Go Math!” is a new Houghton Mifflin Harcourt curriculum for Kindergarten through 6th grade math.  It’s designed to meet new “common core” Federal and state level academic standards for school districts.  The Singapore Math Standards curriculum is a program that also covers “common core” and other standards.  It is a full Kindergarten through 12th grade math curriculum.  The kindergarten of each program has its own benefits and drawbacks and distinctive style.

The Singapore Math advantage is proven and spectacular success.  For several years running, students taught using this curriculum outscored the entire world on international standardized math tests.  After its adoption in struggling US school districts, student scores went from failing to excelling in just a few years.  The Go Math! curriculum, on the other hand, is largely untried.

There are teacher advantages to the kindergarten Go Math! curriculum.  Each chapter begins with an overview that includes a description of ways to teach the concept in a concrete way, as well as an inspirational quote from a researcher.  There is also a convenient chart that outlines which lessons in the chapter focus on concrete, representational, and abstract presentations of the concept.  Singapore Math curriculum on the other hand, is not known for providing much in the way of teacher guides – although this is improving in the more recent editions.

The Go Math! curriculum offers digital accessories, such as teacher support and training available online, as well as the possibility of online student editions.  The Go Math! curriculum also offers other accessories, such as a special “Intensive Intervention” teacher guide and a Write-On / Wipe-Off Math Board.  Of dubious value are the “separate chapter” teacher guides, which mean that each chapter of the student book has its own separate teacher guide booklet.  Some teachers might find the multiplicity of small-size booklets convenient.  Others might prefer to have everything bound together in one place.

The topics covered by the Go Math! curriculum for kindergarten are typical for kindergarten math.  The children learn counting; shapes and sorting and patterns; addition and subtraction.  They learn about measuring and relative length and weight.

Go Math! kindergarten would fall under the general heading of being a “mastery curriculum”, meaning that generally speaking each chapter’s topic is covered in that chapter and there is little explicit review in later chapters (though the later concepts may and often do build on the previous ones).  Similarly, Singapore Math is also a mastery curriculum.  Each year’s topics are covered in their respective lessons, with plenty of practice given at the time.  Later on, if the same concept is needed again (say, as part of a word problem, or to understand a later concept), mastery is simply assumed – even if the topic was taught a full year ago.  It is not re-explained in detail, simply mentioned in passing.

Another similarity between kindergarten Go Math! curriculum and the Singapore Math curriculum is that they both see children as needing to work first with concrete, hands on depictions of number and math, then move to pictorial representations as an intermediate before they can understand math ideas more abstractly.  Singapore Math in fact refers to this as their “concrete > pictorial > abstract” approach.  Go Math! speaks of “concrete, representational, abstract.”  It’s the same idea both places.

The overall “feel” of Go Math! kindergarten is more busy and colorful than Singapore Math, which has a fun and simple design with cute drawings for kids to practice counting, one to one correspondence, and the like.  Go Math! has a lot more pages.  The student book alone is 580 pages.  Compare that to the Singapore student books which together (there are two slim books, one for each half of the school year) come to only around 400 pages.  Then, the Go Math! teacher books come in 12 individual volumes (one for each chapter) for a total of 910 pages – and that’s not counting the 180 page “Planning Guide” or the 148 page “Assessment Guide” or the 118 page “Grab-and-Go Teacher Guide and Activity Resources.”  Then there are also extra practice books or review books.

The Singapore Math kindergarten materials overall are more lean, efficient and – dare we add – environmentally friendly (since fewer trees are used for the fewer pages of material!).  As mentioned, the main student textbooks for the year come to just over 200 pages each.  The teacher guides come to roughly 600 pages.  Period.  There are also some extra practice books and some – note well! – challenge books that are about the same thickness as the slim student texts.

Contrast this with typical American programs such as Go Math! which usually offer extra practice problems and sometimes extra review problems, but almost never anything that could be considered challenge problems.  The focus in the Singapore Math curriculum is to raise the bar for students and to encourage them to try that extra-hard problem, to get an edge, to get ahead.  This is a welcome contrast to the American books which always seem to be looking backward with review, rather than forward with challenge.

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