Sometimes it seems like nothing can instill fear in the hearts of homeschooling families than the prospect of teaching math.
Picking a curriculum that suits a student’s learning style, pace of learning and homeschool needs can, however, make things quite a bit easier…often for all involved.
Both Math U See and Singapore Math offer high quality, comprehensive and deeply respected homeschool math programs and have helped produce strong math students across the US.
These programs do have some strong similarities and often subtle, yet critical, differences and it can be hard for parents to choose one over the other.
In this article, we’ve decided to compare these two popular math programs so that parents can make a more informed and effective decision.
What Is Math U See
Math U See is a hands-on and multisensory approach to math instruction that was created in the late 1980s by author and educator Steve Demme.
A conceptual math program known for its straightforward approach to teaching, extensive use of manipulatives, discussion-based lessons and guiding videos, Math U See is a popular homeschool curriculum used by families and co-ops around the country.
What Is Singapore Math
Singapore Math Inc is the company that introduced and popularized the Singapore math method in the United States in the 1990s.
The company offers several curricula options, notably Dimensions and Primary Mathematics, all of which are based on the Singapore method and aim to help students develop a stronger conceptual understanding of math and hone their critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Math U See vs Singapore Math: Curriculum Variants
Singapore Math is not a single curriculum, but is a company that provides a number of different curricula that are based on the Singapore math method.
The two most notable are Dimensions and Primary Mathematics.
Dimensions is the company’s flagship curriculum, developed in-house, while Primary Mathematics is an adapted version of the famous Singapore primary school math curriculum.
While Dimensions is more or less a single program (it is divided into two levels PK-5 and 6-8), there are four different versions of Primary Mathematics out there.
The most recent version of the program is Primary Mathematics 2022, but homeschooling families can still pick up older versions such as Primary Mathematics US (the original curriculum brought into the US), Primary Mathematics Standards Edition (which was altered to meet California state standards pre-Common Core) and Primary Mathematics Common Core.
While Dimensions and Primary Mathematics share a similar approach and philosophy to math, they do differ in the number of activities offered per lesson, their overall lesson structure and overall look and feel.
By offering a number of different programs, Singapore Math can offer greater flexibility for homeschoolers in terms of program content that can help tailor learning a bit more to their needs and preferences.
The downside, of course, is that it can be more confusing and time consuming for families to pick a curriculum that suits them, as they will need to do analysis of their needs and research each program in turn.
In contrast, Math U See is a single program- Math U See – and there are no other variants on the market.
What this does introduce some limitations in terms of options for homeschoolers (you either like it or you don’t), it does make it a lot simpler to make a decision about the program.
What Grades Do They Cover?
Math U See and Singapore Math differ quite a bit in their intended grade ranges.
Math U See is a K-12 math program, covering everything from basic number sense and counting all the way to high school calculus.
In contrast, Singapore Math doesn’t really extend much beyond grade 8, based as it is on the Singapore primary school curriculum.
Dimensions math covers PK-8, while Primary Mathematics is K-5/6, depending on the particular edition (with Dimensions 6-8 filling in the remaining grades to middle school).
While the program is quite thorough and prepares students quite well for the rigors of Algebra 1, those who’ve enjoyed the Singapore approach and who are moving into grades 9-12 will have to find a comparable mastery/conceptual program to teach middle/high school math.
For example, families may start off with Singapore and progress to Art of Problem Solving (if their students show a talent for math), CTCMath, Mr. D Math or a similar program.
All this means that Math U See can be a good solution for those looking for a single math program that can be used throughout a child’s learning.
That said, parents should be aware that children do change over time and Math U See’s approach may not always suit as they progress through the years.
A notable difference between Math U See and Singapore is in how they label each grade of their individual programs.
Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics and Dimensions programs use a pretty standard structure, with each book corresponding to a particular grade and having that grade featured prominently on its cover.
While this can make it very easy to figure out where to start with the program, students who are a bit behind may find working from a book so obviously intended for a lower level to be a bit embarrassing.
Singapore Math also tends to split each grade of its programs into two parts, A and B, requiring parents to buy both to get a full year’s worth of learning.
In contrast, Math U See grades are all single year-long curricula and are, at the elementary school leveled, labeled according to the Latin alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and so on).
