Why Before How – Singapore Math Computation Strategies

Jana Hazekamp
Review by: Lisa Burns

When teaching literacy, we as educators expect our students to do more than just speak the words on the page; we expect them to understand the words and the meaning behind them. Why Before How – Singapore Math Computation Strategies, brings this analogy into the math world. Jana Hazekamp, an American elementary teacher, was inspired by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results that ranked Singapore students among the best in the world in math achievement. After attending a three-day math workshop in Singapore on the Singapore math strategy, she determined she would adopt it into her program, as well as explain to other educators how it can be used in a North American context. Hazekamp’s book discusses how we need to move away from ‘rule based’ traditional math teaching, and focus on building comprehension strategies.

She suggests we accomplish this by using a Concrete – Pictorial – Abstract approach or CPA. The CPA approach encourages teachers to begin explaining concepts with manipulatives, and when mastery is achieved move towards pictorial representations, and finally traditional math expressions. In the book she argues that math is about exploring different ways of thinking, so she recommends teaching math through various strategies that reinforce the relationships between numbers, and allow for students to reflect on and justify their understanding. The book explores addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and how each of these concepts can be taught in a variety of ways using a CPA approach.

This book is extremely useful for educators because it is practical. It explains the Singapore math approach, and then gives concrete lessons, pictorial representations and guided conversations that assist teachers in implementing and facilitating these approaches. It even goes beyond traditional computation and shows junior teachers how they can alter strategies to include higher order skills, such as decimals and fractions. She shows educators how they can foster an understanding of number relationships and displays the necessity of teaching concepts of place value. Her guided conversation sections make explicit to teachers what they need to be saying and doing to help their students learn basic computation skills. This book is a fabulous reference for all teachers especially those who are looking to make their math program more transparent, accessible, and concrete.