10:04 pm
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Minecraft Geometry Unit.

Educents has a Minecraft themed geometry lesson for free right now. This is great for kids that love Minecraft. Deal ends in 4 days.



TeachMe: Math Facts App – currently 50% off April 25, 2014

Filed under: Early Elementary,Homeschooling Apps,Kids — lifeatwarpspeed @ 11:07 pm
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TeachMe: Math Facts on the App Store on iTunes.

I love, love, love Teach Me apps (read about my review of their apps here Teach Me has just introduced a Math Facts app for $0.99 right, 50% off their normal price, $1.99. I haven’t had a chance to test out this app, but since I have no doubt this is up to the same standard of  quality, I just had to bring this deal to your attention. If your child needs extra math facts practice for all operations and enjoys the Teach Me apps, then grab this deal before it goes back to its regular price.

Recommended for aged 4 to 7. I hesitate to recommend it for older than 7 across the board since this game interface is generally not appealing to the tween crowd. Excellent for younger students who are math adept and working above grade level and still enjoy the Teach Me interface.



COMPASS Math Prep Flashcards Exambusters App – currently free!

Filed under: Apps,High School,Homeschooling Apps,Kids — lifeatwarpspeed @ 10:43 pm
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COMPASS Math Prep Flashcards Exambusters on the App Store on iTunes.

This ACT COMPASS math exam prep app is currently free right now! Normally, $4.99. This exam is used by many colleges to assess math placement and to identify correct placement level. It can be used to assess and work on specific knowledge areas that your student needs extra practice or remediation in. This app covers arithmetic, algebra, geometry and algebra 2. There are 2,000 practice exam problems available.

Recommended for ages 14 and up.




Mathsterious Mansion App gone free today! April 17, 2014

Filed under: Apps,Early Elementary,Homeschooling Apps,Kids,Upper Elementary — lifeatwarpspeed @ 8:40 pm
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Mathsterious Mansion on the App Store on iTunes.

3P Learning is offering this adventure and mystery app for the iPad for free download right now. (normally $1.99). Any parent knows that addition and subtraction practice of math facts and mental math practice can often be deadly dull for both parent and child. This app is an interesting offering in the educational math app market. There have been a lot of offerings trying to re-frame math practice in a more engaging platform than strict drills.

There are several levels of play for this app that build your child’s skill level to math his abilities. Explore each room in the mansion and discover the 15 characters that you collect as you master various skills. This app works on addition and subtraction within 100 using various techniques like counting on a hundred board, adding/subtracting without renaming, and regrouping. Be aware that this app uses British English, so the spelling and vocabulary of math terms may be unfamiliar. I like that the game offers tutorials as to how to play for each level which is helpful as it does not assume you just intuitively know how to play the game.

This is an interesting and good offering on the market. I actually like that it frames this sort of math practice that would appeal to an older elementary child that needs practice without appearing too cute or infantile. It best appeals to those students that enjoy adventure or story based game play. For sensitive kids, the graphic design is a bit Gothic in feel and has a bit of that spooky, mysterious Victorian mansion flavor and likely will not appeal to them. It is friendly to girls since it is more story based rather than an arcade style game platform.

Recommended for ages 7 to 11. For younger students, use your discretion since the artistic style and the story are not intended for them. There are other apps more suitable and appealing for them.



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