Prior to reading chapter one of “Mathematical Problem Solving” (Kaur, Yeap, Kapur, 2009) earlier this evening, if someone asked me what I knew about “Singapore Math,” I would say I knew nothing about it. ,  From perceptions of earlier readings, I might have added that it was a method of mathematics instruction that produced wonderful results for student’s in learning mathematics, at least since most people referenced it with a degree of reverence.
My brief reading of the first chapter now leads me to believe it is the teaching of mathematics with problem solving as its central focus, integrating standards and attributes of mathematical thinking. Further research revealed that the framework for Singapore Math is similar to the process standards espoused by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), as well as the National Research Council’s Five Strands of Mathematical Proficiency in the U.S., both of which my students are required to reflect upon as summer work. The following figure, taken from Kaur et. al., 2009, illustrates the centrality of problem solving to Singapore Math. I find the title for the figure confusing since it does not depict curriculum, per se, but dimensions of mathematics practice that are necessary to understand mathematics in a meaningful manner. At the same time, it could simply refer to the framework used when the curriculum is taught, which is more likely the case. Nonetheless, its success in Singapore suggests it has more than a minor amount of merit.
Singapore Math’s Role in Singapore
Singapore Math serves a mission critical purpose in Singapore. More than nearly any other country, Singapore realizes the essential role mathematics plays in its continued success as the following excerpt from Mathematical Problem Solving (Kaur et. al., 2009) reveals.
The vision of the Ministry of Education in Singapore is Moulding the Future of the Nation i.e. education is perceived as critical to the survival of the country. Mathematics and other school subjects are platforms for students to develop a set of competencies that hold them in good stead to function well in the type of economy that Singapore engages in. It is no wonder that the Ministry of Education has over the years introduced a slew of initiatives, two of which are Thinking School, Learning Nation (TSLN) and Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM). TSLN aims to develop good thinking through school subjects. TLLM encourages teachers to reduce the content taught via direct teaching but instead engage students in meaningful activities so that they use knowledge to solve problems and whilst solving problems extend their knowledge through inquiry. Thus, a shift in the emphasis of mathematics teaching and learning from acquisition of skills to “development and improvement of a person’s intellectual competence” (p.5, Ministry of Education, 2006a), makes it necessary for mathematics education to make mathematical problem solving and its instruction its focus. It is the aim of this book to provide readers with a range of ideas on how this can happen in the mathematics classroom.
Mathematics provides the tools necessary to solve problems that left unchecked could annihilate entire civilizations; to design systems that provide for the health, safety, and welfare of a country’s inhabitants; or to protect a nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic.
While many countries recognize the necessity to innovate to survive, few have developed as comprehensive a mathematics framework as Singapore for educating its citizens. I hope that the efforts of the Common Core State Standards, with its inclusion of mathematical practices derived from NCTM and NRC alike elevates our nation’s commitment to mathematics instruction for all public school students that is as effective as Singapore Math seems to be for Singapore.
I plan to investigate Singapore Math further to see how successful it truly has been, as well as understand its pros and cons. If anyone knows of any definitive references for Singapore Math that might shed the most current light on these items, please let me know.
 Singapore Math as used colloquially in the U.S. to refer to the teaching methods for mathematics used in Singapore
 As compiled by the Association of Mathematics Educators in Singapore