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Response to the article . . . .
Principals and Teachers please feel free to use any or all of the information below. You may copy and distribute the letter is you wish.

Dear Parent

Yes, there is a struggle for our students in math but the struggle falls back to the old way of learning math. Procedure was the focus and
only a few (20% approximately) managed to fully understand the math that was taught. Some students on their own were able to make sense of the math learned.

Recent evidence and research has proven that learning math conceptually first is much more effective than learning procedurally. Evidence shows that most students who learned strictly procedurally first (rote and memorization) took the fewest of math courses in high school and were deterred from taking further math courses at a post secondary level. Provincially and in our district the history has been that the majority of students who passed grade 10 math did so with a C or C-. Many fewer students took grade 11 maths and even fewer took grade 12 maths. The majority of grade 12 graduates have a profound dislike of math (math anxiety).

Being able to answer math questions correctly without deep understanding is like being able to decode text but not understand what has been read. "In today's world we are bombarded with numbers, statistics, advertisements, and other such data - on the radio, in television, in the newspaper, and on the Internet" (Fosnot & Dolk, 2001). Problem solving and reasoning are important skills. A lack of numeracy results in things such as the sub prime mortgage rate crisis etc..

The old way did produce some successes - witness the couple of PhDs in mathematics that were the focus of the article. But it mostly produced mathphobes - (many, many adults who proclaim to their children "It's okay, I was never any good at math either.")
The goal with the math curriculum is to increase the general numeracy level of the population.

Fluency in basic facts is very important! Many adults do not know their basic facts. Rote memorization has not produced good results. We
wish children to have a sense of number and then to build upon that until the basic facts are learned. All teachers want students to have automaticity with the facts and work toward that. A calculator is not a crutch to be used for this. Calculators may be used for patterning, skip counting etc.

Algorithms are another important issue. We all need to be able to calculate efficiently and accurately. The algorithm that was commonly taught in schools was not the way to start. Research shows that students who are taught algorithms first without understanding are less accurate and their incorrect answers are often farther from the correct answer than those who learn sense making methods. Very numerate people seldom use the algorithm because personal methods are faster and more accurate in the long run. Research also shows that the traditional algorithms create place value confusion.

The current curriculum is fundamentally sound. There are struggles and improvements to be made, but we are all learning. In the 12th century the dust board replaced the abacus as the tool of calculation. That development came with a struggle between the two. Continuing to teach math in the old fashioned rote-procedural approach will not improve numeracy and will result in continued generations of innumerate people.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss this further. Also look for parent math nights which you may attend to discuss this important change in curriculum and be exposed to some hands on math and learning activities reflected in your child's classroom.


Denise Flick
District Learning Coordinator
SD#20 Kootenay Columbia
dflick@sd20.bc.ca
250-364-1275 (275)