Eureka Math – Singapore Math’s Colorless Cousin

Eureka! – Singapore Math is the Story of Units
January 25, 2023 58 0 2

Eureka Math is a reverse-engineered version of the Singapore Primary Mathematics curriculum but without its child-friendly resources.

Is Eureka Math based on Singapore Math?

Known as free Singapore Math

Eureka Math, also known as the Story of Units program in K-5, appears to be a reverse-engineered version of the Singapore Primary Mathematics curriculum and resources in Grades 1-5. Eureka Math originated in New York State as the Engage NY curriculum in 2012. The program was anecdotally known as “free Singapore Math” when NYS funded that curriculum a decade ago.

Eureka Math Reviews

Positive reviews

Positive Eureka math reviews tend to come almost exclusively from public school educators whose primary goal is to improve their student test scores and also those who like to teach by following lesson scripts. There are almost no reviews of Eureka math from homeschooling parents and private schools, because the program is not very popular among homeschoolers and private schools.

What’s wrong with Eureka Math?

Although it provides teachers with elaborate lesson plans, there is no child-friendly medium for delivering the Story of Units. Eureka Math is greatly improved by supplementing with a variety of student-friendly gamified learning resources such as the Singapore Math adaptive learning resource.

Prelude to Eureka Math

Singapore Primary Mathematics books

Fascinated with the Singapore Primary Mathematics curriculum and books, Eureka’s architects created a college level course and a textbook for pre-service teachers in the early 2000s. The college text was specifically designed to be used in conjunction with the Singapore Primary Mathematics US Edition textbooks in Grades 1-5. All examples and practice exercises were taken from the Singapore Primary Mathematics textbooks.

While the goal of the college textbook was to help prospective teachers develop understanding of elementary mathematics, the goal of using the Primary Mathematics books was to help college students acquire mathematical content knowledge through solving problems.  

The Singapore method of instruction 

The method of instruction also showed college students what good elementary mathematics teaching looks like because the Primary Mathematics books embedded the Singapore pedagogy (CPA) and framework’s principle that math is learned best through solving problems.

Eureka! – Singapore Math is the Story of Units

Eureka moment

It seems that one day, reviewing the Primary Mathematics textbooks, the architects of the Story of Units curriculum, had a Eureka moment in which they realized that the Singapore Math books in many ways are very similar to well-written and colorfully illustrated storybooks for children.

A story of numbers

They saw a story of numbers being developed with increasing complexity chapter by chapter and grade by grade. They likened units and bars to characters in a story, CPA sequence and clarity of math presentations to the book’s composition, and achieving mastery to the story’s plot.

Unit as a story’s theme

A theme is a central idea in a story. The Primary Mathematics curriculum’ main idea is creation, manipulation, and use of units, which is similar to a theme in a story.

Similar to the development of a character in a book, the Singapore curriculum develops an understanding of a number as a unit in each of its books. It starts with whole numbers in Grade 1, continues developing this understanding throughout the series to grasping a fraction as a unit, and then decimals as a unit in Grade 5.

Math mastery as the story’s plot

Similar to a well-written story, Singapore Math too assumes that students remember and achieved mastery of the prior content. Similar to story books, Primary Mathematics textbooks build new knowledge on the knowledge that students already have.

Bar models as characters

Singapore Math exclusively used bar models as the main characters in math stories to explain the unitary concept. Bars are used with whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percent, etc. Bar models are used to solve word problems in four operations as well as to teach algebraic concepts.

CPA as a composition in a story

A good book is written in a way that’s meaningful and accessible to its intended audience. Analogous to a well-written story for children, Primary Mathematics textbooks embed the Concrete-to-Pictorial-to-Abstract sequence that significantly contribute to children’s understanding of mathematics.

Textbooks as storybooks

Similar to well-written storybooks, the Primary Mathematics textbooks develop concepts as illustrated stories drawing on what children already know from the prior chapters and prior weeks without repeating prior content.

