Freed from Singapore “Bar Model” Math – Part 1

8 Jul

singa-mathI am going to say from the start, Math Arena is not a true-blue fan of the beloved “bar models” for solving word problems….this particular way of solving math problems is strongly associated with the Singapore Math method. Just not my cup of tea.

I am inspired to write this article as I was only slightly surprised and mostly amused when recently, I taught “pre-algebraic” methods to our new students and heard them shout with joy, “I am freed from drawing models!”

This scene is actually not new and has been transformational to many pupils. It is not just about grade improvement, even though that is the end goal. Quite often, I encounter children burdened with using “bar models”. They were tired of drawing intricate “bar models” for complex math problems and found themselves “boxed in.” I feel their pain. If you don’t, you should try it!

This is not to say “bar models” does not have its place. I find it a great tool to explain concepts in “Fraction-Ratio-Percentage” math problems. These concepts, being already well drilled in our primary schools, means that I do not need to spend too much time discussing them. Instead, I will take more time to show pupils how to represent the key concepts using “bar models” as well as representing the same concepts with numbers and units.

After painstakingly showing them alternative approaches, pupils tend to naturally lean towards the manipulation of the pre-algebraic method as it creates both ease and speed of solving more complex problems. Difficult problems begin to appear to be easier to comprehend, as multiple steps of simple manipulations. math-simpleMy earlier indication of issues with Singapore Bar Models was when I used to teach it from 2003 to 2009. My P6 pupils did exceptionally well… they were near perfect in their prelims and tests and did correspondingly well in their PSLE. They got into the schools of their choice. But in secondary one, I received early reports that they were failing math! I was shocked! These were my brilliant pupils! I suspect they were too adept at using “bar models” to solve complex problems hence the move to algebra in secondary school became difficult. They were masters of using a simple tool but sadly not the right tool for the job!

3 Responses to “Freed from Singapore “Bar Model” Math – Part 1”

  1. Haha3822 August 11, 2015 at 6:12 am #

    I never actuallyike bar models. Stopped using since P5, but sometimes it would be great to use for helping weaker students. 🙂

    • matharena August 14, 2015 at 9:46 am #

      Yes, a bar model is still a good tool to use to get the concept across. But “weaker” students still can get it — the non-bar models method. Have you tried to teach the non-bar model to them? Have you shown them


  1. Comparing Bar Model and Non Bar Model | - October 20, 2015

    […] This is Part 2 and it continues from our previous Freed from Bar Models. […]

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