Back to the Math Basics in Ontario!

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

Check out Brian Lilley’s latest column which does indeed prove that elections have consequences!

According to Lilley, the Doug Ford Conservative Government in Ontario will soon introduce a new math curriculum for all public elementary and secondary grades. It will, allegedly, be curriculum guidelines that bring back the basics, while introducing up-to-date skills that will be needed by today’s students in the future.

This is certainly good news for those of us who have been demanding “bring back the basics” for over a decade now.

I am a curriculum development specialist and understand exactly what it is going to take to implement a change like this. It will involve a massive ideological and practical change that will certainly take the 4 years Lilley says the government will need to get everything in place.

Older teachers with a lot of experience will be fine because they used to teach the basics. Newer teachers, however, will need some retraining and mentoring. And, of course, teacher training institutions will need to find out why the “discovery math” research was so wrong.

In other words, this change will affect just about everyone in the public education system, including parents. Lilley says homework will be easier for parents. Time will tell about that.  Anyway, whatever the challenges ahead, I respect the Ford Government moving forward on this.

I should point out that not every teacher in the public system will be affected — because not every teacher teaches math.  For example, while classroom teachers in the primary and junior grades (1-6) usually teach their own students math. It is subject specialist teachers who teach math at the intermediate (7 and 8) level. Of course, subject specialists and lead teachers are involved in teaching math at the high school level, where there is still streaming.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time. It may come as a surprise to some, but kids in Grades 4 and 5 today only learn to tell the time digitally. I learned that first hand from a great-grandson who is in Grade 5. A very good student, I asked him one day what time it was. He said I don’t know because I don’t have my watch or tablet with me. I pointed out the clock on the hutch, near where he was standing, and he said something to the effect that I don’t know how to read a clock.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement but he explained that everything computerized was digital. Actually, no, not everything is digital. There are millions of clocks everywhere! Then, there is the 24 hour clock, which we need to know to travel. Anyway, using an analog clock will be one of the topics I will look for when the new curriculum comes out.

The crux of the matter is what the Ontario Government curriculum developers will include in the new curriculum. And, those developers will be made up of teams of curriculum specialists, from school boards to faculties of education, to make those decisions. Contrary to public opinion, politicians and bureaucrats do NOT do that.

In the meantime, let’s get a comment discussion going.

C/P at Jacksnewswatch.

Alberta’s Education Minister Johnson defends the indefensible re math curriculum

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been supporting two “bring back math fundamentals in public schools” petitions, one organized by Dr. Tran-Davies in Alberta (see here and here), and one put forward for Ontario parents by retired teacher Teresa Murray (see here).

Yet, all I hear and read from the politicians and educrats in response is that the parents and professionals who are complaining don’t understand that curriculum developers are preparing children for the future, a future that will not require the same basic skills as in the past.

As the Globe and Mail link shows, in Ontario the government thinks all they need to do is re-train teachers.

Pardon me? What absolute poppycock! I mean, if you have to re-train teachers, something is very wrong with the math curriculum.

We are aware that there is new technology. We are also aware employees of the future will need to know how to think creatively, often referred to as thinking outside the box. However, that creative thinking has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality that they will only be able to do that effectively if they have all their necessary pre-requisite reading, writing and math skills.

Yes, this is 2014, but adding is still adding. Subtracting is still subtracting and multiplying is still multiplying using the old fashioned times tables. In fact, as far as I know, how you add and subtract has not changed in decades or even millennia. And, the skills required in solving problems builds on those pre-requisite skills. Meaning, children should not be using calculators before they know how to calculate manually.

The reality is that I know hogwash when I hear or read it. I know it because I am a learning and curriculum specialist. I not only used to teach graduate and undergraduate curriculum design and development courses, I also taught “the psychology of teaching and learning” courses. Plus, I actually designed curriculum for private schools and colleges.

Meaning, even though I have been out of the “system” for a few years, I know that teaching math fundamentals is not about preparing our children for the past or the future. It is simply about preparing our children for life. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you learned your basic math skills in 1955 or 2005 or 2014. They are the same now as they were then.

Yet, note the quote about Manitoba in the above Globe and Mail link. It is to weep!

“After a movement led by math professors, Manitoba implemented changes this fall. Students are now taught all four standard methods for arithmetic – addition with a carry, subtraction with a borrow, long multiplication and long division. The recent OECD results suggest that jurisdictions that teach math in a more traditional way had more success than those such as Ontario that use “discovery learning,” a method that allows for open-ended student investigations and problem-solving.”

Can you imagine? The Manitoba government is admitting that for how long, we don’t know, its children were not being taught how to add with a carry, how to subtract with a borrow, long multiplication and long division. One can assume then, that the other nine Canadian provinces and three territories are not doing so either at the moment.

Nevertheless, in spite of Manitoba’s concrete action, Alberta’s Education Minister, Jeff Johnson wrote on March 5th:

“I wish to assure parents that these basic skills will serve as the foundation and starting point of every change made to the curriculum. What they won’t be is the end point. Through inquiry-based learning, we’ll build upon these basic, foundational skills while developing additional skills that the business community and parents tell us are so critical. The conventional method of teaching fundamentals, whereby students rely heavily on memorization, versus a more engaged, inquiry-based method, are not mutually exclusive approaches to education. In fact, I believe it is crucial that we develop a curriculum that uses the best of both methods.” [My italics.]

Remember, Johnson is a politician and obviously a good one given how accomplished he is at edu-babble and spin. All that was missing in his final statement was: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

My reaction? Johnson is trying to defend the indefensible. No one is asking him to put the success of Alberta’s children second. That is what is called a non-sequitur.

Rather, what parents are asking him to do is what they have already had to do in Manitoba — revise the math curriculum to separate the basic skills from inquiry and discovery-based methods because contrary to what he claims — that Alberta is using the best of both methods — there is no concrete evidence that is actually happening in elementary classrooms.

So, the crux of the matter is that Minister Johnson, and all those in the background who are advising him, are wrong. Curriculum decisions have to be deliberate. Meaning, arithmetic should not be taught incidentally but discrete and separate from the inquiry-based methods he espouses.

Make no mistake about it, just as in Manitoba, the math specialists, retired educators and parents who are demanding changes to their provincial math curriculum guidelines, will get them eventually, because to not do so would not only be a dereliction of duty but a breach of the public trust!

C/P at Jack’s Newswatch. Also posted at Newswatchcanada.

Teresa Murray’s Petition that Ontario schools include math fundamentals

As regular readers know, I have been writing about an Alberta Math petition started by Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies (here and here). Of course I knew we had the same issue pending in Ontario and have been waiting until someone took that in hand. Well, it has now happened. A retired teacher by the name of Teresa Murray has started a similar petition related to the lack of teaching math fundamentals in Ontario’s public schools.

So, no matter where you live, just as I signed the Alberta petition, I would ask readers to sign the Ontario petition here as well!

Please note that Murray has also provided a link at the bottom of her petition to the Society for Quality Education where parents can get free work sheets to help their children gain the basic math fundamentals that Ontario’s schools apparently are not teaching as discrete lessons.

I will provide further details on the Ontario petition and campaign as it becomes available to me.