British Columbia

Discovery-based math blamed for declining skills of B.C. students

A new report is blaming so-called discovery math for a decade-long decline in test scores for Canadian students when compared with the rest of the world, echoing concerns raised by many B.C. parents.

A petition against the current system has reached over 23,000 signatures

According to a new report, students in B.C. have made a significant decline in their math skills due to a new system of learning. (Getty Images)

A new report is blaming so-called discovery math for a decade-long decline in test scores for Canadian students when compared with the rest of the world, echoing concerns raised by many B.C. parents.

The report from the C.D. Howe Institute says provincial math programs need to be revamped to remove ineffective discovery-based teaching methods and return to direct instruction in mathematics.

The report found that eight provinces recorded decreases PISA scores over nine years. B.C. was among those provinces with what the report called a "statistically significant decline."

Report author Anna Stokke, an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg, says teachers should base 80 per cent of their math classes on direct learning such as memorizing multiplication tables and practicing long division.

She says 20 per cent should come from discovery-based learning techniques, which see students rely more on independent problem-solving and hands-on materials and less on instructions from the teacher.

Discovering or declining?

Tara Houle is one of many B.C. parents who has found her children struggling with basic math principles. She hired a private math tutor for her children and knows a number of parents who have done the same.

"The reason this became an issue was when I was asking [my children] at home to do some basic multiplication, they had a deer-in-the-headlights look. That's when I realized something was amiss," she told On the Coast's Stephen Quinn.

"The problem with pure discovery methods is they simply don't work without having a strong foundation established."

As a result of her concerns about her children's math skills, she's been campaigning to have the province change the school curriculum.

She says it is up to B.C.'s Ministry of Education — not the teachers — to fix the problem.

"There are many teachers who are in the trenches everyday and recognize that this is something that needs to be dealt with."

Four different petitions across Canada have garnered over 23,000 signatures from those who oppose the current system.

The B.C.-wide petition has over 550 signatures. Despite that, she says she's yet to hear back from the provincial government.

"Unfortunately I haven't been able to convince Premier Clark or Education Minister Peter Fassbender to meet with us. They've been ignoring my requests and letters."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story mistakenly said the B.C. petition had 23,000 signatures. In fact four petitions from across Canada have a total of 23,000 signatures, but the B.C. petition has 550.
    May 29, 2015 12:41 PM PT

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