With American students' math scores falling steadily, it's natural for educators to look to the nations at the top of international assessments for inspiration—primarily Singapore, whose students consistently score at the top among all tested countries in both math and science. Math in Focus is an American math curriculum designed to present the methods and content of Singapore-based programs in a way that will appeal to kids in the United States.
Based on the My Pals Are Here math series, Math in Focus utilizes the concrete-visual-abstract progression that is part of the key to Singapore's math instruction success. Students begin by performing simple problems using manipulatives, transition to visual problem-solving, and finally learn to complete mathematical functions mentally using only symbols.
The course covers grades K-5 in two semesters each. For every semester there is a teacher's edition, student textbook, and consumable student workbook. An assessments book for each grade provides consumable tests for both semesters. Two CD-ROMs offer online-based virtual manipulatives for grades K-2 and 3-5 respectively.
Every teacher's edition provides a scope and sequence for all grade levels, with the appropriate level highlighted for easy reference. All student textbook pages are included with answers in reduced format. Supplemental information and ideas for presentation and review are included to guide teachers through each chapter. Appendices include extra resources and pages of reproducible manipulatives.
Hardcover non-consumable textbooks average 9 chapters with 3-6 lessons per chapter. There is enough information for students to complete the exercises on their own, though most will need parent/teacher guidance. Texts are full-color and illustrated with photographs and drawings. By contrast, the stark black and white workbooks and assessment books are consumable; workbooks provide extra practice and review, assessment books provide tests. (Workbooks are full-color in kindergarten.)
To access the virtual manipulatives on CD-ROM you'll need internet access, as the files take you to the appropriate page on the Math in Focus website. Students stack base ten blocks, explore geometric shapes, work with number lines, use counters, etc., in a digital format. Activities are the same for both discs, though questions and activities are more difficult on the 3-5 grades disc than the one for K-2. Operation of the programs is easy and intuitive, and kids will be attracted to the full-color images.
The digital manipulatives are NOT required. Hands-on manipulative packages are also available, as well as lists in the teacher's editions of suggested alternate items (like pasta instead of bear counters, etc.). The teacher's editions are necessary for the kindergarten level, though you can get by without them for each subsequent grade. At the same time, they provide significantly helpful information concerning common mistakes and how to avoid them (or eliminate them once they crop up).
Math in Focus is published in the United States by the same people who publish Saxon Math, though there is little resemblence between the two programs. Math in Focus is basically an American version of Singapore's My Pals Are Here Math, and students focus on individual skills and concepts until they're fully absorbed—there isn't a lot of recurrent review or backtracking.
Compared to other Singapore math courses (Primary Mathematics, both the U.S. and Standards Editions), Math in Focus is more slow-moving and not as challenging. At the same time, it's much more challenging than most American math programs, and will certainly offer kids an excellent foundation on which to build further study.
Math in Focus is designed to meet the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards, while avoiding the repetitive instruction typical of American math curricula. Students master concepts before moving on, so they don't need to continually backtrack. In most regards this is simply a flashier, slightly less advanced version of Singapore math, and is as effective.
As an alternative to most American math programs (especially those used in public schools), this is an excellent choice. If it's the Singapore method you want, however, U.S. Edition or Standards Edition Primary Mathematics are superior. They're far less expensive, rely less on teacher editions, and aren't as distracting for young learners. Those addicted to flashy programs will like these, but the other Singapore options are a better value and offer more challenging material to prepare kids for high school work.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.