Math petition presented to Alberta education officials

EDMONTON – An Alberta mother who wants schools to go back to basics when teaching math had the attention of provincial officials on Tuesday.

Nhung Tran-Davies feels schools are teaching math in a convoluted way, and wants the province to speed up plans to reform the curriculum.

Tuesday morning, she presented a petition to the deputy minister of education, showing she isn’t the only parent with this opinion of math education.

“The issue is that it provides students with multiple strategies with the hope that the students will discover a strategy that works for them to do calculations, but it’s convoluted, it’s overly complicated, it’s counter-intuitive and it’s not practical,” says Tran-Davies. “Students are left confused and frustrated and losing confidence in their ability to do math, when they are bright students who are capable of doing math.”

READ MORE: Parents across Canada fight for return to traditional math lessons 

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As of Monday, the petition had about 3,700 signatures.

“The petition is basically asking for Alberta Education to implement the conventional methods of doing math as the primary strategy for students to master the fundamentals of mathematics,” Tran-Davies explains.

“The conventional way is the way that we’re all familiar with and that is to know our times table well, to do vertical additions and subtractions, to know math facts, to do long divisions, and to do them repeatedly, to master these basic skills through repeated practice and through memory work.”

READ MORE: Canadians’ math, science scores dip: OECD study 

Tran-Davies, along with a group of supporters, also met with the director of mathematics for the province.

“The meeting went very well. They had a team of educators and team leaders for the math program there to listen to our concerns. They seemed very attentive to our concerns, and I feel hopeful that they will respond.”

“We had a great conversation,” says Christine Henzel, Alberta’s director of mathematics, arts and communication. “We are always really happy when parents are engaged in their child’s learning. And when parents have questions about how their child is learning mathematics or have concerns, we encourage them to have a conversation with their teacher and their principal to talk at the school level about it because the teacher knows how students best learn and ensure that the individual child’s needs are being met.”

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The new model of teaching math started being implemented in Alberta in 2008. 

Under that model, Henzel says students still need to learn basics like adding and subtracting, but now students are encouraged to find different ways to solve problems, instead of just memorizing.

“They have to understand, and that understanding helps them, not only with long-term retention, but also with then taking what they know and applying it in problem situations, helping them to become critical thinkers, and then helping them to apply to higher level mathematics in their future,” says Henzel.

“They have to know that six times four equals 24, but they also have to know why it equals 24, and why eight times three equals 24,” explains Henzel.

“That helps with long-term understanding, and they can then apply that in a variety of different situations as they grow, through their life.”

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On Tuesday, Feb. 4, teacher and assistant principal, and Global’s ‘Ask the Educator’ expert, Arief Ebrahim, will be on the Global Edmonton Morning News at 7:40 a.m. discussing this issue.

You can send your questions and comments via email to  Put “Ask the Educator” in the subject line.

The province is redesigning some curriculum, including mathematics, in time for spring 2016.

Input from teachers, education experts, industry and parents will influence the redesign, says Henzel.

It’s unclear at this point if the changes Tran-Davies would like to see will be part of the redesign.

“[The deputy minister] has welcomed us into further discussions, so I am very hopeful that this will progress and start some change,” she says.

With files from Laurel Clark, Global News


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