Math Instruction that Makes Sense: Defending traditional math education

Publication, Education, Michael Zwaagstra


• A solid understanding of mathematics, also known as numeracy, is an important component of a well-rounded education. Unfortunately, schools are largely failing in this regard.

• Provincial curriculum guides, and the textbooks recommended by them, place a great deal of emphasis on problem solving and the conceptual understanding of mathematics.

• In addition, the math curriculum and textbooks in public schools employ highly ineffective, discovery-based instructional techniques. Students do not learn the standard algorithms for math equations, and they fail to master basic math skills.

• In order for students to receive a strong grounding in math, they need to spend more time practising math skills such as basic addition and subtraction along with the standard multiplication tables.

• There is ample research evidence showing that deliberate practise is the best way to gain mastery over a particular subject or skill.

• Mastering the standard algorithms makes it possible for students to gain a deeper understanding of more-complex mathematical problems.

• John Mighton, the founder of JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies), found that students needed to have math problems broken down into small steps and that each step had to be mastered before moving to the next step.

• In order to improve our system of math instruction, schools must place a much stronger emphasis on mastering basic math skills and standard algorithms. Math curriculum guides must require the learning of standard algorithms, and textbooks must contain clear, systematic instructions as to their use.

It is important for our schools that students graduate with solid math skills. Not only are they essential in the workplace, they are a necessary foundation for success in many college and university programs.


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