How math education in Ontario is dividing educators

Educators can be passionate about their work and it seems they don't all agree on how best to help students learn math.

Students and teachers are struggling with math, but what's the right answer to make it easier?

There are the new ways to teach math and the old ways - some educators seem divided on what's best for Ontario students. (iStockphoto)

It can be a challenge to teach children math and it's an issue that deeply divides educators.

On Monday, Wilfrid Laurier professor Donna Kotsopoulos was on CBC K-W's The Morning Edition to talk about her role in co-directing an Ontario-wide math knowledge network.

"What we're seeing is that teachers and ultimately students are struggling and parents are struggling," she said.

The network aims to use research to enhance how math is learned and taught in Ontario schools and is part of a wider effort on behalf of the province to address low math scores, which Kotsopoulos said have nothing to do with students' abilities.

Listen to the whole interview with Donna Kotsopoulos:

Get back to the basics

The interview with Kotsopoulos prompted an email from Teresa Murray, a retired teacher in Hamilton, who argues teachers need to get back to the basics.

If students practise math, and learn things like multiplication tables, they will better understand math, she said. 

"Something needs to be done about fractions," she said, citing them as an example. "The way fractions are being done in Ontario, it's being skimmed over, the topics are left too late, there's not enough time for practise … and the students just aren't getting it."

Today's math education fails students, she argues. It is forcing parents to hire tutors to get their children the basics they need. If students don't get that extra help in elementary school, once they hit Grade 9, they find it a huge challenge.

Listen to the whole interview with Teresa Murray:

'Drills don't help'

Murray's interview also didn't add up to other educators.

Tawndee Gruber is an elementary school educator with more than 25 years of experience and a mother of two. She emailed to say she disagreed with Murray.

"Drills don't help kids understand math, they just make them better at math facts," Gruber wrote. "The inquiry and visual learning of math promotes deeper understanding and brain studies do show this."

We also received a few tweets:

Improve student success

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said the province has a goal to raise overall math test results and will do so by targeting math teachers and students.

A new strategy was introduced in September.

"We know a lot about what works in teaching math and we need to make sure that this knowledge is widely shared across our system," Hunter said in November. "Improving student success remains our highest priority, and we are committed to ensuring that all students achieve their full potential."

With files from CBC's Adetayo Bero, Colin Butler