Q&A

Alberta challenges Grade 6 students to do math without calculators

Quickly, off the top of your head — what's seven times nine? If you can't answer without a calculator, you might fail part of the new Grade six provincial achievement test.

Electronics-free test designed to be completed in 15 minutes

‘We’ve been looking for ways to improve numeracy skills in students,’ Education Minister David Eggen told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

Quickly, off the top of your head — what's seven times nine?

If you can't answer without a calculator, you might fail part of the new Grade six provincial achievement test.

The Alberta government is adding a 15-minute component to the June 2017 math exam — and no calculators are allowed.

"We've been looking for ways to improve numeracy skills in students in general," Education Minister David Eggen told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"I thought that the test should probably reflect that as well, to some degree, so yeah we're going to try something new here next year."

It's part of a broader plan to get back to the basics, when it comes to math.

The following is an edited and slightly condensed transcription of Minister Eggen's interview with CBC host David Gray:

Education Minister David Eggen joins us to discuss changes to the province's math curriculum. 6:59

Q: Is it really so bad for kids to rely on calculators? I mean we all have smartphones and machines to do the math for us these days.

A: Well sure, and certainly this is a move to strengthen our mathematics program in Grade 6 in this case, but right through all grades. I think we should use different techniques at different times. And certainly being able to do some mathematics operation having some of those basic skills in place I think is quite useful.

Q: Will teachers have to change the way they teach kids?

A: Well, I think that teachers are professionals … And they can employ lots of different techniques to suit the needs of their kids.

I mean, certainly we don't want to teach for the test or just teach to the test, but rather the PAT's are a reflection of where the kids' skills are at the end of the school year.

Q: Teachers do teach for the test, don't they? Hasn't that been going on for years?

A: Well, certainly we try to use a number of different skills and techniques. And the idea is not to have standardized testing as a reductive measure, but rather, as an indicator of where we can make improvements over time and where we are seeing some room for improvement too. I mean, that's part of my drive behind building the new curriculum.

David Eggen is Alberta's minister of education. (CBC)

Q: As you point out, this is part of a larger overall update to the K to 9 curriculum. Can you elaborate on what else is changing?​

A: Well, we're doing all subject areas in all grade levels. It's big for sure. I mean, it's a process that goes on in the curriculum department anyway.

But this time we are looking for ways by which we can build some of these cross-curricular competencies. In other words, reaching across different subject areas. Teaching financial literacy, right? So you have that in mathematics but you can also have it in economic studies, English and so forth.

  • Do you think it's a good idea to add a component to the Grade six provincial achievement test where no calculators are allowed? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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