Ottawa conference explores best way to teach math

Dozens of teachers, school administrators and researchers are gathering in Ottawa this weekend to explore a simple question — what's the best way to teach mathematics to students?

Recent provincial test results showed barely half of Ottawa Grade 6 students met math standards

(Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

Dozens of teachers, school administrators and researchers are gathering in Ottawa this weekend to explore a simple question — what's the best way to teach mathematics to students?

The Art and Science of Math Education Conference bills itself as an opportunity for local educators to "come together for a critical conversation about the most effective, evidence-based methods for strengthening numeracy in Canada."

And it's a timely discussion. 

In September, provincial math test results showed that barely half of Grade 6 students in Ottawa's two English school boards met Ontario math standards.

'Cognitive overload'

"Unfortunately many kids are struggling with cognitive overload. They're just being asked to do too many things at once," said John Mighton, the founder of the charity Jump Math.

The charity's goal is to improve how mathematics is taught, and it's co-hosting this weekend's conference along with Carleton University, Algonquin College, the University of Ottawa and the Community Foundation of Ottawa.

John Mighton, the founder of Jump Math, a charity which seeks to improve the teaching of mathematics. (CBC News)

"The research suggests if you break the challenges into more manageable steps, then all kids can enjoy math and have success," Mighton said. "If things aren't going well on the provincial test, we need to ask why and look at a different approach to problem solving that's more gradual and incremental."

Mighton said it's also critical that parents and teachers dispel the notion that only some people are good at math. 

'Heartbreaking' to watch students struggle

"A lot of people believe that you have to have a math gene, or you have to be born with ability. There's no evidence for that. The evidence is suggesting that with good teaching, and practice, and building of foundations, that virtually anyone can become an expert in anything," Mighton said.

Teacher Jennifer Thorvaldsen said at the conference that it's "heartbreaking" to watch students struggle with math anxiety.

"If you speed through the learning of all of these fundamentals, or all of these concepts, and then just expect them to move on to the next grade, it's a lot of challenges that young kids have to face," said Thorvaldsen, who teaches a Grade 5 and 6 split class at Venta Preparatory School in Carp.

The conference continues on Sunday at Algonquin College.