Three years ago we switched from Saxon Math to Math in Focus, also known as Singapore Math, in grades Kindergarten through fifth following two years of research by our faculty Math Committee. Near the end of the first school year we adopted the new program, we asked our students to write a paper about which math program they preferred, Saxon or Singapore, and why they chose the program they did. Our students overwhelmingly expressed a preference for the new math curriculum; nearly every student chose Singapore Math over Saxon Math. Reading their reasons was a lot of fun, and we thought you might be curious to know what reasons recurred most frequently.
Providence grammar students loved the nuts and bolts of the new curriculum. They enjoyed being able to use so many manipulatives to help them understand the math concepts, and they liked that the manipulatives tied in so clearly to the textbooks. They enjoyed the textbooks and the way the illustrations in the books helped them to visualize the concepts they were studying.
Even more students, however, expressed appreciation for the way Singapore Math taught them many problem-solving strategies. The students enjoyed being able to draw on a variety of strategies to understand and solve each math problem. They liked the fact that if they couldn’t solve a problem on the first try, the curriculum guided them toward other strategies they could also use. The students also enjoyed the new curriculum’s emphasis on mental math skills. The younger students liked filling their math “toolboxes” with lots of mental math strategies so that they didn’t have to use their fingers to solve problems anymore. Many students expressed that the curriculum’s focus on problem-solving skills and mental math made them feel smarter at math than they ever had before. They knew that they were solving more difficult problems with greater ease, and they felt confident and pleased with their own progress. Over and over students said that Singapore Math made them smarter at math and more able to solve challenging problems.
Probably the most-repeated sentiments among our students were that Singapore Math was harder than Saxon, and that it was easier. You might assume that these comments came from two different sets of students, but actually, students frequently said that Singapore was both harder and easier than Saxon – oftentimes in the same sentence! The students certainly noticed that Singapore Math is a more advanced curriculum, and they often found it initially challenging. However, with all the problem-solving strategies they learned and all the time spent delving deeply into understanding mathematical concepts, the students actually found even these hard problems easier than Saxon problems. The students actually ended up enjoying the challenge that Singapore Math provided, so much that this very challenge was one of their favorite things about the program.
Again and again, students expressed that Singapore Math was more fun for them than Saxon, even though it was harder – and often *because* it was harder. Many students found Saxon boring compared to Singapore. According to our students, Singapore Math made them smarter at math while at the same time making math class more fun. If you ask the students themselves, our math curriculum change this year was a resounding success!
Beginning in September of 2016, we plan to replace the sixth grade curriculum with Math-in-Focus with an eye to extending it into seventh and eighth grades in subsequent years.