Posted by: angiefm | January 25, 2009

How We Teach Math

I’m no math expert, but I wanted just to share how we teach Math at The Domus Academy.  It works for us!  🙂

First up, a little about …


Scheduling – We do not pre-schedule how many lessons/pages our children need to work through each day.  Instead we use our trusty TIMER.  Alethea does 30 minutes of math and Timothy does 20 minutes.  This is increased over time, depending on the ability of the child to maintain focus.

If they have been focused and diligent, then when the timer goes off, they will just have to complete that sum or page or whatever they can get through in a matter of a couple more minutes.  If they haven’t (and you can always tell), then teacher-Mummy has the perogative to re-start the clock!  The threat of that is in itself motivational!  LOL!

The Habit of Attention – The reason we do this is that we want to train attentiveness, which is a BIG thing in ensuring homeschool success.  If a child is allowed to dawdle and space-out (you know that look), then what you are training is inattentiveness, which is counterproductive. 

Sometimes they have a legitimate reason for being distracted – Nathalie is clowning around, Salve (our helper) is frying up something really delicious for lunch, they didn’t have enough sleep, whatever.  In moments like these I pause the timer and allow them to do something to refresh themselves.  This is sometimes a trip to the fridge for a drink, or the reading of a poem, or something that doesn’t take too long.  Then they are back at the table and the timer is re-started.

Some people who hear this are horrified!  They think that at this rate they will NEVER get through the syllabus!  But that is so not true.  Once your child develops the habit of paying COMPLETE attention to the task at hand, you will find that things go along much smoother and you are able to cover more ground and faster. 

But if you sacrifice the building of this habit of attentiveness for the sake of covering the curriculum, you may find yourself in a worse position later on.

We train this habit of attentiveness while doing other things as well – copywork, reading, etc.  You will have to start small (we started with 10 to 15 min blocks when the kids were younger) and work up from there, always being attentive to your child’s state of mind.  Every child is different but they can all be trained to remain attentive for longer and longer periods of time. 

Alethea has reached the point when she knows her attention is waning and will ask for a time-out herself.  I believe this self-awareness is important.

Precision – our children are taught that math is a PRECISE subject.  The God who created us perfectly is a God of order and 1+1 is always 2.  So there is to be no guesswork in math.  Of course some problems require that you do a bit of guesswork to arrive at an approximate answer before you work on getting the exact one, but that is not what we are talking about. 

So if either of them has ANY DOUBT AT ALL how to proceed on a question, they come to me to talk about it.  Don’t know what “product of” means?  Don’t guess.  Can’t figure if you are supposed to find out how much so-and-so had to begin with or how much he spent?  Don’t guess. 

This way we minimise the number of mistakes and when there IS a mistake, it is usually the result of a miscalculation (ie carelessness) which is a different set of problems to tackle than the lack of understanding.  That takes the guesswork out for me as well as I seek to understand what their issues are with math.

Mastery – we work on mastery of concepts and not on just getting from one topic/level to the next.  If our children are still struggling with addition facts, we keep at it and don’t move on to subtraction.  Because if we did, our children would do neither well.  But once they GET addition, subtraction is a breeze.  A sound foundation is crucial to be able to understand and compute at a higher level.

Making Math Practical – Math MUST be seen to be practical.  If not solving problems just becomes a mundane mental activity.  So we are constantly playing math games – adding numbers on the car license plate, counting the number of the different brands of cars, figuring out ratios of the number of cars to non-cars (buses, motocycles, lorries, etc) on the roads in general versus on private estate roads (like the ones leading to my parents home).  Of course making change at shops, seeing shapes in everyday objects, etc.

Okay.  Let’s get down to specifics:



Shaping Maths – We are using this series of local text/workbooks.  We started with My Pals Are Here, but honestly I was terribly irritated by the characters used in that series – Oogle, Toogle, Google and other pals.  I actually really like the local books, but the one problem I face is that there are no answers.  Not that I need it at the P3 level (ha ha), but you know how during the PSLE our children will have to show their working, method, etc, and not just the answer, and it would be really good to know what a “model” answer looks like. 


FAN Maths – We use this as a sort of revision after we finish a level of Shaping Maths.  There are three different books in this series – Topic-by-Topic, Heuristic Maths and CA/SA Papers.  We are using all three.  🙂  Last year we based our report to the MOE on Alethea’s performance on the SA papers in the FAN Math series (we told them where we got the papers from) and it was accepted. 


Challenging Maths & Math Olympiad – we have tried using these books (available at Popular Bookshops islandwide :)), but failed miserably.  Sure Alethea could do the sums, but they were tedious to do and frustrating to her. 


