New math equals trouble, education expert says

The answer is simple: old math is greater than new math, according to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

New math = trouble

12 years ago
Duration 2:51
New math relies on teaching kids concepts, not multiplication tables. A Western-Canadian think-tank says this doesn't add up

The answer is simple: old math is greater than new math, according to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

The study, titled Math Instruction that Makes Sense, "demonstrates conclusively that traditional math education methods are superior to the highly ineffective, discovery-based instructional techniques that are in vogue now in educational curricula," said a news release from the public policy think tank.

On CBC Radio

Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition talks about new math and old math.

The centre suggests that to improve math instruction "schools must place a much stronger emphasis on mastering basic math skills and standard algorithms. Math curriculum guides must require the learning of standard algorithms, and textbooks must contain clear, systematic instructions as to their use."

Frontier's education research fellow Michael Zwaagstra said discovery-based instructional techniques are not of much use when students move on to college or university programs.

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy says kids should get back to the basics in math. (CBC)

The study focused on the four Western provinces.

Zwaagstra is quoted as saying that these ineffective, yet commonly used techniques are leaving a whole generation of high school students unprepared for many of their academic or vocational programs.

"In order for students to receive a strong grounding in math, they need to spend more time practising math skills such as basic addition and subtraction along with the standard multiplication tables," Zwaagstra said.

The methods these days, reported CBC's Geoff Leo, include moving to experimental approaches and moving to using blocks, charts,  graphs "and even experimentation where they come up with their own math."

Leo said he spoke with a math professor who said students don't know how to do long division. He said some parents are resorting to hiring tutors to help their kids with the current program.

Zwaagstra said in the report that first-year post-secondary students "are increasingly unprepared for university-level mathematics, and this has led to a proliferation of remedial math courses at universities across Canada."

Not every child learns the same: Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, which has been introducing new math curriculum and textbooks since 2006, said it's good to use a variety of approaches in teaching math because not every child learns in the same way.

"Within our curriculum, direct instruction has its place and so does discovery and problem solving," said Simone Gareau, the ministry's executive director of student achievement and supports.

She cautioned against thinking that the old-fashioned way of multiplying numbers is always the best approach.

"If you do the old-fashioned algorithm, 32 x 48, where students have to carry over and put in a zero to hold the spot ... students can learn to do that by rote, but it doesn't necessarily mean they understand," she said.

"What we're aiming for is that deep understanding. Once they have that in place, they can move to the traditional algorithm if that's a strategy that works for them."