Who and What is Singapore Math®?
Updated: Apr 7
Last weekend, I had the privilege of representing Marshall Cavendish at the South Carolina Great Homeschool Convention. It was an amazing 2.5 days of meeting homeschool families, small hybrid schools and people looking to find valuable curriculum for their students.
As an educational consultant, I am often asked, "What is Singapore Math?" when I tell people that I am an author and trainer for the Singapore math approach. I end up telling them the history of Singapore and how it's math program came to be world renown.
This weekend, I was surprised by how many people stopped by my booth only to ask a very different question. At my booth I had the banner shown below representing Marshall Cavendish. Several people would walk by, stop for a minute, and say, "Wait...this isn't Singapore math!" or even "Marshall Cavendish isn't Singapore Math!"
After having this conversation with quite a few homeschool families and even some companies who sell Primary Mathematics, I realized the history of the term Singapore Math® required a little bit of digging. As I began to unfold this story, it reads a bit like a soap opera with key players and lots of marketing jargon. So, here's my attempt to make sense of all of this to determine who and what Singapore Math® truly is.
Let's first identify the country of Singapore and why its math program is so noteworthy. Singapore is a nation-city-state existing on an island in Southeast Asia. Beginning in 1980, Singapore's Ministry of Education began to explore its standards and methods of teaching and learning to help its students compete globally. The MOE created a syllabus and partnered with Marshall Cavendish to develop and publish a math curriculum that used research-based strategies that focused on problem-solving and developing heuristics in mathematics.
Now let's trace the different series and see how they came to the United States.
In 1982, the first Singapore textbook series, Primary Mathematics for Grades 1-6, was published based on their new syllabus and methodology. Written by Singaporean authors, it included all the research-based strategies that would encourage students to problem solve more challenging problems. Primary Mathematics was consistently updated over the years with each new syllabus put forth from Singapore's Ministry of Education.
In 1998, Dawn and Jeffrey Thomas decided they wanted to bring the math program they enjoyed while living in Singapore to the US. They began selling Marshall Cavendish's Primary Mathematics (3rd edition) to the US as an exclusive distributor (seller) and their company became Singapore Math Inc. In 2001, Marshall Cavendish released a US version of Primary Mathematics Grades 1-6 that included American money and measurement. This is the textbook series that many homeschool families are familiar seeing and has been used in the US for several years.
By bringing Primary Mathematics from Marshall Cavendish to the US, Dawn and Jeffrey Thomas officially coined the term "Singapore Math" in the US to refer to the mathematics approach that made Singapore so successful. The term was trademarked by both Singapore Math Inc (the US distributor) and Marshall Cavendish Education (the Singaporean publisher).
Over the years, the US requested specific versions of the popular Primary Mathematics series. Marshall Cavendish created a Standards Edition to meet the needs of the California State Standards and a Common Core Edition to meet schools' needs who were using Common Core. Both of these editions were aimed at the school market or for homeschool students who needed to meet the state's standards. Different editions included Teacher's Guides and Home Instructor Guides.
Throughout Singapore's success, other textbook series were published to align with updates the Ministry of Education made to its syllabus. Marshall Cavendish created a series called My Pals are Here. This was one of the most widely used series in Singapore that helped to establish Singapore's success placing within the top three of the world year after year on the TIMSS assessment. My Pals are Here continues to be an international program published by Marshall Cavendish.
Working with US publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Marshall Cavendish created Math in Focus® in 2007 for the US student and classroom. This series replicated My Pals are Here but included US measurement and money. Math in Focus was made available to schools and homeschool families with Teacher's Guides, Student Books and Workbooks.
In 2018, Singapore Math Inc. created their own curriculum using the Singapore approach called Dimensions. The Student Book and Teacher's Guides were written entirely by US consultants based on their interpretation of the Singapore approach. This series included colorful Teacher's Guides, Student Books and Workbooks ranging from PreK to Grade 5. There is also an older 6-8 Dimensions curriculum published by Star Publishing. Singapore Math Inc continues to be a Marshall Cavendish distributor partner selling the Primary Mathematics series and Dimensions on their website.
In 2020, Marshall Cavendish and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released an updated version of Math in Focus. This new edition aligned to Singapore's latest syllabus and included an upgraded digital and print experience for both teachers and students. It includes Student Books written by Singaporean authors and Teacher's Guides written by American specialists.
In 2022, Marshall Cavendish released a new Primary Mathematics for the US market. This new edition is aligned to the current Singapore math syllabus and includes 21st century skills. The Student Books were completely redesigned and includes many more features for teachers to implement in classrooms and homeschool settings. Similar to Math in Focus, this series was written by a Singaporean team collaborating with US authors for the teaching materials.
Marshall Cavendish Education continues to be a publisher of many Singaporean texts that are sold internationally including Primary Mathematics, My Pals are Here, Math in Focus and Shaping Maths. Each program harnesses the Singapore Math approach in a different way depending on its ideal customer. They also sell other subject areas as well.
Whew! That was a lot! Full disclosure, I've been a Singapore Math trainer for almost 10 years. I first worked for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt training teachers on their 2013 Math in Focus Edition. I then became an independent consultant to focus on the Singapore approach without a specific curriculum. In that time, I authored the Math in Focus 2020 Third Grade Teacher's Guides and co-authored Grades 2-5 Primary Mathematics Teacher's Guides and authored Grades 3A- 5 Primary Mathematics Home Instructor's Guides.
Having worked on both of those projects, I find it imperative to show educators what the true Singapore approach truly is. There are a lot of people out there trying to replicate it, which may work for some students. In my own practice, I sell products that help bridge understanding for some students with the Singapore approach. However, I think it's important that we understand the term Singapore Math® and what it really means. It's a research-based approach that is very thoughtful. (Follow Up blog post coming soon!)
If you are shopping for curriculum while reading this post, I want to encourage you to compare them. It's awesome that we get a choice but can also be very overwhelming. Each program has components that may work best for your school or homeschool setting. Be sure to compare them to see which works for you! You can download my 4 easy teaching tips on implementing Singapore Math to help get you started on what to look for during your search.
New Pathways to Success: The History of Singapore Math (HMH).
A Brief History of Math in Focus: Singapore Math by Marshall Cavendish (HMH).
Our Story (SMI)