Math Teaching Methodology

When universal education was first started in Singapore to provide an educated workforce for the labour market of the 1950’s and 60’s, education was seen as nothing more than the memorization and accumulation of facts and figures with no application of skills required to organize and integrate what was being taught. 

Such an education is understandable given that the labour of that time was considerably more menial and low-tech than what is required of PMETs nowadays.

However with the demands of the new knowledge-based economy, education has take on a new role and it is no longer considered enough to just know or memorize facts and accumulate information. 

The Singapore Ministry Of Education has recognized this and has moved towards giving education a new role and purpose. Education is now geared towards equipping the learner with a set of tools to be used together with the knowledge possessed to solve problems in new situations. This is also known as “Self-Directed Learning, Problem Comprehension, Knowledge Application and Heuristics”

Changes to the Primary School Math Education Landscape

When it comes to maths and science, the educational trend is clear - memorizing facts, formulas and concepts is no longer the key to acing the exams. Instead students are now required to think fast to solve unfamiliar, tricky and mind bending questions. 

As the primary school examinations in schools gear towards such new educational trends, many parents perceive the difficulty level of exams to be rising. Instead of recognizing that their child requires help in engaging his critical thinking skills and guidance in the application of the necessary problem solving skills, the parents, in the misguided notion that "more is always better" tries one or more of the following :

  1. Advancing the child’s academic knowledge by teaching them upper primary syllabus when they are still in lower primary. 
  2. Un-meaningful work on large quantities of assessment books and practice papers.
  3. Teaching the child to use Algebra in solving Problem Sums. 
Algebra is a particularly dangerous tool for a primary school child because children below 12 are better able to grasp and understand abstract mathematical concepts using visual methods. 

Algebra from a Primary school child’s point of view is simply an algorithm or formulae to memorize and apply. This is because, according to child education psychologists, they are still within the "Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development" (Piaget Cognitive Model) which begins at the age of 7 and continues until the child is of 11 to 12 years of age. Thus, they have not yet developed the cognitive capability to understand the inner workings and abstract concepts of the algebra required in problem solving. Even if they have been trained to use algebra for certain types of questions, they lack fundamental understanding of the question's concept and thus would be unable to solve the question if the context of the particular question should be changed slightly. 

Using algebra as a crutch to help the child approach primary school maths problems would result in stunted problems solving skills and mathematical cognitive ability which would not serve them well as they progress further up the education system.

NickleBee Tutors shall now elaborate on how we will go about helping your primary school child through the ever changing education landscape.

Model Method, Unitary™ Method 2.0 & Heuristics

We teach all our students on how to master and apply the "Model Method" (in P3 & P4) and our proprietary "Unitary Method version 2.0" (in P5 & P6) to solving PSLE Math problem sum questions

NickleBee Tutors is of the belief that most if not all of the problem sums in the PSLE can be solved using the simple combination of understanding the context of the problem followed by application of the necessary procedural knowledge. 

The "Model Method" is taught to our P3 and P4 students. It advocates the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach as recommended by MOE for the development of mathematical concepts, skills and process. In this approach, students are provided with the learning experience and meaningful contexts, using concrete manipulatives and pictorial representations to help them learn abstract mathematical concepts.

Our proprietary "Unitary Method version 2.0" is taught to our P5 and P6 students who tend to find the Singapore Model Method too cumbersome and tedious to use for tougher PSLE questions.

The Unitary
 Method version 2.0 advocates the direct usage of abstract manipulatives, with an emphasis on proper application and effective presentation, to give our students the confidence and speed to solve ALL Challenging Problem Sums efficiently and accurately.

We will also teach our students "Heuristics" which is a set of thinking tools or frameworks to solve unfamiliar and complex problems.

An example of heuristics would be “HOTS” or higher order thinking skills which is the ability to analyze (Break information into small pieces), synthesize (put separate information together in different forms) and evaluate (deduce and judge value of outcomes in a logical manner)

C3PO Math Problem Solving Framework

To complement the above-mentioned Heuristics and our proprietary "Unitary Method version 2.0", Mr Zhou uses the "C3PO
 Math Problem Solving Framework" as his teaching methodology.

The C3PO
 Math Problem Solving Framework was developed by Mr Zhou based on knowledge and experience gained from 10 years in the educational sector and elements of his approach are adapted from Mathematician George Poyla's influential Math Heuristics guidebook "How to Solve It" and Mr Ammiel Wan's ground-breaking "Cognitive Conceptual Approach in Learning Maths" (Mr Ammiel Wan is the author of the popular "thinking Math @ OnSponge" & "Get Me Thinking" Math Books and was formerly Vice-Principal of Rosyth Primary).

Mr Zhou recognized that most students view solving Problem Sums as merely a "Means to an End" where the final answer is the main focus and less thought is put into how the question is approached or the thought process that allows one to derive the answer. That will prove detrimental to the child's educational development as such an approach encourages rote learning and the blind application of algorithms and techniques without any proper understanding as to why such techniques are so used.

The C3PO Framework on the other hand emphasizes development of Reasoning and Analytical Skills and the enhancement of thought processes based on Logic and Critical Thinking. This results in a Visual and Logic based method of Problem Solving that is both Rigorous yet Resilient.

The C3PO™ Math Problem Solving Framework comprises of the following 5 steps :


Reading to understand the context of the question and how the words and numbers are woven together to form a coherent whole. If necessary, break down the question into smaller 'bite-sized' components so it's easier to understand.


Usage of your innate Reasoning & Analytical ability and application of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to convert raw data from the question into useful information, which you can use to decide which concept or heuristic to use.


Application of the chosen Concepts or Heuristics that will help you solve the question! The student must recognize that the same concept / heuristic can be applied across questions of various contexts. 

Some examples of C3PO™  concepts / heuristics that we teach are "repeated identity", "total unchanged", "difference unchanged", "gap - difference", "same time or distance", "make suppositions", "work backwards" and "before - after" etc. 

In all, NickleBee Tutors teaches 11 Heuristics tools and 18 Problem Solving Concepts that are required to ace the PSLE Math Exam


How you actually solve the question! We teach and use our very own proprietary "Unitary Method (version 2.0)" which give our students the confidence and speed to solve all challenging problem sums efficiently and accurately. 

Alternatively, students can also choose to use the Singapore Model Method or any other mathematically correct procedures.


Reflect on your thought process (meta-cognition). Check back on the viability of your procedures and accuracy of workings. 

Extend the problem by thinking briefly of any alternative solutions that could be used.