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Alberta Mathematics in Crisis

Highlights:

  • Mathematics learning and instruction has declined in Alberta 

  • Do we want our students and children to learn to LOVE mathematics and to see the beauty and creativity in what they are doing?

In 2007 a new mathematics curriculum was mandated. The implementation from K-12 was staggered. The main goal of this change was to reduce content at the elementary level with the intent that teachers have time to delve deeply into the number concepts which empower our young students to develop number sense and gain conceptual understanding and procedural fluency.

Students were to engage in their learning and to think creatively and out of the box. Teachers’ instruction was to enhance their students’ ability to explain and show their thinking using multiple representations. This, of course, was much different than the traditional delivery of instruction where teachers taught and students performed by mimicking rules and/or following memorized procedures and steps.

This, of course, was much different than the traditional delivery of instruction where teachers taught and students performed by mimicking rules and/or following memorized procedures and steps.

Within a couple of years of the implementation of the elementary curriculum, there were rumblings from many Alberta parents. The perception of this ‘new math’ was referred to as ‘discovery math’ and, unfortunately, parents felt it was failing their children. The messages in the news indicated that parents thought their children were left to learn on their own without any teacher instruction.

With the rumblings came a petition from parents, demanding the Minister of Education change the curriculum back to the teaching of traditional algorithms and memorization of basic facts. Unfortunately, without any discussion, research  or follow up with educators, the Minister of Education bowed to  public pressure and amended the curriculum so that traditional algorithms and memorized facts were back. Within this amendment is a small blurb stating students will learn conceptually.

However, this has not and is not happening, and students as young as Grade 1 and 2 are memorizing facts and procedures to add and subtract. By the time they enter Grade 3 and 4, number sense has not been developed and mathematics becomes a struggle and a subject they hate.

However, this has not and is not happening, and students as young as Grade 1 and 2 are memorizing facts and procedures to add and subtract. By the time they enter Grade 3 and 4, number sense has not been developed and mathematics becomes a struggle and a subject they hate.

Since the 2007 curriculum change, mathematics learning and instruction has declined in Alberta.

However, is this issue a result of the ‘new math’ or is the issue a result of not fully understanding HOW to teach mathematics for conceptual understanding, as well as WHY it is so important to teach for that conceptual understanding?

  • Do we want students to go through their school years performing math through rules and memorized procedures?
  • Or, do we want students to go through their school years being able to explain the whys and the hows, and to be able to think, reason and problem solve?
  • Do we want our students and children to learn to LOVE mathematics and to see the beauty and creativity in what they are doing?

What is needed in a 21st century employee? Being able to calculate numbers by relying on rules and procedures or being able to think critically, reason, problem solve, interpret data and ask questions when something doesn’t make sense?

What is needed in a 21st century employee?

I almost failed high school math and it took everything I had to finish my Statistics and Math Curriculum and Instruction course in my Undergraduate Studies. In the first three years of my teaching career I taught Gr. 1, Gr. 4 and Gr. 5. Interestingly, although the way in which I was taught math in school didn’t help me succeed, that is how I taught my students.

I did my best but didn’t feel it was the best for my students. In my 4th year I was assigned to a Gr 2 classroom and I determined, more than ever to change my method of instruction and my own mindset towards mathematics. If I felt unequipped in my own ability and lacked passion, what were my students feeling and thinking? I began to play and the curriculum became my bible. I had to know and understand the curriculum I was required to teach. I became very excited because the children were so engaged AND they were having fun learning math! One thing led to another, and I have written and self-published Kindergarten through Gr. 6 Teacher Guide Books titled Math For Success. I also have provided workshops for teachers throughout Alberta and I have obtained my Masters in Elementary Mathematics from the University of Alberta in 2012.

Mathematics is my passion and I want to help change the mindset and improve teachers’, parents’ and students’ understanding. I made the decision at the end of June to take a 4 month leave of absence from my teaching position to be available to mentor teachers to provide students with a more complete understanding of mathematical concepts. My hope is not only to help improve mathematics learning but to ignite a passion in all stakeholders involved in this journey. We have all heard the phrase, it takes a village to raise a child. It is my thinking it will take a village to change the mindset and instruction around mathematics. Developing true partnerships among the school, home and community will help to engage and excite our young learners AND lead to improved results!

Mathematics is my passion and I want to help change the mindset and improve teachers’, parents’ and students’ understanding.

Mathematics instruction is most definitely the key to students’ success.  However, before learning, understanding and implementing rich instructional methods and tasks, you must ask yourselves the following questions:

  1. What is your mathematical mindset?
  2. Do you believe ALL children can succeed at high levels?
  3. Do you think mathematics is just for those with a mathematical mind or who have inherited the ability to do math?
  4. Do you see mathematics as a performance subject in which students memorize rules and procedures or do you see the beauty and creativity in how mathematics can be learned and demonstrated?
  5. Do you understand what it means to be ‘numerate’ or what ‘numeracy’ means?
  6. Do you know how to develop number sense?
  7. Do you understand what it means when mathematical literature (educational books, articles, curriculum) state that students are to demonstrate a conceptual understanding or procedural fluency?

I would love to hear your thoughts/ideas with regards to these questions. I am also passionate about helping make this MUCH NEEDED CHANGE in the area of mathematics. With that said, I am hosting a public meeting on Thursday, September 28th at Ecole Olds Elementary School in Mary Schatz’s room from 7:00-8:00 pm. Her room is on the East side of the school. If you come to the East doors for 6:45 pm someone will be there to greet you and let you in. The meeting will start promptly at 7:00 pm.

This meeting is open to anyone who is interested. If you are not in the area and would love to take part, this meeting will be shared via a Google Hangout. To take part in the Google hangout please use the link provided to sign up:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mathematical-crisis-webinar-tickets-37865027316

Your Turn!

Do you want to see a MUCH NEEDED CHANGE in the area of mathematics? Please attend this public meeting on Thursday, September 28th at Ecole Olds Elementary School in Mary Schatz’s room from 7:00-8:00 pm. 

Share this with a friend and let's all work together to make a change in math education in Alberta. This meeting is open to anyone who is interested. If you would like to take part but are unable to attend in person, this meeting will be shared via a Google Hangout. To take part in the Google hangout please use the link provided to sign up:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mathematical-crisis-webinar-tickets-37865027316

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