At the high school level, as with most other homeschool math programs, books are labeled according to their subject.
While this makes correlating the program to specific grades less intuitive, it can make it easier for students in need of remediation to work with its materials.
Placement Test Options
Singapore Math offers traditional, downloadable and printable PDF placement tests for each of its programs and their various grades.
These are made of about 20 or so questions that test a student’s skill and knowledge to determine if they are ready to begin a grade.
In contrast, Math U See offers a digital tool that is a bit different than what most homeschooling families might be used to.
Rather than a direct math test, it is more of a series of questions aimed at parents asking them about their child’s ability and knowledge with regards to various math concepts and skills.
If parents indicate they are unsure about certain skills, the program will compile a short downloadable PDF quiz with a few questions that parents can administer for themselves to find out for certain.
By and large, we feel that Math U See’s placement test is a little more hands-off and quicker/easier to administer for parents, although perhaps not quite as precise as Singapore’s traditional math tests given that some parents may zone out or just simply assume that their child can do certain things.
Both Singapore Math and Math U See offer supplemental learning materials to bolster their core programs.
With Math U See, the company offers AIM for Addition and Subtraction and AIM for Multiplication, two books that provide strategies and focused exercises that can help students who are struggling with these fundamental concepts.
Singapore Math, on the other hand, offers a broad array of supplemental learning materials that can be used with any of their programs.
They offer, for example:
- Extra Practice – to give students more opportunity to practice their math and develop fluency
- Challenging Word Problems – a compilation of more complex word problems
- Intensive Practice – for more advanced math students
- Math Sprints – helps hone math skills
- Process Skills – which helps students reinforce their problem solving skills
In addition to these, they also have specific supplements for each level of their Primary Mathematics 2022 program, such as:
- Reteach – which is designed to help remediate learning in struggling students
- Extension – which offers more challenging problems for advanced learners
Overall, with a larger number and variety of supplemental books available for their programs, Singapore Math curricula can be a little easier to configure to suit a particular student’s needs in our opinion.
How They Teach Math
Singapore Math and Math U See are both mastery math programs.
In other words, both programs introduce one topic at a time and spend a good deal of time exploring each one in depth, moving on only when a student can show sufficient proficiency (mastery) of the concept.
Once a concept is mastered, it tends not to be revisited very often (or at all) in subsequent units, grades or years.
This stands in contrast to spiral math programs that tend to break concepts up into smaller chunks, introducing them a little at a time and revisiting them in greater depth as a student progresses in their studies.
Both Singapore Math and Math U See are conceptual math programs.
This means that the programs have a greater emphasis on teaching students the why behind math, i.e. why concepts work the way they do and the logic behind them.
Both programs therefore tend to have less drill and rote memorization of math facts, rules and formulas compared to more traditional programs (i.e. how to solve problems), and instead lean towards teaching multiple strategies for solving problems and encouraging students to think more critically and creatively about what they are doing.
Use of Manipulatives
Singapore Math and Math U See both also make use of math manipulatives and hands-on activities in their lessons in order to help students better grasp abstract concepts.
Both programs, for example, make use of things like Tangrams, dice, clock faces, scales, math cubes and much much more.
Math U See does tend to make manipulatives a little more central to its lessons, however, than Dimensions or Primary Mathematics, having a specific, required and dedicated lesson section (“Build”) for its manipulatives.
It also extends the use of hands-on and tactile learning into its Algebra 1 program, whereas Dimensions and Primary Mathematics tends to use them until grade 5 or so.
Use of Technology
Although they are both primarily pen and paper math curricula (unlike CTCMath and some others), both Singapore Math and Math U See have integrated some digital resources into their programs.
Math U See is well known for its instructional videos.
Taught by the creator of the program, Steve Demme, these short (usually less than 15 minutes) videos are aimed at parents and explain math concepts and ideas in math in a casual, straightforward and concise way, something that can be of help to those with rusty math skills.
They also provide a variety of tips, tricks and demonstrations for introducing concepts effectively using the program’s materials.
In addition to these videos, Math U See also offers digital learning packs that contain most of the printed program’s learning material (excluding its consumable workbooks) and an assortment of digital manipulatives that can be used on-screen.
With Singapore Math, the use of technology can vary depending on the program in question.