And really many times what Challenging Maths was asking for was applying the same concept but using a bigger number.  While the textbook/workbook was asking for multiplying a 3-digit number by a 2 digit number, “challenging” just meant multiplying a 4-digit number by a 4-digit number.  It did not add to her understanding, and on the contrary took away the enjoyment she had in solving mathematical problems (both our children really do enjoy math!)

We may come back to it in the future or just throw in a problem or two now and then, but for now we want to build positiveness about the discipline.

Moving On – once we are done with a particular level of Shaping Maths and have done the FAN Math books and completed the SA papers (we don’t use the CA ones) to submit to the Ministry of Education, then we move on to the next level of Shaping Maths.  It doesn’t matter where in the academic year we are in, if our children have mastered the material at an earlier level, we just move on.



Right Start Math – We started using this last year but were start-stoppish about it.  This year though, we have been very diligent!  And the children LOVE it!  They literally CHEER when I say it’s time for Right Start Math.  Maybe part of the reason is they get to sit on the floor and play games.  🙂  It is not your traditional curriculum, but it really makes math fun.  

It uses games to reinforce key facts like number that make 10, multiplication tables, multiplying by 5’s etc.  Also there is great variety in the lessons – one lesson they are trying to add using Roman Numerals and the next they are drawing geometrically accurate 5-pointed stars!  It has a very Montessori feel to it and the abacus they use to teach has really helped Timothy to grasp his basic facts.


Math-U-See – We started out with this programme when Alethea was 4+ and worked through the Primer, Alpha, Beta and half of Gamma levels.  This is more your traditional approach to math, with a focus on mastery which I agree with.  But Alethea could not stomach the repetition and drill after a while, and Timothy just couldn’t understand how one block could represent any number other than ONE!  Which is a problem for some children, say the Right Start Math people, which is what motivated the switch. 

Nevertheless this is a great programme especially since the lessons are conducted by programme creator Steve Demme on DVD and you just watch it with your child or if they are older, they can just watch it themselves.  If they dont’ understand it, they can always just watch it again!  There is local distributor for the metric version of the programme in Singapore.  If you are keen, please contact Jenny Wong at

Calculadder – we bought this for getting our children to work on accuracy and speed.  It only takes 2 to 3 mins a day to do this and the results have been very satifying. 


We read “living” math books and math stories.  These really help our children see the connection between mathematical concepts and real life, or give them an insight into the lives of the famous mathematicians. 

One of my all-time favourites is One Grain of Rice by Demi, which shows the effects of doubling through a lovely story about a little girl, who when asked to name her reward, asked to be given just one grain of rice, but that it be doubled every day over a 30-day period.  Of course the King agreed to the seemingly small request, but to the miserly king’s horror, the results of the doubling were astounding!

I promised earlier that I would post a list of “living books” we are reading for Math.  But it still isn’t ready!  Sorry, it’s taking longer than I expected.  Will get around to it and when I do, I will update this post.


  1. My boys have also used Math U See but after completing Beta, we have moved on to Math Mammoth – only because it was more cost effective for us. It has great reviews, is sold in a pdf file so you can print multiple copies of them, hurray!

  2. Hi Angie,
    Where can I get the Right Start Math Curriculum here?

  3. […] i-Excel, Heuristic and Model Approach by Li Fanglan (this is part of the FAN Math series I wrote about in the piece on how we teach math) […]

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  5. Hi, Thanks for your effort in putting up this website.:)I’m a stay-at-hme mom. Appreciate the tip u share abt attentiveness. My girl , in P2, has this prob – nt able to sit still for more than 5 mins in doing her wrk. Yr sharing reminded me I shld wrk on stretching her attention span. I agree- reinfrc’g d concepts in math is impt. instd of juz getting kids to mve on fr 1level 2another without strong fdn being built.:) May I knw where I can buy ‘Right Start Math’? appreciate v much if u wld reply me:) tq:) hv a blessed day!

  6. Hi Angie,

    You have a great and interesting website.
    Thank you for sharing the article “How We Teach Math”.

    Like you, I also share tips, notes and questions on PSLE and O LEVEL Mathematics.

    If you have the time, please come and visit my blog at

    I would love to haer from you.
    Thank you and good job!

    Simply A Math

  7. Hi Angie, where can i get the rightstart math series? Thanks

  8. Urp…*burb*…looks like way toooo much work! You’re Amazing!

  9. Hihi Can you share where can we get rightstart math series? Thanks!

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