New math builds brains

Alberta schools are implementing a new math curriculum.

Alberta schools are implementing a new math curriculum.

The new curriculum started being introduced in 2008. “This will be the last year of the new curriculum being phased in,” said Wolf Creek Public Schools assistant superintendent Gerry Varty.

This will also be the first year students will graduate after learning the new curriculum. Varty has heard complaints students in post-secondary institutions are facing more academic troubles because of the new curriculum.

Alberta has split grades into divisions for the curriculum. Divisions 1 and 2, grades kindergarten to 3, will focus more on numeracy than the current curriculum does.

Division 3, junior high, was found to cover too much content. “What happened then is it got too hard in Grade 10,” Varty explained at Bentley School’s open house Oct. 4.

Varty said the current division 4, high school, applied math isn’t widely accepted by many post-secondary institutions. The new curriculum splits the streams of math in Grade 10 to a common math and a math tailored for trade and schools and apprenticeships.

In Grade 11 the streams will spit again to the common math and a higher level of math. The curriculum will also offer a low stream of basic math for those who struggle to still achieve the math credits school requires.

“Math is built over the years. If you have holes in your learning you’re in trouble,” said Varty.

He said a lot of kids are able to get through math on memorization but only memorizing doesn’t give students to tools to build and apply the concepts to problems. The new curriculum is focused more on having students understand the math.

Varty wants the curriculum to develop a fluency in students so that problem solving becomes an automatic habit rather than facts students need to memorize. “We’re looking at what’s inside the kids’ heads. We’re trying to get the kids to think. It’s not about memorizing stuff.”

During a school year a student has only about two weeks’ time worth of math classes, not a lot of time to build and understand a foundation for the next grade.

Students who were first introduced to the new curriculum seem to be doing well, he said, but it’s taking a few years to get a new grading system in place.

“Seize the hidden agenda. Nobody learns math to learn math,” said Varty. “People learn math to solve problems and put things in a different and they make a lot of money doing it. That’s the hidden agenda.”

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