The new math teaching methods, inspired by curricula applied in Asian countries, have created a lot of buzz, but are they really bringing the promised results? In this article we will compare the two most popular math teaching methods, which were inspired by the techniques used in Singapore and Japan. How are these methods different from math curricula used in the US schools and how can students benefit from these methods?


Singapore math – from concrete to abstract


Singapore Math has become increasingly popular in the last few years. The reason for the growing popularity of the method is, on one hand, the radically different approach to teaching math, and on the other hand, the successful performance of Singaporean students in international math competitions and rankings. This made some people wonder: could it be that the Singapore math method is the key to raising math geniuses? Foreign countries, which tested the method first, e.g. Israel, have seen positive effects of Singapore Math on students’ performance. In the US, Singapore Math is also providing satisfying results and more schools than ever are interested in following Primary Mathematics or Math in Focus – the two main curricula used to teach Singapore Math. So what is so different about this method? Singapore Math puts an emphasis on imagining and working with real life objects. The famous “3 step technique” involves a progression from natural objects (first step) to pictorial representations (second step) and to abstract operations (third step). According to Singapore Math experts, every math problem can be brought down to these 3 steps and solved using one of several Singapore Math techniques, such as Bar Modeling – graphic representation of a math problem on a bar, which help to visualize the relations between parts of the equation. Because the 3 step technique is applied at every stage, the students, who are taught Singapore Math seem to be a bit slower than their peers at the early stage of the process. However, they outperform their peers very quickly and are able to solve complex math problems with much more ease.


Japanese Math – the power of soroban


Japanese Math is not yet as popular as Singapore Math, however the method is applied in 35 countries, according to Japanese Math experts. Japanese Math is most of all recognized for its use of soroban – Japanese abacus. This tool is commonly applied in Japan to teach math to kindergartners and kids in elementary school. Soroban allows students to make simple and very complex computations with much ease. Additionally, the students of Japanese Math are also introduced to Japanese games, such as Go and Sudoku, which can serve as entertaining math exercises. But most importantly: is the Japanese Math effective? Unfortunately, achieving results similar to the accomplishments of Japanese kids does not come easy to the Japanese Math followers. Let’s not forget that Japanese students – and Singaporean kids too – spend a lot of time on studying not only in school, but also during after-class programs. The more they practice, the better results they achieve. If you plan to send your children to a school, which applies Singapore or Japanese Math techniques, ask about math workshops offered by the school, to ensure that your children have many opportunities to practice their math skills.


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