One of the philosophies and pedagogical approaches to Singapore Math is to use a problem scenario that gives students a familiar context for contemplating an abstract concept. Basically, the aim is to give the student a word problem that they can relate to so they are more interested in taking the steps necessary to find an answer. Another philosophy and pedagogical approach to Singapore Math is having students move along in their learning by first using concrete manipulitives, then moving on to pictorial representations, and finally delving into abstract calculations. Both of these practices make a lot of sense to me. In fact, they are similar in philosophy to Montessori Math, a topic I am interested in learning more about, and one which I briefly touched upon in my previous post.
These approaches are also integrated into Thinking Blocks, a math system where students use special manipulatives to solve word problems. Thinking Blocks were developed by Colleen King in 2003. Prior to creating Thinking Blocks, Colleen was using elements of Singapore Math for advanced students to help them with their algebraic thinking. Thinking Blocks evolved from her desired to create a math method for students of all math abilities. This is a compelling reason to use Thinking Blocks in the classroom, which will no doubt contain students with a diverse set of math skills.
I spent some time working with Thinking Blocks and am excited to have my son try some problems to see if the modeling aspect helps him better understand how to decipher a word problem into a math equation. Word problems come much closer to real-life scenarios (or, better yet, can be designed to emulate actual real-life situations) so finding ways to help students master the process seems like worthy goal.
The following link has a few statistics about Singapore Math - just as a side note - because of its connection with Thinking Blocks.