In a book, the plot and characters are developed from prior chapters over time. Sometimes, especially if a story is long, something could be written to refresh the reader’s memory. However, a good book doesn’t repeat what was already written because it’s assumed that readers remember what has already happened.

Also, similar to well-written storybooks that don’t distract readers from the main story, the Primary Mathematics textbooks contain clear presentations and focus on developing understanding of elementary mathematics for young learners.

Why did Eureka Math use Singapore Math as the model for creating its curriculum?

What’s so special about the Primary Mathematics curriculum and textbooks?

Off-the-charts results

Impressed by the Singapore students’ consistently high scores on PISA and TIMSS international assessments, the architects of Eureka math deduced that these achievements had to do with the elementary math curriculum and textbooks that students were using in Singapore schools.  

Proof of concept

Further exploring TIMSS’ data and inspecting the Singapore program convinced Eureka’s architects that the Primary Mathematics curriculum was indeed a major factor, which significantly contributed to Singapore taking the 1st place out 64 participants on the international competitions for nearly two decades. 

Units explain everything

Unlike any other curricula, only the Primary Mathematics curriculum used units to explain almost every concept in elementary mathematics and bar models to represent units and solve over 80% of all word problems.

Thin, clear and focused books

While the curriculum is rigorous and focused on mastery, the books are thin and easy to use. The made-up fun cartoon characters in the books provide new ideas, definitions, a variety of help, and, importantly, make learning math accessible and more interesting for young learners.

Why reverse-engineer Singapore Math?

Singapore Math’s popularity in the United States

Observing the popularity of Singapore Math in the homeschooling and private school markets for over a decade from 2000-2012, the architects of Eureka math also thought that there is a great need for a story-based curriculum in the public-school market.

Creating from scratch is expensive and time consuming

Creating a new math program from scratch can be very expensive and time consuming. Reverse-engineering allowed a way to both keep costs down and significantly expedite the process.  

While creating the Primary Mathematics curriculum from research to releasing the final product took over a decade to complete, the process of creating Eureka Math took only a couple of years from start to finish.

Keeping proven content and pedagogy

Reverse-engineering the world’s best math program allowed for keeping the proven-to-work content and pedagogy that provided the best chances for the new curriculum to be fully formed and ultimately succeed. 

Common Core changed how math is taught

Nearly all States adopted or were about to adopt the Common Core Standards in 2010. These standards were largely based on the Asian model for teaching mathematics. The new Standards created an urgent need for creating a new math curriculum because there was no single math curriculum in the U.S. that was rigorous and 100% aligned to Common Core.

The only Asian program widely used in the U.S.

Singapore Primary Mathematics was the only Asian program that was neatly aligned to Common Core. It was already available in English and widely used by homeschoolers and private schools in the U.S. for over 10 years. Naturally, the Primary Mathematics curriculum became a model for creating the Common Core-based curriculum.

Experience teaching Singapore Math

Importantly, some teachers and curriculum specialists had already gained a lot of experience teaching Singapore Math. These educators could be easily located and offered positions on Eureka’s curriculum writing team.

Urgent need

Most schools in the U.S. urgently needed a new Common Core-based curriculum and materials because after the Standards’ adoption, public school teachers would need to teach to the Standards in order for students to pass the States’ examinations.

Reverse-engineering Singapore Math is best option

In analyzing the marketplace, Common Core Standards, and Primary Mathematics curriculum, Eureka’s architects appeared to come to the conclusion that reverse-engineering Singapore Math would be the best model for both creating a story-like math curriculum with proven-to-work content, alignment to Common Core, in a cost effective and time efficient manner.

What’s wrong with Eureka Math?

Colorless curriculum without student books

The final product doesn’t look anything like the aesthetically pleasing Primary Mathematics books. Unlike the Singapore Math curriculum, Eureka Math doesn’t offer any child-friendly student books that make learning math more understandable and engaging for young learners. 

Worksheets don’t tell math stories

Eureka Math materials are not designed anything like children’s storybooks. Instead, there are worksheets for students to use for practice but these are in black and white color and are not designed to tell any story.  

Who came up with Eureka math?

