Back-to-Basics Math Education – Ontario’s New Math Curriculum

I went to bed thinking about math.

A lot of people in my community are rejoicing about the new changes in the Ontario Math Curriculum. In some ways, I was too. In spite of its illogical timing.

Many of us who are excited about the ‘back-to-basics’ aspect of the curriculum are relieved and looking forward to something that is hopefully more straightforward than the current system. Certainly, many think it’s the hardcore drilling of math skills that is going to benefit our students’ achievements in math. However, there’s so much data, so many lived experiences with math proving that the drilling and rote learning method doesn’t work for a lot of our students. It’s actually quite detrimental. This finding is why changes were made in math education to begin with.

What needs to be emphasized and made clear is that the focus needs to be on mental math skills. The number sense skill that some students may gain through rote drills, doesn’t really offer deep understanding of those numbers. So, a kid with strong mental math skills in contrast with a kid with strong rote memorization is the goal. I haven’t looked at the new math curriculum as yet (I’m still recovering from remote learning and it isn’t officially over yet), but I worry that the messaging will be unclear and we will continue to muck up math education for our students.

The major problem in teaching math is teacher preparedness. The curriculum isn’t really the chief. If teachers were better prepared in Teacher’s Colleges, we’d be able to better understand how to teach concepts we ourselves may not have ever learned properly.

Teaching kindergarten for a fair number of years is what has strengthened my mental math skills. Sad, but true. Before I could teach children to really begin understanding numbers, I had to understand them myself. I don’t remember receiving this foundation in school. If I did, it didn’t stick. To break numbers into parts, to put them back together again in different ways…exploring this with our youngest learners is how I finally began to have stronger mental math skills.

I don’t say shame on me for not knowing some basic math skills. I don’t even say shame on my teachers. I say shame on my Teacher’s College and all pre-service education programs for not teaching us how to teach this subject. Shame on you for not ensuring we have a foundation in math before being given the responsibility of providing said foundation. We needed courses on approaches to teaching math.

Many will say teachers are responsible for their own learning, and it’s true. We should be, and many of us are. We reflect, we recognize the gaps in our knowledge and our areas of weakness. I know many amazing teachers and many of us work daily, non-stop on filling in our knowledge gaps. But, is it not fair to assume that we would have been provided a base to build on in Teacher’s College? Is this so illogical a thought?

The assumption is made that we ‘know’, that we ‘learned’ in school. This is a foolish assumption, absolute nonsense. Teach us. Make sure we have the knowledge needed to properly and effectively fulfill our responsibilities as teachers. We paid to be taught. We are being paid to teach. And we (well many of us) are trying our best and are working in challenging, even impossible situations with little to no support. This is NOT an attack on teachers. I don’t believe in attacking them for a system that is not of their making. The simple fact is that we as teachers, along with our teachers have a responsibility to society and should be better prepared.

The only thing I learned how to do in Teacher’s College was reflect. I reflected the hell out of reflecting, which is why I know I have some gaps. Like most teachers, I am a life-long learner and am constantly pursuing growth and development in my teaching. I have taken additional qualifications, participated in professional development, read books, read articles and sought mentors in order to better serve and meet the needs of my students all at my own expense. I still have a long way to go in my math journey and until then, I pray that I never teach past grade two.

Reflectively yours,

Tamla

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