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My statement on the math curriculum

October 9, 2018

Going door to door in Scarborough Southwest, I’m hearing from parents who are worried their children are falling behind in math.

More than half Grade 6 students in this province did not meet the provincial requirements in math. That’s not their fault. That’s not their teachers’ fault.

The blame lies squarely with the curriculum. 

It’s been failing our students years. Over the last decade, there’s been a steady slide in math scores.

Teachers I’ve talked to have spoken of their frustration with a curriculum they know just isn’t working.

When smart kids stumble over simple arithmetic and don’t know their times tables, it sets off alarm bells.

When I was a journalist, I interviewed Dr. Anna Stokke, a University of Winnipeg Math professor who pushed for change in Manitoba.

“People think they want to teach creativity and problem-solving and all that sort of thing from the top down.

“Those are all really good things. We want students to be able to problem solve and think creatively, but they can’t do that unless they have a solid foundation to work on,” she told me several years ago.

Several years ago, she and other math professors started the Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math (WiseMath). They were successful in petitioning the Manitoba government to have times tables and standard arithmetic teaching restored to the curriculum.

She told me “terrible textbooks” are party of the problem. Part of the problem, she said, are the “terrible textbooks,” this province uses.

“The big focus is on using multiple strategies for coming up with simple arithmetic.”

Stokke uses the example of multiplication tables. If a child is asked to calculate 8 x 7 and doesn’t know the answer, the new math teaches them complex methods to come up with the answer.

They’ll be told to calculate 4 x 7 — and then double the answer – a ludicrous and convoluted way make an easy calculation

I’m no mathematician, but I do know I use the times tables I learned as a child every day. I use them when I go to the supermarket. I use them when I balance my bank account. 

I’m not suggesting we go back to the old way of kids sitting in rows learning by rote. We need a balanced approach – with children taught the basics they will need for the rest of their lives in a creative fashion.

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One Comment
  1. Shirl permalink

    Agree with you re math curriculum. I miss reading your columns. Good luck in the election.

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