Funded by the New York State Education Department, the architects of Eureka Math put together teams of consultants, math coaches, and teachers who had experience teaching Singapore Math as well as those who could assist them with writing various scripts and lesson plans, to create the Engage NY curriculum. That new story-like curriculum was later rebranded as Eureka Math. NYS discontinued supporting Engage NY in 2022.

Is Eureka Math the same as Engage NY?

Engage NY was rebranded as Eureka Math

After creating the NYS modules and Engage NY in 2013, their architects rebranded the free curriculum as Eureka Math in 2014. Eureka was sold with a full gamut of resources that now included lesson plans for teachers, worksheets for students, manipulatives, pacing guides, Professional Development, and other resources.

“Free curriculum” that costs a lot

Printing in schools is expensive and time consuming

Many schools adopted Eureka or Engage NY at no-cost between 2014-2023 because of the positive Eureka Math reviews. The curriculum was described as “free” and the only one which was 100% aligned to Common Core and State Standards.  

However, schools quickly discovered that the curriculum was not free in reality because printing on a daily basis for all classroom needs is costly and generally considerably more expensive than the cost of buying pre-published student books and teacher guides.

Depending on a school’s size, many hundreds or even thousands of pages had to be printed for teachers and students from the Engage NY website on a monthly basis throughout a school year. Printers in schools were not designed to handle such a heavy workload of printing and many printers went out of order forcing many schools to spend a lot of money to outsource printing the Engage NY materials to Kinkos and similar places.

Teacher training is expensive  

Despite the elaborate scripts, teachers still needed a lot of support and other resources in order to properly implement the program. So, in addition to incurring the costs of printing materials (not to mention time), schools still had to incur the costs of providing teachers with professional development.

Is Eureka Math free? 

Eureka Math is not free: workbooks, manipulatives, teacher training – all cost money. Actually, it can be very expensive for schools to buy Eureka Math. For example, one school district in Wyoming spent a whopping $400 per student to purchase the Eureka Math elementary curriculum in the 2022-23 school year. The final cost included purchase of all materials, manipulatives, online access, and teacher training.

Eureka’s nationwide expansion

Why are many public schools using Eureka Math instead of Singapore Math? How could the curriculum without student-friendly books become the most popular Singapore-based program in the United States?

Eureka Math reviews  

Positive Eureka Math reviews tend to focus on the fact that the curriculum is 100% aligned to State Standards, provides easy to teach lesson plans that reduce time in test prep, and improves testing scores. However, there are almost no reviews of usability of the Eureka Math’s resources for students.

While many of the positive reviews state that the Story of Units program is built on conceptual understanding for students, it’s not clear how this complex content could be delivered to young learners without a colorful child-friendly medium.

Pressure on teachers

The major reason why schools choose Eureka math is that educators in public schools are overwhelmed by a burden to improve their student test scores on standardized assessments. Often children’s scores on standardized assessments are directly linked to teacher earnings and job security. 

This dependence significantly increases educators’ anxiety level and impacts decision making processes.  Studies found that the demands to improve test scores result in some schools selecting “test-friendly” programs and neglecting resources that are more advantageous for children. 

Assessments’ pressure causes to select Eureka

Despite Singapore Math being the inspiration for Common Core and having significantly better student-friendly resources, it’s likely that the demand put upon administrators and teachers to improve test scores causes them to select test-mimicking Eureka Math over the Singapore Math curricula with friendlier student resources.

The negative consequences

This means that children are no longer taught by using the most student-friendly, colorful, well-designed, and research proven resources. Instead, some schools and educators use Eureka to teach mathematics by giving students worksheets in black and white or computerized practice that mimics the format of standardized assessments.

The bottom line

Eureka Math should be supplemented with student-friendly Singapore Math resources

With all of that pressure to improve testing scores put on teachers there must be a way to encourage schools and educators to use a child-friendly medium for delivering the Story of Units. Eureka’s black and white worksheets should be supplemented with a variety of student-friendly gamified learning resources such as the Singapore Math adaptive learning resource.

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