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Parents petition for changes to math

Bryan Birch explaining the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture at the University of Cambridge on May 4, 2011. Parents concerned with Canada’s dropping math scores have started a petition to have educators return to teaching basic math skills.  - William Stein/Wikicommons
Bryan Birch explaining the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture at the University of Cambridge on May 4, 2011. Parents concerned with Canada’s dropping math scores have started a petition to have educators return to teaching basic math skills.
— image credit: William Stein/Wikicommons

Parents concerned with Canada’s dropping math scores have started a petition to have educators return to teaching basic math skills.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development measures the academic ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries. Overall, Canada ranked 13th. The Canadian score in math of 518 still ranked above the average score of 494, but it has slipped 14 points in nine years.

Tara Houle has started an online petition demanding the end of the Math Makes Sense curriculum in B.C., “and return to common sense mathematics in elementary school classrooms.”

“Common sense math has been replaced with discovery based strategies … and our children are failing the grade. As a result, parents are either faced with the dilemma to enrol their children in math learning centres to receive the basic math instruction they need, switch over to private schools, or despair that their children will not learn these necessary math skills that they desperately need later on,” she says in the petition preamble.

The petition sets out that children demonstrate mastery in multiplication tables to 10, adding and subtracting in columns and long division. They should understand basic fractions, and use paper and pencil as opposed to computer games to learn math skills, says the petition, which began Dec. 19.

Houle is part of a group of concerned parents from the Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math, or Wise Math. That group was started by university professors in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Local parents may not be so concerned.

“I haven’t heard that math is an issue,” said Kellie Marquet, president of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).

She has three children in the local school system, in Grades 12, 11 and 8. The youngest went to the Environmental School, which uses activities and natural exploration as learning opportunities. Without desks in rows in front of a white board, there was some question from parents whether the environmental school students would be ready for high school. Her son is in Grade 8, and having no trouble, said Marquet.

“I’m of the ‘happy kids learn’ idea.

“I don’t think parents here are complaining about math.”

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers Association, said there can be a tendency for some parents to want their children to be educated in the same way they were. His parents were educated in a poor region of Portugal, and received only four years of schooling.

“But they would comment that they got more out of school in four years than I got in 12.”

“There will always be a group who think things are going down the wrong path.”

Alberta mother Nhung Tran-Davies, a physician and author, leads the charge in that province, asking the education ministry for changes in how math is taught.

“When the laws of physics and mathematics are unyielding, so should mastering the fundamentals,” she said.

“Mathematics, a discipline defined by precision, gaining efficiency and proficiency through emphasis, memory work and repeated practice empowers our children to truly appreciate the beauty of numbers in everyday life,” said Tran-Davies.

In Ontario, retired elementary school teacher Teresa Murray stated a petition at the end of December, after her tutoring work left her alarmed with the gaps in student learning.

In Manitoba, math professors led a grassroots movement to return to basic math methods.

Quebec students lead Canada in math, maintaining PSIT scores on par with Japan. Quebec’s math teachers must take more training in math education, and the system in that province is now the subject of a university study.

The B.C. math petition can be found at wisemath.org.

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