British Columbia

Math learning should go 'back to the basics' says B.C. parent's petition

A B.C. parent has started a petition against new maths learning methods being adopted in the province's revamped curricula for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

What's the best way for kids to learn math? Some parents are calling for a return to rote memorization

The debate between rote memorization and conceptual learning in mathematics rages on. (iStock)

A North Saanich parent has started a petition against new math learning methods currently being adopted as part of the province's revamped curricula for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Tara Houle launched the petition, which calls for the return of traditional learning like rote memorization of multiplication tables. So far the petition has gathered more than 500 signatures.

"What I find is the biggest challenge is at the elementary level where we have a lot of math concepts being introduced to kids at a very young age," said Houle. "It completely overwhelms their minds."

Houle wants kids to develop a strong foundation of math skills before trying to learn "higher-order concepts."

She believes new learning methods don't stand up to research that supports explicit, direct instruction and memorization, adding that the U.K. and Australia had abandoned the new methods since adopting them.

Divorcing math can be a disservice

Leslie Francis Pelton, chair of the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Victoria with an expertise in math education, disagrees.

"That's just not enough to really be literate in mathematics," said Pelton. "There has to be an understanding of what it actually means and that's where the conceptual comes in."

She said there's 20 years of research that supports discovery-based learning.

"Sometimes divorcing the mathematics and just making it strictly the operations and the numbers is actually doing the kids a disservice," said Pelton.

New math learning techniques help students visualize the concept and make sense of it, according to Pelton.

She agrees with parents there needs to be what she calls fluency with numbers — the ability to easily recall the answer to 6 x 8, for example.

And that, she says, comes with practice.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Parent calls for province to bring back the basics in math education