Alberta elementary students have been performing worse over the years on an international math test, sparking a debate over the best way to teach kids numeracy.
Results of an international Grade 4 test taken in 2015 show that Alberta students scored an average of 484 in mathematics, a 40-point drop since 1995. The average score in 2005 was 505, while it was 507 in 2011.
Alberta students also performed “significantly below” the mean Canadian score of 511 in 2015, according to the newly released Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.
“Overall, CBE students’ math results are strong, but our issue is there is room for improvement and we want all of our students to be successful in math,” said Joy Bowen-Eyre, Calgary Board of Education chairperson.
New math strategy for CBE
The province is undertaking a curriculum review with teachers and experts, she said. Meanwhile, the public school board in Calgary has gathered feedback and is launching a new system-wide math strategy in the fall.
“We have to teach to the curriculum, which is rolled out by the province, but how we teach it and how we support students, we have some flexibility there,” she told the Calgary Eyeopener.
She’s hearing that many people want a mix of traditional rote learning, such as memorizing times tables, and the new “discovery math” teaching techniques, which emphasizes multiple strategies to finding answers for math problems.
Kids reach cognitive overload
The solution isn’t as easy as picking one system over the other, said John Mighton, founder of the non-profit program called Jump Math, which helps kids learn math skills.
“It’s a really complicated issue. As a mathematician, I believe kids should discover math and see connections and understand the math deeply, but I also know that basic facts are absolutely important. If you don’t know your times tables, for instance, you’ll never see a pattern or make an estimate.”