Published in the Devon Dispatch on Jan. 31, 2014
The petition to bring back the teaching of math fundamentals in school curriculum started by Calmar physician Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies in December has taken a life of its own.
The petition has sparked debate and discussions through media nationwide, and quickly garnered more than 4,000 signatures by parents and educators on change.org.
Tran-Davies became concerned when her eight-year-old daughter Kenya- who enjoyed math prior to entering the “discovery math” system- said she hated math and found it difficult to understand, despite earning an A in the subject on her report card.
Kenya’s teacher from Grade 2 had previously told Tran-Davies that her daughter was taking a long time to reach answers and had lost confidence.
After Tran-Davies researched the current curriculum, she was upset when she realized how students were being taught math in school.
About a decade ago, Alberta education decided to implement a new program known as “discovery math”, where teachers guide children to discover their own strategies to reach a solution.
Teachers no longer teach students the tried and true ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Tran-Davies disagrees with the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) curriculum, which has steered the curriculum towards “its own unproven theories and philosophies.”
“They base their changes on very old research,” Tran-Davies said. “This [system] is more of a fad… for good research you need a large number of subject matter. This has never been done before; this is the first time this teaching is being implemented.”
“It comes down to the fact that some studies are designed to show whatever you want to show. In the end intuition and common sense prevail. They’re trying to teach fundamentals in counter-intuitive ways; it just doesn’t make sense and is frustrating for children and parents,” Tran-Davies said.
Amaya Ortigosa, team leader for mathematics K-9 with Alberta Education said the curriculum is based on research which shows how young students best learn math.
According to Ortigosa, the current curriculum promotes a deeper understanding of math by way of reasoning, visualization and imagination.
Canada’s PISA scores (Program for International Student Assessment) in math has declined by 14 points in the last nine years, slipping the country from sixth to 13th place since 2000.
The PISA results were released in early December 2013 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which examines the academic performance of 15-year-old students from 65 countries worldwide.
Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Lichtenstein and Switzerland were among the countries that outperformed Canada.
Parents in Ontario and B.C. also launched petitions over the Christmas holidays, calling on the governments to bring back the teaching of math basics.
University math professors are among the 4,000 supporters who have signed Tran-Davies’ petition.
Terry Gannon commented on change.org: “I’m a parent of seven year old twins, and a math prof at U of Alberta. As a parent, an educator and indeed a mathematician, I know a balanced approach is fundamental. From what I have seen with my children’s education, there is no balance in mathematics education in our schools today.”
Koreyan Peterson, a teacher in Minburn, Alberta wrote: “I have been teaching 6th grade for the past five years and have noticed a significant decrease in the ability of students to do more complicated math because they do not have basic math facts easily accessible…”
With plenty of parents and educators outraged over the controversial curriculum, it’s been reported in the media that education minister Jeff Johnson promised this month that basic math skills will be reintroduced and that the curriculum is being rewritten.
But Alberta’s education curriculum isn’t scheduled to change until the spring 2016.
Tran-Davies knows this is much too late, and wants the curriculum to be changed for September 2014.
She believes the math problem gets worse in higher grades where students are expected to focus on multiple strategies, thereby losing time to learn the most efficient approach to solving a problem.
Tran-Davies took the next step last Tuesday, Jan. 28 when she presented a copy of the petition to deputy minister of education Greg Bass and education bureaucrats, so that they’re aware of the weight of the problem.
Tran-Davies and three other petitioners voiced their concerns at the meeting but the officials haven’t committed to making any changes yet, Tran-Davies said.
Bass will discuss the issue with Johnson, and she hopes to continue the discussions with the minister of education himself within the next month.
“They weren’t able to give me the specifics [regarding when and if the curriculum will be changed], and I still sense that they’re resistant to changing too much in the curriculum yet because there are still some who feel that the current curriculum is OK,” Tran-Davies said.
“Math taught in the conventional way is quite simple and efficient, and if children know that they can get an answer quickly, instead of being lead through multiple strategies, then they’ll be less frustrated and they’ll realize that they can do math and that they can in the future, pursue careers that require math,” Tran-Davies said.
To sign the petition, visit: https://www.change.org/petitions/back-to-basics-mastering-the-fundamentals-of-mathematics