Parents, educators rally against Alberta's 'new math'

Nearly 200 concerned parents and educators met at the Alberta Legislature Saturday afternoon to protest changes to the Alberta math curriculum.

Protesters want to see a new math curriculum in place by fall 2014

Nearly 200 protesters gathered outside of the Alberta Legislature Saturday to fight for a return to basics-first math instruction. (Doug Steele/CBC)

Nearly 200 concerned parents and educators met at the Alberta Legislature Saturday afternoon to protest changes to the Alberta math curriculum.

The group, inspired by a petition started by Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, is fighting the province’s decision to move towards discovery-based learning in the classroom.

Carrying signs reading “Teach Math Basics – Not Multiple Strategies” and “Where’s the Proof?,” protesters argued the new, inquiry-based approach to math is leaving kids confused and unable to grasp basic math concepts.

Ken Porteous, a former dean with the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta, slammed the discovery method, which emphasizes the needs of students’  individual competencies and skills.

“This new age math is really mythical in my opinion,” he said. “I’ve studied a good deal of mathematics … and there’s really nothing to discover.”

Speaking Saturday, Audrey Russell said the new math leaves students frustrated and floundering for basic fundamentals. (Doug Steele/CBC)

“You need to be able to do those very routine operations very quickly in the most efficient way possible – and they’ve been being done that way for centuries. Why do you we want to change them?”

Grandparent and former teacher Audrey Russell agrees. She says the new math leaves students without a strong foundation, which will hurt them down the line.

“I just find the students in the schools now are getting weaker and weaker in math,” she said. “When I see teenagers standing and counting their fingers, there’s something wrong.”

“The solution is we go back to the basics. We learn how to add, subtract [and] multiply,” she added.

Growing petition

Russell is among the nearly 13,000 parents, grandparents and educators who have signed a petition started by Dr. Tran-Davies, asking for substantial changes to the province’s math curriculum by the start of classes in the fall.

She hopes today’s protest will catch the attention of Education Minister Jeff Johnson, who she says has been difficult to get in touch with.

“I would expect that Mr. Johnson would meet with Dr. Nhung and her committee. I don’t know why he won’t meet. He says he meets with all parents but obviously he doesn’t.”

Speaking Friday, Johnson's spokesman Dan Powers defended discovery-based teaching, saying it helps students apply their knowledge.

"Students learn in different ways and a big part of inspiring education is recognizing that … and ensuring our teachers have tools and resources available to ensure that each student can learn in the way best for them.”

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