With Dimensions, the company offers video lessons that can help explain and teach the material.
Unlike those offered by Math U See, these are full, comprehensive lessons for each grade aimed at students and so can be of great assistance if a parent is uncertain of their own abilities or is struggling.
They are also sold separately from the main program.
With Primary Mathematics, there are no video lessons but the 2022 edition does have digital copies of its materials that parents can access.
Math U See Vs Singapore Math: Lesson Structure Differences
Math U See and Singapore Math’s various math programs are all parent-led, but their lessons are structured quite differently.
Math U See
With Math U See, each lesson involves a 4-step process.
Parents first watch the relevant lesson video to get a better understanding of what they’re teaching.
After this, they begin the program’s build-write-say teaching process.
Parents then begin the lesson with Build, where they explore a concept using illustrations, manipulatives and hands-on activities to help introduce, model and clarify concepts for students in a way they can more intuitively understand.
Following this, parents and students are encouraged to Write their approach to a concept or problem in a sequential manner in order to formalize it.
Finally, in Say there is a dialogue between parents and students as they go through what they’ve learned, taking their way through the logic and reinforcing what they’ve learned as they do so.
This continues until a student can successfully teach a concept back to their parents.
Following Build-Write-Say, students then practice for mastery, before doing the usual reviews and tests that a math program entails.
With Singapore Math, the exact structure of a lesson really depends on the exact version and edition used.
Both programs, however, broadly center around the Singapore math method’s CPA (Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract) approach.
This approach seeks to help students better understand some of maths’ more difficult concepts by first giving them something physical (like a manipulative or activity) as a representation before moving on to illustrations and, finally, representing them as equations.
Lessons in Dimensions follow a Think-Learn-Do process.
In Think, parents introduce math concepts, sparking a student’s interest and getting them to think more deeply about them through real-life situations, problems and activities.
Following this, students begin to Learn a particular math concept through the aforementioned CPA approach, starting with manipulatives and gradually shifting to formal math representations.
Finally, with Do, students engage in some supervised activities and practice.
Following a lesson, students then do work on their own in their workbooks and supplemental (if any).
Primary Mathematics 2022
With the latest edition of Primary Mathematics, lessons are a bit different from Dimensions (although they share some similarities) and follow a Readiness-Engagement-Mastery structure.
Parents begin each unit with Readiness.
This involves a chapter opener and some exercises to make sure a student is ready to learn a concept.
The learning component of the lessons in Primary Mathematics 2022 is called Engagement, and it is made up of several parts:
- Task – Here parents engage in a discussion with their students about a concept and offer some focused exercises, manipulative work and/or activities to engage in.
- Learn– Here students and parents engage in a back and forth dialogue to explore certain concepts, skills and ideas in math
- Learn Together – This is where parents and students do problems and exercises together, with the parent guiding the student through them step by step
- Activity – These are real-world and often hands-on activities that parents assign to their students
- Debrief – a reflection component designed to determine if a student has absorbed what they’ve learned through a lesson
Finally, with Mastery, students practice in their workbooks on their own to hone their skills.
Despite the differences between Math U See and Singapore Math in terms of overall lesson structure, the programs do have their similarities, as well.
The curricula all break their lessons down into several sequential components, with parents guiding students gently from the introduction of a concept to independent practice.
They also tend to teach through ongoing dialogues and discussions between parent and student and so can be useful for those who enjoy spending time interacting with their students (and who have the time for it, obviously).
Finally, both programs tend to have fairly short lessons (although this can vary depending on the length of the discussions, activities and interactions in each lesson).
Both programs tend to keep lessons to about 35-45 minutes, so they shouldn’t be too long or intimidating for students.
Overall Program Rigor
While both programs are very thorough, comprehensive math programs that have been successfully used by students around the US for years, in our opinion, Singapore Math’s Dimensions and Primary Mathematics curricula are a little more rigorous and challenging than Math U See.
For the most part, we find that Math U See tends to favor a gentler pace and approach to teaching math than Singapore, and uses a lot of straightforward, common sense explanations of math to help students understand things a little easier.
Singapore Math is, on the other hand, known for its rigor and its strong emphasis on theory and concepts and tends to include a good deal of complex problems and real life applications of math.
That said, it is important to keep in mind that Singapore Math (especially Primary Mathematics) is based on a state primary school program and is designed so that most students should be able to complete it without a problem.
This is especially true as Singapore Math offers a lot in the way of supplements for struggling students.
Note: Prices correct as of writing, all prices in USD.
The exact price of a level of Singapore or Math U See really depends on the grade in question and, in the case of Singapore Math, which edition and version we are talking about.
That said, by and large, a complete first year’s set for Math U See tends to cost from about $130-200, with less expensive “level up” sets available for each subsequent grade.
With Dimensions Math, a complete grade’s set can cost between around $110-169, and another $85 per grade if parents want to purchase the video lessons as well.
Finally, with Primary Math 2022, grade level sets tend to cost around $70 or so.
With Singapore Math, however, it is important to recognize that parents will have to buy manipulative sets separately for each grade, which can be an added cost.
Overall, because it includes video instruction, manipulatives kits, digital resources and less-expensive level up kits, we feel that Math U See may be a little less expensive for homeschoolers to use in the long run.
Math U See Vs Singapore Math: Overview of Similarities
✔ Both programs largely teach elementary school to middle school math
✔ Both programs are full and comprehensive math programs
✔ Both programs are conceptual, emphasizing understanding, problem solving and logic
✔ Both programs are mastery math programs
✔ Both are highly respected among homeschoolers
✔ Both make use of videos and educational technology
✔ Both have supplemental materials
✔ Both have relatively short lessons
✔ Both make use of manipulatives and multisensory activities to help students understand
✔ Both are parent-led
Math U See Vs Singapore Math: Overview of Differences
✖ Math U See is K-12, Singapore Math’s programs end at grade 8 (Dimensions) or lower
✖ Math U See centralizes math manipulatives a little more
✖ Singapore Math has more supplements that parents can use to tailor the program to fit their child
✖ Singapore Math is a bit more rigorous in our opinion
✖ Singapore Math Dimensions offers optional full lesson videos that parents can use
✖ Math U See videos are included for free with each grade and typically includes more digital resources
✖ Singapore Math books make obvious references to grade levels that makes them very intuitive to use
✖ Math U See uses Latin letters that can make them friendlier to struggling students
✖ There are fewer editions of Math U See to choose from, making it easier to pick the program…
✖ …but Singapore Math’s various programs give parents more flexibility in terms of learning style
✖ Math U See tends to be a little less expensive to use over time
|Singapore Math||Math U See|
|Full Math Curriculum||✅||✅|
|Grade Range||Pre-K-8(depending on editions)||Grades K-12|
|Full math program||✅||✅|
|Approach to Math||Mastery||Mastery|
|Conceptual or Procedural Math||Conceptual||Conceptual|
|Main Style of Instruction||Parent-led||Parent-led|
|Manipulatives||✅||✅ Up to and including Algebra 1|
|Optional Video Instruction||✅||✅|
Both Math U See and Singapore Math (be it Dimensions or Primary) are excellent homeschool curricula whose methods and techniques have helped innumerable students become more confident in their math learning.
Although on the surface they share many similarities, they also have quite a few subtle differences that can make it hard for parents to pick between them.
To help out, we’ve put together the chart below so that parents can make a more informed decision.
|I’m a parent and…||Consider|
|I’m teaching grades K-8||Either|
|I want a program that can continue throughout high school||Math U See|
|I’m looking for a mastery program||Either|
|I’m looking for a program that teaches for understanding and critical thinking more than drill and memorization||Either|
|I’m looking for a self-study program||Neither|
|I’m looking for a slightly more approachable and relatable math program||Math U See|
|I’m looking for a slightly more rigorous approach||Singapore Math|
|I’m looking for a program that can be adjusted with lots of supplemental learning materials||Singapore Math (esp. Primary Mathematics)|
|I’m looking for a Common Core math program||Either|
|My student likes working with their hands and I’d like manipulative use to continue well into their studies||Math U see|
|I’m very rusty in math and could use a lot of help in teaching…and am willing to pay||Singapore Math (Dimensions)|
|I’m on a fairly strict budget for a math curriculum||Math U See|
For More Information
To learn more about these programs you can:
Read our in-depth review of Math U See
Read our in-depth review of Singapore Math
Read our review of Primary Mathematics 2022
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.